Taking care of the skin can be a particularly frustrating process, especially when unwanted blemishes pop-up. Unfortunately, your skin type is determined by genetics, leaving you with little control. However, identifying your skin type and knowing how to take care of it greatly increases your chances of having healthy skin, no matter which type you are.

The 4 Skin Types

There are four main skin types, each with its own set of traits.

1. ‘Normal’ refers to skin that is well-balanced. Though the forehead, chin, and nose (the “T-zone”) may be a tad oily, the overall level of sebum in the skin is balanced.

2. Dry skin is rough, flaky, and/or scaly. Less sebum is produced, which depletes the lipids necessary to retain moisture. The skin is constantly losing water through perspiration and natural diffusion between the layers, and moisture is determined by the water supply available. Dry skin lacks natural moisturizing factors that work to bind in water, which prevents the skin from shielding itself from external hazards.

3. People with oily skin have higher levels of sebum production, which leads to a greasy or shiny appearance and larger pores. Though genetics is the number one indicator of skin type, other factors can lead to the skin feeling oily. Hormonal imbalances and changes, stress, and certain medications and cosmetics can all lead to oily skin.

4. If none of the above types seem exclusive to you, you probably have a combination skin type, which (as it sounds) contains characteristics from different skin types. Think of this type has having a split-personality: the T-zone might be oily while the cheeks are dry, for example. This type can be tricky to identify on one’s own, but a doctor can certainly make recommendations for how to develop a multi-faceted care approach. Combination skin is thought to be the most common type across the board.

Identifying Your Skin Type

The normal skin type is characterized by small, fine pores and a lack of blemishes, most of the time, there can always be the odd zit or blemish, which are largely influenced by diet and stress. The blood circulates well here, creating a fresh, balanced appearance and slight rosy color. Normal skin is not irritated easily and, when taken care of properly, it has a soft, velvety, and smooth texture. With the natural aging process, though, normal skin can become drier.

Dry skin is best represented by a spectrum, from a bit drier than normal to the extreme. In mild cases, the skin can appear rough and dull, feeling brittle and tight due to low elasticity. Very dry skin can be accompanied by scaliness and flakiness in patches and blotchiness in color. Because it is more sensitive to irritation, the skin may feel itchy and become red or chapped. Dry skin is also at a higher risk of infection, due to the lack of a strong sebum-enforced protective wall. This can affect not only the face, but also the hands, elbows, knees, and feet. While dry skin is most commonly found in the elderly, it can also be genetic or develop as the result of dehydration and poor diet.

Oily skin is perhaps the most pesky to deal with, as it presents with extremely visible shine and gloss – and not the lovely kind that we associate with nice hair. The enlarged pores leave the skin more susceptible to both blackheads and whiteheads, as well as varying types of acne. Those with oily skin may also notice an excess of papules (small bumps without a white or black head) and pustules (medium-sized bumps with a yellow or white head in the center). The pressure created by these small infections causes inflammation and redness.

Combination skin is caused by an excess of sebum production in some areas with a deficiency in others. Typically, the T-zone looks/feels oily while the cheeks and other areas are dry and possibly flaky. You may have both fine lines and wrinkles as well as enlarged and clogged pores. The skin tone can be blotchy and uneven, with discoloration spots present in different areas. The degree of sensitivity also falls along a spectrum, and no two combination type skins are exactly the same.

Best Care Practices for Each Type

The right regimen starts with knowing what kind of skin you have. Products typically list what type of skin they cater to, as well. Generally speaking, though, there are a few rules of thumb for each type.

When cleaning normal, use warm water and avoid harsh scrubbing. Because there are no specific issues with the skin, you can shop around to find the cleanser that works best for you. Pat dry with a towel and use a light moisturizer.

Dry skin is, by definition, dehydrated, so avoid alcohol-based or scented products, as they dry out the skin more. Avoid using hot water, as it removes the natural oils from your face. Try to exfoliate once a week to rid yourself of flaky cells, and utilize a day cream as well as a deep moisturizer at night.

While some people fight oil with oil, many experts suggest using oil-free cleansers and moisturizers. People with oily skin tend to over-wash and use harsh toners and salicylic acid due to feelings of discomfort, but doing so can actually trigger more sebum production. Try to limit washing to twice a day, and use natural acne controllers like witch hazel. If the problem is more serious, seek out a dermatologist.

The goal with combination skin is to find balance, so opting for an all-natural cleanser is recommended. Exfoliate gently, avoid harsh toners, and moisturize each individual area depending on its characteristics.

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