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How do I work out what my skin type is?

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10 December 2021|3 min read

Key Points

  • Knowing your skin type may help you to look after your skin better.
  • The traditional way to categorise your skin type is based on how dry or oily it is.
  • However, there are other ways, including your level of sun sensitivity and the amount of sun damage you’ve experienced.

There’s a lot of hype surrounding skin types, but why is it important to know what yours is? And is everyone divided along one dimension of skin types, or are there a number of different categories?  

We asked expert dermatologist Dr Liz Dawes-Higgs about the different categories of skin type, and how to quickly find out what yours is.

The most common way to assess skin types

Dr Liz explains that, “traditionally, dermatologists define someone’s skin type according to its levels of dryness or oiliness.” This method of assessment breaks people down into four main skin type categories:

  • normal
  • dry
  • oily 
  • combination

So how do you find out what type of skin you have? Here’s a quick rundown of the traditional types.

Dry skin

Dry skin produces less sebum (oil) than normal skin does. That means it loses moisture easily, so it’s vulnerable to cracking and flaking. It might even become irritated, itchy or inflamed, depending on exactly how dry it gets. 

Dry skin often looks dull and rough, perhaps with red patches. If you have this type of skin, you probably can’t see any pores, and you’ll notice more visible lines. 

Oily skin

Oily skin gets its name because the sebum glands within it produce more oil than those in normal skin do. That makes the skin shiny, often with large, clearly visible pores.

Additionally, that excess oil can sometimes lead to pores getting clogged, resulting in blackheads. If bacteria then get into those clogged pores, you might notice acne forming, regardless of your age.

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There are four main categories when traditionally classifying skin types: normal, dry, oily or combination

Normal skin

Normal skin manages the ‘Goldilocks balance’ of being not too oily and not too dry. If you’re lucky enough to have this kind of skin, it’s likely to appear soft, smooth and even luminous. 

It will usually also have fine pores that are only just visible, with few if any blemishes.  

Combination skin

If you have ‘combination skin’, you’ll have some areas that are dry or normal, while others are oily. 

Most commonly, the oily part will be your T-zone – the ‘T’ shape your forehead, nose and chin form. Meanwhile, your cheeks and the rest of your face will usually be dry.

People with combination skin often benefit from using different types of moisturiser in each ‘zone’ of their skin. If this is you, try a light, water-based moisturiser on your oily areas, and a richer, creamier formula on the dry ones.

What causes these skin types?

Your genetics determine your initial skin type, but that can change over time for both internal and external reasons, including:

  • age: your skin tends to get drier as you get older
  • hormones: if you have a period, you might notice changes in your skin type during your cycle
  • medication: some medications may also affect your skin’s oiliness
  • diet: some foods may actively be good for your skin
  • where you live: if you live in a hot climate, you’ll probably have oilier skin than someone in a colder place
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Your skin type is determined by genetics, but it can change over time because of internal and external factors

Other ways to assess your skin type

Dr Liz adds that a dermatologist can determine your skin type in a number of ways beyond simple oiliness or dryness.

For example, there’s your ‘phototype’, which she says, “describes how sensitive your skin is to sunlight.” Skin types in this assessment range on a six-point scale from extremely sun-sensitive to being able to tolerate some sun exposure.

There’s also your ‘photoaging’ type, which is a four-point scale describing the amount of sun damage your skin has experienced. 

You can get some idea of how much photoaging your skin has been through at home, too, Dr Liz comments. “Just take a good look in the mirror for lines, brown spots, broken blood vessels or scaly patches.”

So why should you care about your skin type?

On a practical level, before even typing your skin as oily or dry, Dr Liz recommends thinking about how sensitive it is. If you’ve noticed any stinging, burning or reddening when you apply your skin care, you may want to try more gentle formulas created for sensitive skin. 

Beyond this, she suggests contacting a dermatologist to professionally analyse your skin. This, she says, “will help you to really understand your skin type. And this, in turn, will help you look after your skin by selecting the best skin care products and treatment options.” 

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Healthy skin appears soft and smooth, and may even be luminous

Get the right help for your skin type

It’s true that beauty is more than just skin deep. At the same time, though, healthy skin is essential if you want to look and feel your best

If you have any concerns or need a bit of extra help, speak to your GP or dermatologist for personalised advice.

Related:

Dr Liz Dawes-Higgs is an award winning dermatologist with extensive experience in the world of medicine, business leadership and education. She is passionate about a range of topics including acne scarring, female genital dermatology and skin cancer management.

Reviewed by the healthylife Advisory Board November 2021.

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This article is for informational purposes only and does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Any information published on this website or by this brand is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. If you have any concerns or questions about your health you should consult with a health professional.