Do You Actually Know Your Skin Type?

Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
When people think of skin type, the terms are generally dry, normal, and oily. But, there's actually way more that goes into it, and these three adjectives are just a jumping-off point. 

Knowing your skin type is important, because products will only yield results if you are using ones that are best formulated for your skin’s unique needs. Typically, products are made specifically for the various skin types. Here are some easy tips to determine what kind of skin you have — without a professional assessment.

To help you get started, I've outlined some hints for knowing when to eliminate products. After you do this, it'll be far easier to figure out your skin type.

If a product stings and burns…
it’s not a fit for your skin. These reactions can wrongly make you believe that your skin is sensitive when in reality, it could be that the product is irritating. The exception to this rule is that when an acid serum produces a stinging sensation, which is expected.

If a product leaves a greasy residue...
you might assume you have oily skin. In fact, the moisturizer you're using may be too rich. Your skin can only absorb so much product. The rest simply sits on top of the skin, which can lead to clogged pores. 

If a product leaves your skin feeling tight and dry…
you might think you have dry or dehydrated skin. Sulfate-based foaming cleansers and alcohol-based toners can severely strip the skin of moisture, but many people associate that tight feeling with clean skin. This is a false association. Choose sulfate-free cleansers and alcohol-free toners.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.

If a product is exfoliating your skin, but you’re still left dry and flaky…
your skin-care routine isn’t working and you might be over-exfoliating. Too much exfoliation can damage the skin’s moisture barrier, resulting in invisible cracks in the skin that allow moisture to escape, ultimately making skin very dry and flaky. Use cleansing brushes, acid serums, at-home peels, and facial scrubs in moderation. Then, take note of the state of your skin.

If a product makes you excessively oily…
something in it is drying your skin out. Harsh products formulated for oily skin often include drying ingredients, but these ingredients can dehydrate the skin, causing it to produce more oil in an effort to balance itself. Skin hydration is the key to producing less oil.

If a product is leaving your skin irritated and out of balance…
stop using the product. Inflammation is the underlying cause of aging. Inducing topical skin irritation, albeit unintentionally with the use of a product that your skin doesn't agree with, is a no-no. Always listen to your skin and work with Mother Nature — never against her. 
Illustrated by Anna Sudit.

Once you have eliminated products based on the above guidelines, you can start figuring out your skin type.

If you have large pores all over your face, your skin gets shiny throughout the day, and visible oil appears when you blot on a tissue, it is considered an oily skin type. Pore size is an indication of oil production. If you’re getting shiny and greasy but your pores are visibly small, your products may be the problem.  

If your pores are larger primarily in the T-zone (across forehead, nose, and chin) and visible oil appears only in those areas throughout the day, then you can be considered a combination skin type.

If your skin produces just a little T-zone oil (mostly in the summer), but doesn’t usually get flaky, then you can be considered a normal skin type.

If your skin almost always feels tight, looks rough, has small pores and is tight and flaky (especially during the winter), then you can be considered a dry skin type. However, if your skin has any breakouts whatsoever, then you don’t truly have dry skin. Breakouts originate from oil, so if you’re still getting breakouts, then your skin can’t be completely dry, and your products may be the problem. While how much or how little oil your skin produces is important, there are also other characteristics to consider.
Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
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Skin that gets red and flushed easily from products, being touched, hot showers, alcohol consumption and spicy foods is sensitive. This skin type will benefit from gentle ingredients, such as white tea, a potent antioxidant. If you have sensitive skin that reacts easily, avoid products with synthetic fragrances and choose products formulated to reduce inflammation.

Under-circulated skin
 barely turns pink at all, even from activities like facials, using a scrub, or taking a hot shower. This skin type will benefit from ingredients like peppermint, ginseng extract, and rosemary, which encourage the dilation of blood vessels. They allow the skin to accommodate more oxygen and nutrient-rich blood, resulting in brighter, glowing skin. 

Because not all acne is equal (cysts, pustules, papules, etc.), it isn't always easy to determine if you have acne-prone skin. Acne can also occur at any age, in any region on the face. It can be very severe or just occasional, but most anyone with any acne at all will always categorize him or herself as acne-prone. 

What you don't want to do is determine skin type by only focusing on one or two of your skin’s needs. Instead, look at the big picture. When people mistake their skin type, they consequently choose the wrong skin-care products because they are usually hyper-focused on just a few concerns. They gravitate towards products that only address those issues, instead of focusing on all of their needs. 

For example, a 40-year-old woman may start to get occasional hormonal cystic breakouts. Because acne cysts are so painful and can linger for a few weeks, she may now start thinking her skin type is “acne-prone.” She might completely ignore that her skin has anti-aging needs as well. This is why it’s important to always look at a variety of factors. In this case, it would be best for the woman to use spot treatments instead of switching to an entire acne routine that could dry out blemish-free areas and throw off the skin’s balance.

There's a lot to pay attention to when it comes to your skin. But, the more observant you are, the better you'll be able to care for your skin and its changing needs.
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