The Best Skincare Routine For Combination Skin

by Gio
the best skincare routine for combination skin

You think dealing with oily or dry skin is bad? Trying dealing with both. At the same time.

Combination skin is a nightmare. I know because I have it.

When I use products for oily skin, I banish the shine only to get drier cheeks. If I opt for richer formulas, my cheeks are happy, but everywhere else it’s breakout galore.

Argh! What’s a girl to do?

After dealing with it for more than a decade now, I figured out some tips and tricks to take good care of combination skin. Here’s how:

How do you recognize combination skin?

First things first. Let’s make sure you really have combination skin. Here are 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 every day.

What causes combination skin?

Oil glands that refuse to cooperate. Seriously.

Those on our t-zone (forehead, nose, and chin) are workhaolics that produce way too much oil than your skin needs. The excess oil clogs up the pores, stretching them out and causing pimples.

Those on our cheeks are lazy. They don’t produce enough sebum (skin’s natural moisturizer). Without it, skin dries out and flakes.

So, how do you treat combination skin?

The key to say “bye bye combination skin” is to find a balance. You need to keep oil production under control on the t-zone without drying out drier areas.

Sadly, this often means using two sets of products. Those for oily skin on oily areas, and those for dry skin on dry areas. I know it’s a pain, but it works:

cosrx low ph good morning gel cleanser 02

1. Use a gentle cleanser

Don’t be tempted by harsh cleansers. They don’t shine away for long for long and dry out your drier areas even more.

I like to use a ph-balanced foaming cleanser in the morning to get rid of the little dirt that deposited on my face during the night. They’re usually gentle enough for the entire face.

At night, I opt for cream or oil-based cleansers that melts away makeup in minutes and replenish oil as they strip it away.

Or you can totally go down the two products route and use a foaming cleanser on your oily areas and a cream cleanser on your drier areas.

Best Picks:

Related: Are Foaming Cleansers Bad For Skin?

2. If You Must Use A Toner…

Personally, I’d skip it, but if you really want one for your combination skin, choose a hydrating formula rich in antioxidants to help fight the premature signs of aging.

Whatever you do, stay away from alcohol-laden toners. They only dry out your skin.

Best Picks:

Related: Do You Really Need A Toner?

nip + fab glycolic fix liquid glow extreme 6% review

3. Exfoliate the right way

Combination skin is the only skin type that would benefit from more than one exfoliating acid.

I’m a huge fan of salicylic acid (BHA) for those oily areas. It gets inside the pores, removing all the excess oil and dead cells that clogging them up. Bye bye pimples and blackheads! Of course, it exfoliates the surface of the skin, too.

On the drier areas, I’d stick to glycolic acid (AHA). It exfoliates the surface of your skin AND boosts hydration.

If you only want to use one, go with salicylic acid. Glycolic won’t do much for your pimples and blackheads. Or, better yet, use an exfoliant that has both. 🙂

Related: AHAs VS BHA: Which One Should You Choose?

4. Use A Hydrating Serum

Hydrating serums are perfect for combination skin. They contain humectants, i.e. moisture magnets that attract moisture from the air into the skin. The most famous members of the family are glycerin and hyaluronic acid.

Humectants are great for combo skin because they hydrate you all over without adding extra oil. You know what that means?

No greasiness. No shine. No breakouts. Just soft, supple skin.

Bonus points if the serum has antioxidants, too.

Best Picks:

Related: What The Heck Are Humectants And Why Should You Use Them?

niod multi-molecular hyaluronic complex

5. Use Two Moisturizers

I know, I know, this sucks. But, I find it really is the best recipe for combination skin.

Dry areas need occlusive formulas that can lock in moisture, but those are usually too heavy for oily skin. Oil-free moisturizers work best there.

Oil-free moisturisers are awesome because they contain emollients that act like oil. They’re lock in moisture but without adding more oil to the oily areas.

Best Picks:

Related: Oily Skin? Why You Need An Oil-Free Moisturiser

6. Wear Sunscreen

I don’t care what your excuse is, you need sunscreen. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. How else are you going to protect your skin from wrinkles, sun spots, cancer, and all the damage UV rays cause?

