Ever had a skincare product that wreaked havoc on your skin after the very first application? If the results you get from a super expensive moisturizer, cleanser or serum are dismal at best and nightmarish at worst, the fault may not lie as much in the formulation as in your understanding of your skin.
The problem with skincare these days is that there is a mind boggling amount of information out there. Plus, there is an equally shocking array of products in the market. Add to this the over-the-top marketing and promises that most manufacturers indulge in and buyers end up believing they have found the elixir of youth or the panacea of all skin problems each time they pick a new product.
Shockingly, the most basic and essential aspect of skincare is forgotten in this tsunami of information and products and that is: KNOWING YOUR SKIN TYPE!
Table of Contents
- 1 Do You Know Your Skin Type?
- 2 So, What Is This Skin Type Business?
- 3 Facts About Different Skin Types!
- 4 Mistakes People Make When Trying To Gauge Their Skin Type!
- 5 So, How Do I Know What Skin Type I Have?
Do You Know Your Skin Type?
Yes, every product has the potential to turn into a disaster unless it is formulated for your skin type. Heard the adage, one person’s heaven is another person’s hell? Well, it also applies to skin types!
So what is a blessing for dry skin can turn into a curse for oily skin and what offers stunningly good results on mature skin can be a nightmare when used on sensitive skin. Despite the risk involved, a lot of women still don’t know their skin type while many others have got their diagnosis wrong, which is at the root of all skin product related disasters.
So, What Is This Skin Type Business?
Here is the shocker – skin type is like skin color; it is range bound. Yes, there is some amount of generalization but each of us has unique skin. So, simply spending for an entire line of products meant for a general skin category will not work if you have say dry skin or oily skin!
Think of it this way: when somebody says they have oily skin, they clearly ignore the fact that their face can be anywhere from “can bring down the prices of petroleum if you take the oil from my face” oily to just a glowing, healthy and youthful oily. OK, the top of that range was an exaggeration but you get the point. Overall, your skin type is made up of or rather is the result of 4 factors:
1. Lipid protection level
Sebum is a natural, oily secretion that serves multiple purposes in the skincare matrix. It helps to prevent dermal dehydration by preventing or minimizing the loss of moisture through the skin cells. It also offers protection against weather conditions and pollutants. This lipid level plays a major role in keeping the skin plump, youthful and elastic.
Unfortunately, sebum secretion is impacted by a range of external and internal factors. So, seldom do people have completely normal sebum levels. Hyper secretion of this oily substance leads to dermal oiliness while hypo production causes dryness.
2. Hydration levels
This refers to the amount of fluids or water in the dermal cells and in between them. The fluid level in the dermal cells and layers impacts the movement of nutrients as well as toxins. It also has a bearing on cellular regeneration levels and the actual health of the dermal cells.
Optimal levels of hydration make the skin look youthful, soft and healthy but as the moisture gets depleted, the skin takes on a sallow and weathered look. Cells die faster than they should which causes flakiness and itching. It also leaves the unhealthy cells vulnerable to both internal and external damaging factors.
3. Sensitivity level
Often the application of certain substances (non-toxic) results in an allergic reaction. This is an indication of a hyper auto-immune response to a substance that is generally deemed harmless. Dermal sensitivity can be both the cause and effect of skin dryness.
Moreover, there is no method to the madness of dermal sensitivity, meaning that one day you may suddenly get an allergic to a substance that you have used for years and stop being allergic to it just as unexpectedly. However, what remains is the aging effect and damage that sensitivity and allergic reactions cause. Skin sensitivity level also impacts dermal tone, texture, complexion and feel.
4. Damage level
Finally, the fourth contributing factor in the skin type matrix is damage level. This damage can be strictly age related or be a combination of both time and environment, more specifically, sun exposure. Age and sun exposure related skin damage can change sebum and moisture levels, prompting the need for a change in your skincare routine.
Facts About Different Skin Types!
1. Normal Skin
This is the skin type right out of your dreams, the one that even celebrities get after much photoshopping. The scientific term for normal skin is eudermic; in laypeople terms, it is the skin type with the perfect level of both hydration and lipids and almost no sensitivity issues.
