Posted on August 6, 2018

Combination Skin 101: The Most Confusing Skin Type Demystified

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Combination skin is the Jekyll and Hyde of skin types: some parts dull, tight, and flaky; other parts greasy and prone to wild, angry breakouts. So what’s a combo skin girl or guy to do? Here, what you may be doing wrong and how to get combination skin right.


 

We’ve talked about dry skin, acne-prone skin, oily skin, sensitive skin, even dehydrated skin. But now, it’s time to discuss the most widely confusing skin type of all — combination skin.

 

If I were to be truthful, I’d say my skin definitely leans more towards the combination end of the spectrum, as my T-zone is oily, but my cheeks and forehead tend to get dry. I only ever get breakouts around my jawline and chin and have to make sure to hydrate under my eyes more than other parts of my face. But what does this all mean?

 

What is combination skin?

 

Combination skin can be characterized by having some parts of your face that are oilier than others (most likely the T-zone) and parts that are “normal” or dry, including the cheeks, forehead, temples and hairline. People with combination skin tend to be acne-prone in the T-zone area and have larger, more visible pores in that area as well. This is usually combined with dull, dry cheeks. Overall, that means a hot ass mess.

 

combination skin
istock/marzacz

 

It’s pretty obvious to know if you have combination skin if you have trouble controlling oil around your chin and nose but everywhere else is all good, or if you’re struggling to get rid of the flakiness on your forehead but everywhere else is A-OK.

 

What causes combination skin?

 

Combination skin is most likely a result of good ol’ fashioned genetics, but it can also be made worse by the types of skincare products you’re currently using. For example, if you’re trying to banish the oily parts of your skin by using harsh cleansers and toners, you could be drying out the drier parts of your face, while the oilier parts of your face are producing more oil because they are like, “GIRL CAN YOU PLEASE STOP. HELP US!” If you think this might be you, think about the type of cleansers and other products you are using.

 

(For a primer on why your cleanser may be the culprit, check out our story here.)

 

Why is combination skin so difficult to manage?

 

People have a difficult time dealing with combination skin because it’s like … wtf do I do when some parts of my face are a pizza and the others are the Sahara? It might be difficult to find products that address the needs of the both skin types. And it also doesn’t help that a lot of products that tote magical benefits for combination skin are merely marketing ploys. Hashtag fakenewbeauty.

 

combination skin

 

So what can I do, girl?!

 

Listen. I understand your struggle. It’s hard out here for a combination skin gal or guy. I mean, do we really have to buy two sets of skincare products, one for oily skin and one for dry skin? But I’m going to tell you a secret word that you’ve probably heard of before, and that’s BALANCE.

 

Much like oily skin, combination skin needs to be balanced to reduce the effect of each skin type. This means a bit of compromise. You don’t have to use completely different products for each part of your face, but you do have to be mindful of the products you are using and how you are using them.

 

This also means that there is no “free size” (aka Korean for one-size-fits-all) approach to combination skin. I can only give you suggestions, but it’s up to you to try a few different things to see what really works for your skin and what doesn’t.

 

Tips for combination skin

 

Take into account just how oily and how dry the different areas of your face are. Does makeup slide right off your nose or is it just really shiny towards the end of the day? Do your dry areas look rough, flaky, and patchy, or are they just a bit tight and uncomfortable? If you need to, write down all of your answers in a journal to refer to.

 

combination skin
istock/MatoomMi

 

Once you’ve determined the level of oiliness and dryness, you can move on to choosing the products that will work for you. Keep in mind, for both skin types you’ll need to make sure you are using a gentle, low pH cleanser (like the COSRX Low pH Good MorningGel Cleanser ) as this will help build a great foundation in your skincare routine.

 

Next, you’ll want to avoid harsh, drying toners and layer on lightweight toners. You can apply one layer on the oilier areas and then go to town on the areas that are dry and dull. This same technique also applies to the rest of your skincare routine. You can use one layer of your moisturizer on the T-zone, but then pat in multiple layers on the drier areas.

 

If you’re trying to get #sheetfaced, apply a little bit of a lightweight emulsion like the Swanicoco Fermentation Snail Care Emulsion to the dry parts of your skin, then use the sheet mask. You’ll seal in that extra moisture on the dry parts of your face while hydrating the oily parts.

 

If you are acne-prone in your T-zone only, make sure to apply your chemical exfoliants (like my favorite Swanicoco Coco AHA 10% Peeling Cream) to those areas of the face only to avoid drying out the rest of your skin.

 

What are your tips for combination skin? Let me know in the comments!

 

 

Discussion

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I never had much luck with US drugstore products meant for combination skin -- they didn't really work for my dry OR oily zones. AB products are working better! For me, the silver lining of combination skin is that I can try a wide variety of products (as long as they're well-formulated and don't contain any of my trigger ingredients, of course). I may not be able to use them on my entire face but I can use them somewhere!

I have combination skin, sensitivity and acne prone skin. It is hard and i use combination of products on different part of my face to deal with it. It is manageable.

I can second the chorus of acid exfoliation praises to help with combination skin! I also think that not over stripping your skin really is vital. I follow a lot of estheticians on YouTube and when one of them started talking about oily skin with a "subcondition" of surface dehydration I was like omg wait that's literally me. Hydrating my skin without too many layers of heavy occlusives has helped me so much!

oooh girl drop those YouTube links!

yes do share! "subcondition" — I love it. I have combo skin with a subcondition of wrinkles lol

OHHHH godsend for my combination-oily skin.

My tips after battling with combination-oily skin for ages:

1. Cleansing is essential. I have huge pores near my nose and above my brows, and they tend to clog up easily. I don't wear makeup, so I skimp on the first cleanse, but I make sure my second cleanse is thorough without making my skin all dried out.

2. Leave the thick nutritious emulsions/serums/essences/ampoules/creams/sleeping masks for a particularly dry weather (if you live near the equator like I do, leave them for a holiday to temperate countries). I used to think such things would help my skin... Read more

I cut down my daytime routine as well, and that really seems to help control the oiliness throughout the day. I was so into not DEhydrating my T-zone that I think I actually overdid it in the summertime when my oily parts just don't need as much.

And yes, acids are key! They've made a world of difference for my oily T-zone. I stick with BHA in the summer, and go AHA + BHA in the winter.

I live in humid summer all year long with plenty of sun. The fact that I'm not a shiny sweating mess is an achievement in itself HAHA.

When I go traveling to cooler places, I start enjoying my normal (much less oily) skin and the process of 10-step skincare :P Maybe it's a sign to emigrate LOL.