Just choose a lightweight one, so you can use it comfortably all over the face, oily t-zone included.

Best Picks:

  • EltaMD UV Pure Broad-Spectrum SPF 47 ($25.00): available at Dermstore and Walmart
  • Shiseido Ultimate Sun Protection SPF 50 Sunscreen + WetForce For Sensitive Skin & Children ($42.00): available at  Nordstrom and Ulta
  • Skinceuticals Physical Fusion UV Defense SPF 50 ($34.00): available at Blue Mercury and Dermstore
how bubble masks work

7. Use Clay Masks

But only on oily areas. They absorb excess oil, so it doesn’t get trapped in your pores and give you breakouts. Twice a week is enough.

Again (I can’t stress this enough!), avoid dry cheeks. Removing the little oil there only dries them out more.

Best Picks:

Related:All You Ever Wanted To Know About Bentonite Clay

8. Blot, blot, blot

If your t-zone gets shiny throughout the day, use an oil-blotting sheet to blot the oil away. It does the job quickly without ruining your makeup. Phew!

  • Boscia Green Tea Blotting Paper ($10.00): available at Sephora

Related: The Trick To Keep Oily Skin Shine-Free In Summer

How do you care for combination skin? Share your routine, tips and fave products in the comments below.



Dao August 10, 2010 - 6:40 pm

Although I don’t have combination skin, some of my friends do have. Some of them use 2 moisturizers: a thick one for dry parts and a regular one for the rest of the face. Combination skin is so frustrating because most products out there are catered to one single skin type only.

beautifulwithbrains August 11, 2010 - 7:06 am

Dao, combination skin is frustrating indeed! I so wish I had either oily or dry skin, having to deal with both is so unfair! And you’re right, there aren’t many products catered for combination skin and from my experience, the few available don’t really work too well, so sometimes, using two different products is the only choice.

Nikki August 11, 2010 - 12:59 am

Wonderful tips, I’ll keep this in mind and share this to readers who ask about this 😀

beautifulwithbrains August 11, 2010 - 7:08 am

Nikki, thanks for sharing the tips, I hope they’ll help you readers. 🙂

Anastacia August 11, 2010 - 3:24 am

What a nice information! I have to remember it all the time! ThanQ!

beautifulwithbrains August 11, 2010 - 7:09 am

Anastacia, you’re welcome. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. 🙂

xin August 11, 2010 - 6:27 am

i have combination skin myself, i find that using deep cleansing mask and hydration mask each once a week will keep my skin sane 🙂

beautifulwithbrains August 11, 2010 - 7:09 am

Xin, that sounds great, I’m glad you managed to find a balance that works well for your skin. 🙂

Stavroula Plag August 11, 2010 - 9:05 pm

My skin is oily, except for the parts around my mouth and on the sides of my nose, which are dry! :/ It’s so frustrating!! Great tips Giorgia!! 🙂


beautifulwithbrains August 12, 2010 - 8:36 am

Stavroula, I’m sorry you have combination skin, that’s very frustrating indeed! I hope these tips can help you find a good balance for your skin. 🙂

Stavroula Plag August 12, 2010 - 9:46 pm

I have to be very careful when I wash my face and I use 2 different moisturizers!! argh!! lol


beautifulwithbrains August 12, 2010 - 9:53 pm

Stavroula, as someone with combination skin myself, I symphatize with you. I know how frustrating it is to deal with it and using two moisturizers is a pain! But at least that works well *sighs*

Stavroula Plag August 12, 2010 - 9:56 pm

poor us 🙁 the skin around my mouth and on the sides of my nose is so dry and flaky, while the rest of my skin is a 24/7 excessive oil producer! isn’t that weird? can you make a post on which creams, toners, face washes etc you use? 🙂


beautifulwithbrains August 13, 2010 - 12:29 pm

Stavroula, yes I can do that but to be honest, I try new skincare products all the time. And regret it cos most products just don’t seem to be working well for me but I can’t help it. I’m always hoping to find something that works wonders for me. So far, two products that never fail to keep my skin balanced and in great condition are Garnier Pure Deep Clean Foaming Wash and Olay (or Oil of Olaz) Complete Day Cream With UV Filters. I’m actually started to think I should just stick to them instead than experimenting.