What’s more, it is also resilient to most skin problems like acne, redness or rash. And there is even more – normal skin looks almost perfect; it glows with health, is soft and smooth to touch and retains makeup the best.
People with this skin type, don’t have to worry about manhole size pores or runny makeup.
But here is the tragic bit – less than 10% of us are blessed with this skin type, and even those who do have it, seldom get to retain it for long.
Hallmarks of normal skin
- Optimal blood circulation
- No blemishes or pigmentation issues
- Skin that is velvety smooth to touch
- Plump and hydrated feel
- May/may not have slightly oily t-zone but overall uniform lipid and hydration levels
- Uniform transparency and color
- No visible pore enlargement
- Not prone to skin allergies
Taking care of normal skin
- When caring for normal skin, your mantra should be “in-between” since that is the hallmark of your skin. So, don’t use products that are too oily or too drying
- Limit your exposure to sunlight
- Do not cleanse more than twice a day
- What you eat and drink is bound to show on your face. So, eat healthy and up your intake of water
- Keep your stress levels in check with yoga and meditation
- Exercise every day if possible or at least 4-5 days a week
- Get your 7-8 hours of sleep
2. Oily skin
Although the name is a telling indication of what this skin type is all about, just in case you wanted to know, the scientific name for oily skin is seborrhea. Yes, the term is derived from the root cause of oily skin – excess sebum secretion.
The sebaceous or sebum producing glands of people with oily skin are always working in hyper drive, which leads to a perpetual, oily and sticky feel. Although the excess oiliness does protect the skin against age related damage, it also creates a thriving environment for acne causing bacteria.
Also, all that oil has to seep out of the pores and onto the surface of the skin which means that the pores too are overworked and hence seem enlarged. These pores along with the sticky and viscous sebum inside them attract dirt and grime, which leads to the appearance of blackheads and whiteheads. As the plugs of sebum and dirt grow larger and harder, infection sets in, leading to acne and eventual scarring.
What causes oily skin?
Everything from genetics to hot and humid weather can cause the sebaceous glands to hyper function. Apart from this, the use of comedogenic skincare and cosmetic products that irritate the skin and create a further barrier of oil and inorganic substances can exacerbate the problem.
Stress, certain types of medication, hormonal fluctuations during puberty, pregnancy and menopause can all cause oily skin. Although it is essential to cleanse the skin of excess oil, too much washing and scrubbing too aggravates the condition.
Hallmarks of oily skin
- Visibly enlarged pores
- Uniform hyper oiliness all over the face and neck
- Appearance of blackheads and whiteheads
- Acne and resultant scars
- Thick, dull and clogged skin appearance
- A distinct oily feel when skin is touched
- Runny makeup that requires frequent touch ups
- Oiliness within 30-45 minutes of cleansing
- No issues with hydration
- Blemishes that extend from the face towards the neck and chest and even the upper back
The range of oiliness
Although the term oily skin is often thrown around to indicate the hyper production of sebum, in reality, this is at best a general description of the problem because you can have anywhere between very oily to just a bit oily skin.
At its worst, excessive sebum secretion can lead to severe cystic acne that is painful and causes lifelong scarring. In such cases, OTC treatment seldom works alone to control the oiliness and often has to be coupled with drugs that lower the level of certain hormones.
When it’s not particularly troublesome, oily skin can lead to blackheads and whiteheads and perpetual shine that makes it hard to keep your makeup on.
How to handle oily skin?
- Despite the temptation to scrub your skin squeaky clean, don’t overdo cleansing
- Use a cleanser meant for oily skin but don’t wash your face more than twice a day
- Splash tepid water on your face after working out to get rid of the sweat and grime
- If you suffer from acne use spot treatment
- Don’t pop or pick your zits
- Use non-comedogenic skincare and cosmetic products
- Always use a clean towel to wipe your face
- Ensure your pillow covers are clean and changed frequently
- Avoid the desire to touch your face too often
3. Dry Skin
Let us get one thing clear – dry skin is not the same as dehydrated skin. Dermal dryness refers to the under production of sebum, which in turn causes water loss as the lipid barrier on the surface of the skin is compromised.
