how to determine your skin type

Do you know how to determine your skin type? Cos if you don’t, that could be the source of all your skincare problems. Here’s what I mean…

I remember the day I bought my first moisturizer. I spent ages exploring all the little jars and bottles on the shelves of my local supermarket, trying to decide which one to bring home with me. I felt so grown up.

I had no idea what I was doing.

In the end, I went home with a jar of Nivea cream. I picked it because it was popular… and one of the few creams my broke teenage self could afford.

For a while, it worked. My skin was so soft! When the breakouts started happening, I blamed it on hormones… (we all know they go crazy during adolescence, right?).

Until one day, I ran out of Nivea Creme. So I reached out for a cream in my mum’s skincare stash and used that for a few days (Sshhhh! Don’t tell her!). What do you know, the breakouts disappeared.

I didn’t think anything about it then. But over the years, I saw a clear pattern emerge. Whenever I used Nivea Creme, a bunch of pimples would spring up all over my face. Whenever I stopped, those damn pimples stayed away. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

It took m a while to realise it but Nivea Creme was too rich for my combination skin type. And when you use a cream (or any other skincare product for that matter) that’s not suitable for your skin type, all kinds of nasty stuff happens. Breakouts. Dryness. Flakiness. Stinging and burning. It ain’t pretty.

If you want to take good care of your skin, and choose the right products to help it stay healthy and younger-looking, you need to determine your skin type first.

But how the heck do you do that? It’s not like there’s just one skin type. It could be oily, dry, normal, sensitive or a combination of the above.

Don’t worry, you don’t need to figure it out alone. Here’s a quick guide to help you determine your skin type:

How To Determine Your Skin Type

how to determine your skin type: normal skin

Skin type #1: Normal

The Cause

The universe has blessed you, you lucky gal! Enjoy it!

The Symptoms

  • No shiny patches, no flakiness, no irritation, nothing to report.
  • You heard about breakouts, but don’t even get the occasional pimple.
  • You’re pretty sure you have pores, but you’ve never seen them.
  • Your skin looks and feels… well, normal.

The Cure

Whatever it is you’re doing, keep doing it. You’re on the right track. The only thing I recommend (if you ain’t doing it already) is to use formulas rich in antioxidants. Skin can never get enough of them.

The medicines

Related: How To Take Care Of Normal Skin

Shop the best skincare products for normal skin

how to determine your skin type: oily skin

Skin Type #2: Oily

The Cause

Your sebaceous glands are workaholics. They don’t like taking breaks, and don’t know what holidays are. They just keep pumping out oil like there’s no tomorrow.

The Symptoms

  • Your skin is shinier than a frying pan.
  • Your pores are so big, they can be seen from Mars (ok, maybe not, but it definitely feels that way).
  • Breakouts galore! Whiteheads, blackheads, pimples… you have them all.
  • Your skin ages more slowly and you get less wrinkles – there had to be something positive about it, right?

The cure

Keep oil production under control without drying out skin. Astringents and alcohol-toners are out. Your new best friend is salicylic acid. It exfoliates the surface of the skin and unclogs the pores, reducing shine and breakouts. Twice a week, use an oil-absorbing clay mask to give it a helping hand. And keep your skin hydrated with oil-free moisturizers that give skin a burst of moisture without adding more oil.

The medicines

Related: How To Care For Oily Skin

Shop best skincare products for oily skin

how to determine your skin type: dry skin

Skin type 3: Dry

Your sebaceous glands are so lazy. They know they should produce more oil to keep skin naturally moisturized and protect it from harsh weather and pollutants, but they just can’t be bothered to.

The symptoms

  • Skin flakes like a bad attack of dandruff, and why is it always so rough?
  • You wish you didn’t have to wash your face, it feels so tight and uncomfortable afterwards.
  • Inner glow? What’s that? You skin is as dull as dishwater.
  • You’re no stranger to itchiness and redness.
  • You develop wrinkles, and deeper ones too, earlier than your oily-skinned girlfriends. So unfair!
  • On the plus side, your pores are so small, you’re not even sure you have them.

