Do You Know Your True Skin Type?
We’re quick to decide whether our skin is dry or oily, but the very products we’re using could be changing our natural skin type. Judy Johnson asks Paula Begoun how to really know what your skin needs
What’s your type? When scouring the beauty aisles for skincare we’re all pretty clued up on what we’re looking for; perhaps you consider your skin to be dry and dehydrated, sensitive or oily and acneic. Chances are you’ve been shopping for that type since your first ever face cream, and say it with as much confidence as you would your star sign or height. But what if you’ve got it wrong?
From using the wrong products to hormone imbalances, our skin is affected by our every move. Maybe you have a flaky forehead when others have a classic oily T-zone, and have therefore deduced that your skin is dry and needs thick creams - but how are you cleansing? If the answer is wipes or a foam formula, your very skincare routine could be the cause of the problem you’re trying to correct.
Founder of Paula’s Choice skincare, author and all-round beauty expert Paula Begoun says this is all too common. "Many people are unknowingly using the wrong products for their skin type, or the products contain irritating ingredients that create a skin type they wouldn’t otherwise have - or make your natural skin type, like oily skin, worse. Using gentle, carefully formulated products suitable for your skin type can be a transformative step!”
It’s not just about your skincare routine, either. "Lifestyle changes such as eating a healthy, balanced diet and avoiding bad habits like smoking, excess sugar intake, excess alcohol consumption, and lack of exercise all contribute to a less-than-ideal complexion,” explains Paula. "And of course protecting your skin from sun damage is at the top of the list. The good news is that you have control over all of those factors!”
Your skin type can change over time, too, something that unfortunately is not so easily managed. "What you really can’t control is existing sun damage, as well as hormonal changes during your monthly cycle, peri-menopause, or menopause that can lead to skin becoming drier or oily; some women experience acne for the first time as they begin menopause,” explains Paula. "Cumulative sun damage can cause persistent dryness, while ongoing use of products that contain irritating ingredients impair skin’s barrier, leading to a host of issues like sensitivity, redness, and fine lines.”
So, how do you work out your true skin type and look after it in the best way possible? Paula gave us some pointers…
What are the main skin types?
"We tend to separate skin type from skin concern; skin types include four: Normal, dry, combination, and oily. Skin concerns (or, if you prefer, conditions) encompass things like wrinkles, dark spots, enlarged pores, acne, dullness, and sensitivity, with or without redness, and on and on. Sensitive skin occurs when the person has highly reactive skin and dehydrated skin when the surface of skin tends to be seasonally affected by dryness or the skincare products they are using are the wrongs creating a dehydrated surface."
Is there such a thing as ‘normal’ skin?
"Normal skin generally refers to whether your skin is oily, combination, dry, or “normal”. Some people also add into the skin type category concerns such as sun damage, clogged wrinkles, sensitive skin, acne, rosacea, skin discolorations among many other concerns - it’s a bit of a different perspective.
"In terms of whether normal skin exists when compared to only oily, combination, or dry skin it is absolutely a skin type, a rarer one, but it does exist. Normal skin is when someone has no oily or dry areas, no visible pores, or other concerns like clogged pores, wrinkles, discolorations, etc. But when you add in all those other concerns absolutely no one has normal skin because at some point problems will show up that require very specific skincare considerations. For example, all of us will struggle with sun damage sooner or later and because of menstrual cycles, peri-menopause, and menopause, normal is as elusive as unicorns…"
How to test your skin to find out your skin type
"If you’re testing for oily, combination, oily, or normal skin the general rule is to wash your face with a gentle, non-soap cleanser and pat dry. Do not apply any other products.
"Wait 15-30 minutes, and then examine your skin in a mirror. If your facial skin feels tight or looks flaky with barely visible pores, you have dry skin. If your cheeks and T-zone look shiny and feel slick, you have oily skin; if you’re not seeing or feeling evidence of oil or dryness, and your face feels even all over, you have normal skin; if your T-zone (forehead, nose, chin) is oily but your cheeks feel normal or appear dry, you have classic combination skin.”
OK, you have your skin type. Now what?
"The next step is to treat the skin type you have and avoid using products that create a skin type you don’t want. That means choosing gentle, effective, fragrance-free products that omit known irritants, including fragrant essential oils, menthol, and denatured alcohol, among others.
"Assemble a skin type-appropriate routine that includes a water soluble cleanser, soothing, replenishing toner, a leave-on AHA or BHA exfoliant, daytime moisturiser rated SPF 30 or greater, and a nighttime moisturiser. Those are the basics, and your routine can be customized from there based on additional needs related to your skin type and skin concerns; for example, an antioxidant-packed serum for wrinkles and loss of firmness, an eye cream if the skin around your eyes is drier than the rest of your face, or a dark spot treatment to lighten discolorations."
Paula’s top tips for dealing with your skin type
“All skin types need to use gentle, beautifully formulated products loaded with antioxidants and skin restoring ingredients, and an effective completely non-abrasive leave-on exfoliant to retexturize skin," advises Paula. "Don’t do anything to make skin dry or oily, which means avoid using products that irritate skin, whether it’s an abrasive scrub or an over-fragranced moisturiser."
Do the test for your skin type (above) and read on for Paula's key tip for your type...
Normal skin: Don’t fall for the idea that normal skin doesn’t need care - it does, and what you do now can keep skin as normal as possible for as long as possible.
Dry skin: Exfoliation is a step you might be tempted to shy away from, but don’t! A gentle, leave-on AHA exfoliant that contains between 5-10% glycolic or lactic acid can make a world of difference. Every other product you use will work even better, and your skin will take on a youthful, plumped-looking glow. (Take a look at our pick of the best moisturisers for dry skin here.)
Oily skin: Stop using products with SD or denatured alcohol or harsh, drying cleansers. Both of these steps make oily skin worse, despite the initial “de-greasing” effect. That’s because irritation stimulates nerve endings at the base of the pores, and this in turn stimulates the oil glands to produce more oil. You will be surprised at how much treating skin gently improves oily skin. (Check out our list of the best moisturisers for oily skin here.)
Combination skin: Recognise that you may need to layer thin-textured products over dry areas to avoid making the oily or breakout-prone areas feel worse. Doing so means you won’t have to struggle finding a moisturiser that meets the needs of your dry areas without making oily areas worse. (Check out our list of the best moisturisers for combination skin here.)
Has your skin type changed over time? Let us know in the comments!