In contrast, dehydration specifically refers to the loss of fluids from the skin, with or without any impact on the production of sebum. Skin dehydration can be a result of reduced fluid intake as well as the use of natural and medical diuretics.
Dry skin is more susceptible to damage due to environmental factors and also suffers from heightened sensitivity. Moreover, the loss of lipids and fluids impacts the look of the skin which takes on a fatigued and lack luster appearance.
With dryness comes flaking as well as a perpetual feeling of tightness which is attributed to a lowered skin elasticity and is distinctly felt after cleansing and wiping. Dry skin feels rough to touch and begins to show signs of aging such as fine lines and wrinkles early on, but those with skin type rarely suffer from acne. Nearly 40% of the complaints handled by dermatologists each year are attributed to xerosis or dry skin.
What are the causes of dry skin?
- Genetics that lead to a lack of natural moisturizing factors
- Lifestyle and dietary habits that prevent or lower the amount of amino acids, lactic acid and urea supplied to the dermal layers
- Use of products that dry the skin
- Dehydrating weather conditions such as wind and winter
- Loss of fluids caused due to excessive sweating
- Hormonal changes
- Yo-yo dieting
- Extremely restrictive diets
- Use of diuretics and certain other drugs
- Indoor heating
- Frequent washing and use of harsh soaps
- Long hot showers
Hallmarks of dry skin:
- Very fine, almost invisible pores
- Flaky spots
- A tight and pulled feeling
- Dull complexion
- No blackhead or whiteheads
- No blemishes
- Visible fine lines and wrinkles
- Greater skin issues in fall and winter
- Greater sensitivity to certain chemical and organic products
The range of dermal dryness
Just like oily skin, dry skin too has a range that can span from dryness requiring greater moisturization to dry enough to cause skin lesions, severe itching and flaking. At its least troublesome, you will need to deal with dry skin with an extra application or two of a rich cream or lotion.
But at its worst, the condition can exacerbate to the point of developing cracks and eczema like symptoms. The lesions may get infected leading for further trouble and of course scarring. Because dry skin has a slower rate of cellular regeneration, it also tends to take longer to heal than other skin types.
How to treat dry skin?
- Use an extremely mild cleanser specifically meant for dry skin
- Slather on a rich cream, oil or lotion on your face at least twice a day
- Always carry skin oil or cream along to treat dry and flaky spots
- Do not scrub your skin too hard in a bid to get rid of the flakiness
- Go for shorter showers and do not wash your face more than once a day
- Use water at room temperature for washing / cleansing your face
- If possible use a humidifier indoors
- Don’t give in to the urge to scratch the itchy parts
4. Combination Skin
As the name suggest, this dermal type brings to the table the woes of both dry and oily skin. It is marked by the prevalence of an oily to very oily T-zone. The forehead, the nose and the chin show all the problems of oily skin such as blackheads, blemishes, shine and the tell-tale oily sticky feel.
In contrast, the U-zone which includes both the cheeks and the upper neck area is relatively dry. The lack of moisture makes the skin on the cheeks feel tighter, so the natural movement of the facial skin and muscles with expressing yourself can feel very uncomfortable.
The biggest problem for people with this skin type is that they cannot use products whether meant for just one skin type. The T-zone and the U-zone have to be treated with skincare formulations meant for the skin type in that area.
What causes combination skin?
- Hormonal imbalance that leads to hyper functioning of the sebaceous glands in the T-zone and dryness in the U-zone
- Indiscriminate and overuse of spot treatment formulations to control acne or oiliness in the U-zone
- Natural distribution of sebaceous glands. There are a greater number of oil producing glands in the T-zone
Hallmarks of combination skin
- Oily to very oily T-zone and visibly larger pores in this area
- Normal to dry cheeks
- Flaking or blotchiness in the U-zone
- Blackheads and whiteheads on the nose and the skin surrounding the nose
- Clear cheeks but the propensity to get zits on the chin and forehead
- Shiny nose and chin that need constant touch ups
- Thicker skin on the forehead and chin
- Thinner skin on the cheeks with visible blood vessels in some areas
- Visible thin lines on the cheeks and the under eye area
The range of combination skin
When it is not exceptionally problematic, combination skin may call for the use of neutral products like those applied on normal skin, which cater to the demands of both the dry and the oily areas of the face.