The cure

If you determine your skin type is dry, your skin is badly in need of moisture. Treat it with a hydrating serum infused with humectants, like hyaluronic acid, that attract water into the skin. Then, lock them in with oil-based, occlusive moisturizers, or they’ll just evaporate into thin air! When your skin needs an extra dose of TLC, turn to a moisturizing sheet mask. Those never disappoint! And don’t forget to exfoliate with glycolic acid. It gets rid of the roughness and dullness, and hydrates skin, too.

The Medicines

Related: How To Care For Dry Skin

Shop best skincare products for dry skin

how to determine your skin type: combination skin

Skin type #4: Combination

The Cause

Your sebaceous glands so aren’t team players. They all want to do their own thing. Some produce too much oil. Others too little. They just refuse to compromise and cooperate. Sighs

The Symptoms

  • Your t-zone shines brighter than a diamond, but your cheeks dry out and flake like a pie crust.
  • You hope it’ll never happen again, but you know the next breakout is just around the corner.
  • Those pores on your t-zone are getting more and more visible.

The Cure

You need to get those sebaceous glands to work together to balance out oil production. Your best bet is to combine care regimes for dry and oily skin types. So oil-free moisturizers and oil-absorbing masks on the t-zone, and occlusive, richer formulas and hydrating sheet masks on the cheeks. I know, it’s a pain. But, it works.

The medicines

Related: How To Care For Combination Skin

Shop best skincare products for combination skin

how to determine your skin type: sensitive skin

Skin Type #5: Sensitive

The Cause

Your skin’s protective barrier is under attack. Freezing cold weather, harsh skincare products, and unprotected sun exposure are harming it, breaking it open in places. Now, germs, pollutants, and other nasties can get in and wreak havoc.

The Symptoms

  • Your skin is always throwing a tantrum. Everything it comes in contact with seems to sting it, burn it, make it itch, or turn it red. Ouch!
  • Your skin tends to be as dry as the Sahara.
  • Your skin is often red and flushed, and not in the I-just-went-for-a-stroll-in-winter kind of cute flushed.

The Cure

Did you determine your skin type is sensitive? Rebuild that protective barrier, fast! Use products with skin-identical ingredients, ie the bricks that make up that protective barrier, like ceramides, fatty acids, amino acids, and lecithin. Give it a soothing breakfast of chamomile and oats, with a sprinkle of allantoin. You can exfoliate it, too. With a washcloth. Much gentler.

The Medicines

Related: 9 Ingredients That Soothe Sensitive Skin

Shop the best skincare products for sensitive skin

How To Determine Your Skin Type: The Ultimate Test

Confident you can now determine what your skin type is? Wait a moment. Did you know that the wrong skincare products can change it?

For example, you may think your skin is naturally dry when, in fact, YOU are making it dry by using cleansers that strip away all its natural, moisturizing oils. On the contrary, the extra grease and breakouts may be the result of a moisturizer too rich for your skin type.

So, if the wrong skincare products can interfere so much with it, how do you determine what skin type you really have? With a simple test.

  1. Wash your face with a gentle cleanser (no soaps, foaming cleansers or oils!)
  2. Leave your skin alone for at least 2 hours. Don’t apply anything during this time.
  3. Look in the mirror: what do you see?
  • A: Lots of shine
  • B: Your skin still feels tight
  • C: A bit of oil here, some tightness there
  • D. Your skin is red and irritated
  • E. None of the above


  • A: Oily skin
  • B: Dry skin
  • C: Combination skin.
  • D. Sensitive skin
  • E. Normal skin

When You Think You Have It All Figured Out…

… your skin may decide to throw a curveball at you, and change type. Hormones, climate, wrong skincare products, diet, smoking, stress, medication, and unprotected sun exposure are just some of the things that can influence your skin type.

For example, I used to have tough combination skin. Since moving to freezing London, it’s turned dry. Or, your skin may have always been dry, but now menopause is starting, those crazy hormones are turning it into a greasy, oily mess. Argh!

So, what’s a girl to do? Just keep an eye on it. As soon as you notice any change, tweak your skincare routine accordingly.

The Bottom Line

Now that you know how to determine your skin type, choosing the right products for your needs will be a breeze. Happy skincare shopping!

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