As for a toner, I don’t use as it doesn’t seem to make a difference in how my skin looks and feels whether I use it or not. But if your skin gets too oily then you should definitely consider a toner or serum with Salicylic Acid too.

Stavroula Plag August 13, 2010 - 7:48 pm

Doesn’t the Garnier dry out your skin?? Please do a review on those 2 products! 🙂 My skin is super oily! :/


beautifulwithbrains August 13, 2010 - 8:37 pm

Stavroula, the Garner cleanser dries the skin on my cheeks so I don’t use it there, but it does an excellent job on my oily t-zone and keeps the shine at bay for several hours so that’s why I love it. I’ve already written the reviews about them, here they are 😉

Stavroula Plag August 13, 2010 - 8:44 pm

awww thanks Giorgia!! 🙂 I’ll check them out now! 😉


beautifulwithbrains August 13, 2010 - 9:06 pm

Stavroula, you’re welcome. 🙂

Melissa August 13, 2010 - 12:50 am

Ooh, good tips! I just posted a blog about my top 5 skincare tips for oily/acne-prone skin. 🙂

beautifulwithbrains August 13, 2010 - 12:24 pm

Melissa, thanks and great post! 🙂

Eva November 18, 2010 - 3:17 am

I have combination skin and I’ve been using homemade recipes recently. Mixing warm honey and warm milk together makes my skin glow and doesn’t make it oily or dry. Hope this works for you!

beautifulwithbrains November 18, 2010 - 12:45 pm

Eva, thanks for sharing, sounds wonderful! I have combination skin too so I’ll surely try it. 🙂

Mark M August 19, 2011 - 6:49 am

Hey there, I have combination skin (T zone) as well.. The moisturizer I use is from Shielo.. It’s called Shielo Complexion AntiAging Moisturizer .. I don’t know if you’ll find the similar one where you stay.. But this moisturizer from Shielo is for oily or combination skin .. I really like this brand.. It doesn’t cause me any break outs.. Hope this helps!!

beautifulwithbrains August 19, 2011 - 8:20 am

Mark, thanks for sharing. I didn’t know this brand but I’m glad their moisturizer works well for you and I’m sure other people with combination skin will find it helpful.

pillar April 29, 2016 - 9:52 pm

I have suffered with a very oily T zone for years but the other areas of my face are very dry and because I use powder make up this has become a problem for me as I get older because these patches are becoming more noticeable.

I have tried numerous moisturisers which claim to be for all skin types but the ONLY one that worked for me was the pH Equilibrium Moisturizer from Made from Earth. It balances out my face and does not irritate my sensitive skin. I bought mine online at the Made from Earth website.

Gio April 30, 2016 - 5:26 pm

Pillar, thanks for sharing. I’m glad you’ve found something that works for you, and I’m sure other people dealing with the same problem will find it helpful, too.

Noe October 31, 2018 - 7:58 am

i’m still not sure what my skin type is. it does get oily (only on my nose after several hours) when i use nothing but it doesn’t dry or patchy on my cheeks and other parts. my only problem is whiteheads (the worse thing they’re bumpy), i have so many of them around nose and cheeks…

Gio November 1, 2018 - 3:59 pm

Noe, I think your skin is slightly oily. I say slightly because it doesn’t seem to produce too much oil but if you have whiteheads, there are obviously clogs. Try salicylic acid to remove them.