When combination skin starts to get bothersome, you may need to deal with the T-zone by using products meant for oily skin and treat the dry areas of the cheeks with products designed to nourish and heal dry skin. This is both expensive and time consuming plus the oily products do tend to seep into the T-zone and cause some trouble there.
But the worst is when you have extreme oiliness in the T-zone complete with blemishes while the cheeks are dry to the point of flaking and itching. This is the extreme of combination skin and it can be very hard to deal with this skin type as you may have to treat the two areas of the face with different products and at different times.
How to treat combination skin?
- Don’t try to scrub the skin into submission
- Cleanse the T-zone with a product meant for oily skin
- Use a neutral or natural product for the dry and sensitive skin on the cheeks
- For mild and medium combination skin, use products meant for normal skin type
- Use mild gel cleansers and alcohol free toners
- For moisturization, stick to light lotions and serums
5. Sensitive Skin
In terms of appearance, sensitive skin seems very thin with visible capillaries. It is also dry and rough to touch. Depending on the level of sensitivity, this type of skin will react adversely to not just the application of certain products but also to weather conditions.
For instance, exposure to heat or cold or sunlight and chilly wind or temperatures can cause redness, stinging and dryness. Although scientists have yet to find a direct link between food allergies and dermal sensitivity, in many cases, people who suffer from allergic reaction to certain foods are also prone to dermatitis.
Sensitive skin can quickly break into rash and hives upon the application of innocuous substances, including certain ingredients commonly found in skincare products. Overall, this skin type reacts negatively to any product that causes a significant change in the lipid barrier of the skin such as soaps and harsh cleansers as well as formulations that alter skin chemistry or acid mantle.
So, the use of household beauty products such as citrus juices, baking soda and vinegar too can lead to a quick and angry reaction. Also, substances that cause allergies can change from time to time and often a dermatitis attack can come-on suddenly.
What causes sensitive skin?
- Sensitivity to non-toxic substances is a direct result of a hyper active immune system
- Certain ingredients like fragrances, colors, retinol, alcohol, menthol, occlusive emollients, and preservatives are known to cause allergic reactions
- Dermal dryness leads to greater instances of skin sensitivity
- A compromised lipid barrier or micro tears in the skin can also cause substances to seep in deeper than expected and required
- Harsh scrubbing and cleansing agents
Hallmarks of sensitive skin
- You have itchy skin
- Red spots with hives
- Your skin becomes visibly thick and rough to touch after the application of certain products
- Skin peeling after the allergic reaction
- Stinging sensation after exposure to harsh winds and sunlight
- Frequent skin flushing
The range of skin sensitivity
A lot of people are allergic to certain types of products or ingredients and although their skin can be called marginally sensitive it does not pose the serious issues associated with very sensitive skin. This type of skin will break into angry red blotches and even rash at the slightest provocation.
A simple change, like wiping the face with a regular towel instead of patting or dabbing it dry, can lead to the appearance of red and itchy hives. So imagine the trouble that a regular cleanser or toner can cause. Very sensitive skin is among the most delicate dermal types and needs constant attention and protection.
Unfortunately caring for this type of skin can often feel like playing a round of Russian roulette as you never know what might cause your skin to act up. Sensitive skin is not only prone to frequent redness and rashes but also to faster aging.
How to treat sensitive skin?
- If you suffer from frequent bouts of dermatitis, see a doctor who will do a patch test
- Skin allergies will not go away overnight; the only thing you can do is to stay away from products and ingredients that cause them
- Do not use harsh cleanser or alcohol based toners
- Do not exfoliate more than once or twice a week at the most
- Do not wash your face more than once a day and only use a mild cleanser
- Pat your skin dry instead of rubbing or wiping it dry
- Use products with no more than one or two active ingredients
- Do not use any product without doing a patch test first
- Natural, gel based products are the safest for this skin type
- Avoid direct exposure to harsh climatic conditions
- Always wear sunscreen
- Talk to your doctor about skin allergies if you are on any type of medication
- Don’t touch your face too often
- Wash your face with tepid water
- Always wash your hands before tending to your skin
- Splash water on your skin after a workout or after sweating
6. Mature / Age Damaged Skin
Once again, the name offers an apt description of what we are talking about here. Mature skin is a result of damage due to aging, environmental and lifestyle factors. Mature skin is thinner and visibly damaged as compared to other skin types.
