If you’re in the process of creating a skincare routine, there are some things you need to know before you even think about buying products: your skin type, your skin concerns (if any), and your skin goals. Among these three characteristics, your skin type is particularly important: your skin type influences not only how your skin feels on a day-to-day basis, but also how it reacts to different products and ingredients.
On this post:
The basics of skin typing
Before we explain the characteristics of each skin type, we want to talk a little bit about this whole ”skin typing” thing. What are skin types based on? Who decides what’s a skin type and what isn’t? And how many skin types are there anyway?
What are skin types based on?
Skin types are primarily based on how much oil (or, technically speaking, “sebum”) is produced by your skin: “dry” skin produces less oil, while “oily” skin produces, well, more oil.
There is a strong genetic component here, but even so, the amount of oil produced by your skin does not necessarily have to remain the same throughout your life. Stress, hormonal fluctuations (think puberty, pregnancy, or menopause), medications, the aging process, and even the weather can all influence the amount of sebum your skin produces.
This means that, contrary to popular belief, your skin type can also change throughout your life. This might sound a little daunting–will you have to learn to deal with a whole bnew skin type?–but it’s actually good news in the long run. Deep down, getting to know your skin as it is right now will always be more important than memorizing the needs of a “skin type” that fit you a few years ago, but not anymore.
How many skin types are there?
There are different classifications and skin typing systems. The first, which was created in 1915 by Helena Rubinstein, identified four different skin types: sensitive, dry, combination, and oily. Nowadays, most brands and beauty publications continue to work with four skin types, but they’re not quite the same; today, we mostly refer to dry, normal, combination, and oily skin. Sensitive skin is no longer included as a skin type, but we’ll explain that in a bit.
Other skin typing systems will take things beyond just four skin types–like the Baumann Skin Typing System, which combines four characteristics in 16 unique skin types!
Here at Care to Beauty, we like to keep things simple by working with just four skin types: dry, normal, combination, and oily skin. Everything else, we consider to be a skin condition. If your skin is sensitive, that’s a skin condition. If you have post-menopausal mature skin, we will generally refer to it as a skin condition. Do you have acne, or atopic dermatitis, or psoriasis? Those are pathologies.
How to identify your skin type
We’ve already talked about how this skin typing thing works, and now we’re going to help you identify your skin type between four options: dry, normal, combination, or only skin.
The main characteristic of dry skin, as we have already seen, is that it doesn’t produce enough sebum; this compromises the maintenance of its hydration levels and natural barrier function.
In terms of appearance, dry skin often looks dull. It may feature dehydration lines, which are often mistaken for wrinkles. To the touch, dry skin can be rough, flaky, or even scaly; it may even feel stiff and inflexible, almost “papery”. For those who live with dry skin, it is common to feel sensations of pulling and tightness, as if the skin was pulled taut over the facial features. Itchiness, sensitivity, or irritation may also pop up from time to time.
If this sounds like you, you probably have dry skin!
Did you know “normal” skin isn’t actually very normal, statistically speaking? This skin type is not at all common, with many more people having dry or oily skin than “normal” skin. The reason we call normal skin “normal” is the fact that it’s balanced: it produces just the right amount of sebum to maintain hydration, but not so much sebum that it struggles with greasiness or breakouts.
Deep down, it’s easier to describe this skin type based on what it isn’t: it’s luminous without being dull or shiny; it’s smooth to the touch, without being papery or sticky; it has “small” pores that don’t look enlarged; it’s comfortable, without feeling tight or greasy; it’s clear, with the occasional blemish but no major breakouts. In many ways, this type of skin is as carefree as can be.
Unlike normal skin, which isn’t very common, combination skin is! This skin type is characterized by drier areas that alternate with more oily areas. Basically, it’s a skin type that combines more than one skin state or need into one.
In its most common “version”, combination skin is oily in the T-zone (forehead, nose, and chin) and “normal” (again, that means balanced) or dry on the cheeks. This is probably the skin type that requires the most attention from you: basically, you have to stay in tune with different areas of your face to figure out what your skin needs.
Last, but not least, we come to oily skin. Oily skin is characterized, as opposed to dry skin, by an excess production of sebum. As a result of this excess sebum, the skin may look shiny and feel greasy to the touch. This is especially true in the T-zone (forehead, nose, and chin), but it may be visible all over the face.
Oily skin tends to struggle with a number of skin concerns, such as enlarged pores, blackheads, and breakouts. For this reason, it’s important to take care of it with products that maintain hydration (because yes, oily skin needs hydration too!) but don’t block pores in a way that creates more breakouts.
Commonly mistaken for skin types, there are a few common skin conditions that can be relevant when you are trying to evaluate the needs of your skin:
Sensitive skin is not, in the latest understanding, a skin type. Back in the early 20th century, when Helena Rubinstein first set out on a quest to identify different skin types, she identified “sensitive” as one of the skin types. However, this is no longer our understanding of what it means to have sensitive skin.
For some people, skin sensitivity is a near-permanent state; for others, it is a temporary condition, which can be triggered by factors as diverse as exposure to allergens, irritants, heat or hot water, and so on.
Sensitive skin, when sensitized, may feel uncomfortable and tight, with burning or stinging sensations. It may appear red and irritated. When in this state, the skin requires some extra care when selecting products, as you should opt for mild formulas.
Contrary to popular belief, dehydrated skin is not necessarily dry skin–oily skin can also be dehydrated! We’ve mentioned that skin types are defined based on how much sebum is produced by your skin, but dehydration is not about a lack of sebum: it’s about a lack of water.
Dehydrated skin can show itself under a variety of forms. It may feel “dry” to the touch, almost leathery, or be slightly bumpy or ridged. In terms of appearance, it may look dull or uneven. You may have undereye circles or eyes that look sunken in. Noticeable fine lines are also a common sign of skin dehydration. In terms of sensation, it is also possible that your dehydrated skin feels uncomfortable or itchy.
Whatever the signs of dehydration, it is important to understand their source in order to be able to address the source of dehydration. Aggressive skincare products, sun exposure, medications can all cause skin dehydration. Your body can also be dehdyrated as a whole, and displaying it on your face! It’s worth looking into the causes of skin dehydration to figure out whether it’s serious.
Mature skin isn’t a skin type per se–nor is it exactly a skin condition. The best way to describe mature skin is, perhaps, as a phase in the life cycle of your skin, no matter its skin type. All skin types age (and that’s a good thing! you’re alive and so is your skin!), but women may feel a significant difference in the way their skin feels before and after menopause.
Due to the hormonal changes that occur during this period, the skin can undergo several changes: it can become duller and less radiant, drier and more fragile, with a greater tendency to develop wrinkles and lose firmness. The skin may also become more sensitive. These changes lead to a series of new, more specific skin needs that may be different from the needs you had throughout your pre-menopausal life.
Skin disorders & diseases
In addition to skin types and skin conditions (which are, let’s say, non-pathological skin states), there are skin diseases that can also influence your skin’s needs. Among them are seborrheic dermatitis, atopic eczema, rosacea, psoriasis, and even acne!
With this post, we’ve taken a very short walk into the world of skin types, skin conditions, and skin pathologies. We hope that you feel more comfortable now identifying your skin type among the four most common: dry, “normal”, combination, and oily. When you feel comfortable with your skin type, feel free to browse our full selection of skincare to find the products that best suit your needs!
Beauty Writer & Editor