Marine Noël December 16, 2018 - 11:23 am

Hello Gio ! I just wanted to know something.
I’ll soon buy a serum from SOME BY MI, and I wanted to know if it was a good idea.
I plan on using it with Cosrx’s Low pH cleanser, and an oil-free moisturizer (I don’t know which one yet, do you have any inexpensive recommendation please ?). Also, note that I have combination skin.
So here’s the ingredient list :
Water, Centella Asiatica (Gotu Kola) Extract (14,77%), Cetyl Ethylhexanoate, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Glycerin, Olea Europaea (Olive) Fruit Oil, Propanediol, Alcohol, Butylene Glycol, 1,2-Hexanediol, Niacinamide, Melaleuca Alternifolia (Tea Tree) Leaf Water (10,000ppm), Camellia Sinensis (Green Tea) Leaf Extract, Scutellaria Baicalensis (Baikal Skullcap) Root Extract, Polygonum Cuspidatum (Japanese Knotweed) Root Extract, Glycyrrhiza Glabra (Licorice) Root Extract, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract, Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Extract, Sodium Lactate (18,375ppb), Sodium PCA (7,875ppb), Citric Acid (7,875ppb), Lactic Acid (3,150ppb), Malic Acid (3,150ppb), Glycolic Acid (3,150ppb), Pyruvic Acid (525ppb), Tartaric Acid (10.5ppb), Gaultheria Procumbens (Wintergreen) Leaf Extract (105ppm), Lactobionic Acid (105ppm), Pentylene Glycol, Vaccinium Macrocarpon (Cranberry) Fruit Extract, Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Extract, Ocimum Basilicum (Basil) Leaf Extract, Syringa Vulgaris (Lilac) Extract, Houttuynia Cordata (Tsi) Extract, Angelica Keiskei Extract, Althaea Officinalis (Marshmallow) Root Extract, Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Extract, Madecassoside, Camellia Oleifera (Tea-Oil Camellia) Seed Oil, Oryza Sativa (Rice) Bran Oil, Camellia Sinensis (Green Tea) Seed Oil, Rosa Canina (Dog Rose) Fruit Oil, Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis (Sweet Almond) Oil, Limnanthes Alba (Meadowfoam) Seed Oil, Sodium Chloride, Citrus Paradisi (Grapefruit) Peel Oil, Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Orange) Peel Oil, Curcuma Longa (Turmeric) Root Extract, Melia Azadirachta (Neem) Leaf Extract, Melia Azadirachta (Neem) Flower Extract, Xanthan Gum, Pelargonium Graveolens (Geranium) Flower Oil, Boswellia Carterii (Frankincense) Oil, Melia Azadirachta Bark Extract, Pearl Powder, Amyris Balsamifera (West Indian Rosewood) Bark Oil, Moringa Oleifera Seed Oil, Ocimum Sanctum Leaf Extract, Ocimum Basilicum (Basil) Flower/Leaf Extract, Disodium EDTA, Caprylyl Glycol, Ethylhexylglycerin
(incredibly long…)
So yeah, I wanted to know if it was okay? I just need a new skincare regimen haha
Thank you a lot !

Gio January 13, 2019 - 5:33 pm

Marine, I guess it depends on what your needs are. This serum has some antioxidants that can help you prevent premature wrinkles but I’m not a fan of the fragrance. Some of the fragrant oils can be irritating for skin.

You can find my recommendation for oil-free moisturisers here:

Dasha January 27, 2019 - 12:17 am

Hi Gio! I was so excited to find your blog reading it made things so clear of why I have been having problems with my skin for awhile now. I bought all your recommendations for combination skin and was so excited to finally get healthy skin. After a week use I have noticed smaller pores; flakes on nose and between eyebrows; and quiet a few breakouts on my forehead, chin and chicks! I also seem to get more sensitive red dotes on my chicks and chin 🙁 I’ve noticed that one of the cream cleansers you recommend for combination skin from Paula’s Choice is for dry skin. Could that be ther reason for forehead breakouts? I purchased products for both oily and dry skin like your routine here suggests… it’s priabably is emportabt to wash hands when applying solutions for different areas? Really hopeful for your feedback, thank you.

Gio February 8, 2019 - 12:16 pm

Dasha, I’m sorry to hear you’re having problems with this routine. It’s hard for me to say what’s causing the problems because it seems like you’ve started using all the products together? You’re not supposed to do that! You’re only supposed to use one product at a time (every few weeks) so if one doesn’t agree with you, you’ll know instantly what the culprit is.