Not only the dermal layers but also the underlying fatty tissue and muscles that support the dermal structure show signs of slacking. Damaged and mature skin is less elastic and often feels tight and pulled.
Wrinkles, dark spots and fine lines are all symptoms of this skin type and they just get more pronounced with age or increase in exposure to the damaging factors. Although not markedly sensitive, because the downward spiral of aging and damage has already started, this type of skin will show greater and faster signs of damage when exposed to chilly weather or harsh sunlight.
What causes mature / age damaged skin?
- Changes in hormone levels
- Menopause and drop in estrogen
- Change in the lipid matrix of the skin
- Fluctuations in the thickness of the adipose tissue that both nourishes and supports the skin
- Prolonged and frequent exposure to sunlight without protection
- Yo-yo dieting and poor nutritional intake
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Lack of sleep or poor sleep hygiene
- Consistent use of harsh products and abrasive skincare routine
- Oxidative stress
- Exposure to pollutants
You know your skin is getting damaged or aging if:
- You go from having fine lines to wrinkles on your face
- See visible skin and facial muscle slack
- Loss of skin elasticity
- Dryness and flaking
- Pronounced wrinkles and lines in problematic areas like the under eye zone and nasolabial zone
- Appearance of liver (reddish) spots
- Dull and patchy complexion
- Skin thinning
- Increase in the appearance of broken blood vessels under the skin
How to take care of mature / age damaged skin?
- Use sunscreen judiciously
- Pick healing and nourishing skin creams
- Use serums with antioxidant ingredients
- Consider using products with ingredients that boost collagen synthesis like retinol
- Light exercise and yoga can do your skin a world of good
- Eat healthily with particular emphasis on fruits and vegetables
- Get 7-8 hours of sleep
- Control your stress levels with meditation, tai-chi etc
- Stay hydrated
- Avoid smoking
- Cut down on your alcohol consumption
Mistakes People Make When Trying To Gauge Their Skin Type!
Although there is a lot of information on how to determine your skin type, most people get their diagnosis wrong because of three reasons:
- They try to analyze their skin type too soon after cleansing
- They don’t analyze their skin the first thing after their wake up
- They pay little attention to factors other than oiliness
So, How Do I Know What Skin Type I Have?
These tests should be done twice. The right time for skin analysis is after you wake up and an hour after you cleanse your skin. Remember to not apply any beauty products before bedtime if you are going to try these tests in the morning.
Similarly, do not apply any skincare or cosmetic products after cleansing your skin if you want to know your skin type. Use a mild cleanser if possible and dab your skin dry.
1. Let your pores do the talking
Do not user a magnifying mirror for this one; just look closely at your skin. Take a look at the skin bang in the middle of your cheeks. Now compare the size of the pores in this area with that of the pores in the other areas of your face.
If you find large pores on your nose, on your chin and forehead but fine pores on your cheeks, you have combination skin. Enlarged pores all over the face, including on the cheeks is an indication of oily/mature skin. Fine pores all over with little to no indication of oiliness screams dry skin.
2. The blotting paper and paper tape tests
Check the shine on your face. If your skin does not appear even mildly shiny in the morning or an hour or two after cleansing, you likely have dry skin.
Dab your skin using some cosmetic grade blotting paper or just some plain ol’ tissue. If you see oil stains on it, you definitely have oily skin. If your skin is not shiny, use some paper tape on it. Stick and pull gently. If you see skin flakes on the tape, you have dry skin.
3. What do you feel like
If your face feels sticky and yucky within an hour or two after cleansing, you have oily skin. If this feeling is limited to the T-zone, it is definitely combination skin.
However, if your skin feels tight and pulled, you are dealing with dry skin. A prickly and tight sensation or slight stinging and redness right after cleansing are signs of sensitive skin.
Anything I did not cover or you have any question, simply hit me with an email and I’ll personally reply.