A couple of things could be happening here:

1. There is something in one of the products that your skin doesn’t like. I recommended several products both for dry skin and oily skin because people with combination skin have different degrees of oiliness/dryness. So it’s up to figure out if an area needs a lighter or richer moisturizer. If this is the case, switch products.
2. You’re experiencing a purge. If you’ve just started exfoliating and there were breakouts brewing under your skin, the exfoliation is bringing them to the surface earlier. If this is indeed what’s happening, they should be gone within a month and then you’ll have clear skin.

To figure out if you’re dealing with a breakout or purge, check out this post:

Hope this helps!

I recommend you go back to basics. Only cleanser and moisturizer/sunscreen until your skin goes back to normal. Then introduce one new product at a time and see how your skin reacts.

Amy Alpert October 3, 2019 - 8:56 pm

I’m so glad to have found your website. Researching skin care can be so overwhelming but you break it down into very easy to understand, digestible concepts. I’ve already downloaded a lot of your free resources and have subscribed to your newsletter which is helping me understand how to create a smarter skincare routine. That said, I would love to know what you recommend for someone with combination/oily skin who is concerned about aging? I’m in my 40’s and mainly struggle with oily skin that can get dry in the winter and I’d like to add some anti-aging products to my routine. I’ve looked at your acne/anti-aging routine but since acne isn’t a major issue (I only have blackheads on my nose and chin), I’m not sure if that routine is appropriate. I’m planning on getting the following products and to slowly integrate them into a new routine and I’d like to know if you think this routine is okay or if you have any other suggestions. Thanks in advance!!

Cleanse with PC Resist Perfectly Balanced Foaming Cleanser
PC Resist Daily Pore-refining Treatment with 2% BHA
PC Resist Ultra-light Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum
PC Skin Balancing Moisture Gel
La Roche-Posay Anthelios 60 Clear Skin Dry Touch Sunscreen or another light sunscreen

Cleanse with PC Resist Perfectly Balanced Foaming Cleanser
The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% in Squalane
The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5

Gio October 5, 2019 - 7:18 pm

Amy, so glad to hear you like my website and the resources are helping you. This is a great routine! Don’t forget to use moisturizer in the evening too.

Amy Alpert October 6, 2019 - 5:32 pm

Thanks so much for the feedback!

Ashley December 5, 2019 - 6:56 pm

I have tried everything and an hour after putting on my makeup the space between my eyes and forehead is reflective! I could use a blotting sheet every hour! I use a gentle cleanser and light moisturizer… what’s the deal?!

Maya January 1, 2020 - 12:23 pm

Hi gio, love your blog very much!
I’m new to layering acid in my skin care routine.

How can I layer all those four active ingredients in the routine? Vitamin c, retinoid, niacinamide and HA?

I have combination skin (dryer side) I have uneven texture, hyperpigmentation and large pores on my cheeks. I just turned 25 years old.
This is my skin care routine at the moment.
Cleanser purity
Toner SKii
Essence tatcha
Serum vitamin C olehenrikson
Moisturizer kiehls
Spf 50 alpha-H
Eye cream Charlotte tillbury

Coconut oil or Micellar water garnier
Cleanser purity
Toner skii
Essence tatcha
Serum AHA olehenrikson
Niacinamide + zinc ordinary
Moisturizer kiehls
Eye cream Charlotte tilbury

Or some other night I change the serum to retinoid 2% + squalane from ordinary with
Hyaluronic Acid from ordinary and finish it up with kiehls moisturizer.
I’m new to retinoid just bought it a week ago!
Am I doing it right? 😭
Can’t wait to hear it from you,
Thank you xx

Gio January 17, 2020 - 3:32 pm

Maya, hi! I’d love to help you create the perfect skincare routine for you. 🙂 You can book your consultation here:

Emma Kinsey March 15, 2020 - 4:48 am

Hey Gio,
I live in Australia and a lot of your products are American. Do you have any alternatives that we are able to purchase downunder?

Eva May 10, 2020 - 2:58 am

Hi Gio! thanks so much for this post!! I wish I had come accros it ages ago! Sorry if this a long comment, but i´m rebuilding my nearly non-existent routine from scratch after the post and I´m trying not to overdo it either!

ME: 44 year old, combination skin; main worries: 1. loss of firmness 2. tiny closed comedons or white heads that make for an uneven skin texture all along my cheekbone from ear to corner of mouth: I´ve been advised to treat these with adapalene, a synthetic retinoid gen 1 (Differin gel 0.1%); 3. little holes on the skin: probable acne marks? or super enlarged pores? 4. enlarged pores 5. aging: expression lines around eyes, nasogenian sulcus . Other cons: smoker : /

1. CLEANSING: is micelar water enough or is a foaming cleanser a must?

2. EXFOLIATING: ok with Paula´s choice bha 2% salycilic, but i´ve found other products I´d like to use and this is my question: if they contain salycilic as well, should i skip the exfoliating step because it will already be covered afterwards?

3. ANTIOXIDANT SERUM: thinking of Endocare Vit C Ferulic serum; looks like a lower priced replica of Skinceutical´s.

4. HYALURONIC SERUM: either la Roche Posay Hyalu B5 or Eminence Rhuibarb Hyaluronic, which contains salycilic from strawberry and ascorbic acid (vit C) from rhuibarb; honey, aloe and antioxidants. Is is too much? Do you favour botanical ingredients against synthetic ones?

5. MOISTURISER: would like to use Korres pomegranate pore blurring gel moisturizer, for the enlarged pores and oil control on T zone but it does also contain vit A, C and salycilic,

So that´s the question I mentioned earlier: would using hyaluronic and oil-control moisturizer both with salycilic allow me to skip step 2? or would you stick to step 2, hyaluronic alone and no further oil-control stuff? (that actually sounds better)

SUNSCREEN: any oil-free mist that you´d recommend?

Then i´d use just a tiny bit of my primer for oily skin, Bobbi Brown´s Vitamin Enriched Face Base – with vit B, C and E and Karite Butter. Foundation stays a lot longer but I´m wondering if it may be occlusive and contribute to my white heads?? should it stay or be replaced, and what for?

1. CLEANSING: I wear make up every day and use only micelar water (non oily). Sounds like it´s not enough but, realistically, at night i´d need something i could just fetch from bed and not have to rinse off. Would adding purifying toner work?

2. RETINOL SERUM: either La Roche Posay Retinol B3- pure and slow release- with niacinamide! or The ordinary, which is pure retinol (never used retinoids before and can only find 1%, no chance of testing it now). I´m astonished is 7€. There´s this psychological price thing…!

Re retinol: I´m currently using Caudalie´s Resveratrol Lift and Retinol cream for eye contour. Does the Retinol in a cream only work as a moisturizer on the upper layer of the skin? Should I go for a retinol eye serum?

4. NIACINAMIDE MOISTURISER: since there is already niacinamide on La Roche´s serum, would I still need The ordinary´s 10%? and would I still need a moisturiser if I´ve already used Hyaluronic at night too?

Thank you so, so much for reading this! Very much appreciated 😀
Eva xx (Spain)

Gio May 17, 2020 - 2:00 pm

Eva, I’d love to help you create the best skincare routine for your needs. You can book your consultation here:

Nhan May 20, 2020 - 4:52 pm

Hi Gio,
This is my skincare routine:
Cleanser (cerave foaming cleanser)

Cleanser (cerave foaming cleanser)
Salicylic acid 2%
Hyalunoric acid+b5
Neutrogena water boost
*acid lactic: 2x/ week in replacement of salicylic

I would be very grateful to hear your opinion about my routine. Recently, I have my skin broken down but I don’t know what’s wrong with this routine :((

Gio June 12, 2020 - 8:15 am

Hi Nhan, I’d love to help, but I can’t give an opinion without knowing your skin type, concerns, goals… Please book your skincare consultation here so we can go through it together and create a better routine for you:


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