- Combination skin has both oily and dry areas.
- More than one moisturizer may be required to adequately address the needs of combination skin.
- Ingredients to look for include noncomedogenic oils and natural humectants.
- Some ingredients to avoid are synthetic humectants and occlusives.
Combination skin refers to skin that’s oily in the T-zone (the forehead, nose and chin) while dry on the cheeks and jawline. It is often more oily in the summer and drier in the winter.
If you have combination skin, you likely have a wide range of skin concerns to manage and need to be strategic in your choice and use of any given product. This is especially true when choosing a face moisturizer.
Combination Skin Challenges
Combination skin’s defining feature—its irregularity—is also its greatest challenge when choosing a moisturizer. A product that works well for dry areas may not do the same for oily areas, and vice versa.
One strategy is to select a product that is light enough for use on the entire face; however, if your skin is on the drier side, the driest areas might not be properly hydrated. If this is the case, you can use a combination of two moisturizers, each targeted at a specific area.
Ingredients to Look For
Several categories of ingredients work in different ways to hydrate and moisturize combination skin.
Contrary to popular belief, oils can sometimes be used on combination skin – as long as they’re noncomedogenic, meaning they don’t clog pores.
Squalane is a saturated, more stable form of squalene, a lipid (fat) produced in the body that naturally moisturizes the skin. The body drastically reduces production of this chemical after age 30, but it can be replaced through topical application of a moisturizer. Although technically an oil, it does not have an oily feel, meaning it can be used on the T-zone.
Plant oils such as marula, jojoba and argan oil are light in texture and also suitable for combination skin.
Noncomedogenic oils have one caveat: if your combination skin is already quite oily, an oil-free moisturizer may work better for you overall.
Natural humectants are produced by the body to help the skin retain moisture. They draw water particles toward the topmost layer of skin while enhancing the skin’s own hydrating ability. They’re ideal for use on combination skin because they are lightweight and won’t clog pores.
Absorbent ingredients such as silica microbeads and cornstarch are included in some moisturizing formulas. These ingredients absorb excess oil to reduce shine without inducing dryness.
Antioxidants can keep combination skin looking healthy by protecting it from damaging free radicals. Skin-brightening vitamin C and E are some of the most common antioxidants in skin care products: vitamin C protects skin against free radical damage while vitamin E smoothes the skin.
You may also consider natural ingredients such as green tea, chamomile and pomegranate.
Ceramides are lipids produced in the body to create a protective layer across the skin. They retain moisture and protect skin against external elements.
As with squalene, the body slows production of ceramides with age and sun damage. Anti-aging moisturizers formulated with ceramides have been proven to increase skin hydration by restoring what’s been lost and by encouraging new production of these lipids.
Since ceramides occur naturally in the body, they work well on all skin types, including combination skin.
Ingredients to Avoid
Some ingredients commonly found in moisturizers for very dry or oily skin are unsuitable for combination skin.
Synthetic humectants draw moisture upward to the skin’s surface without enhancing the skin’s ability to produce moisture on its own. In the long term, they can actually dehydrate the skin as the moisture evaporates from the skin without being replenished.
Some common synthetic humectants are:
- Butylene glycol
- Sodium PCA
- Sodium lactate
- Tremella extract
To counteract the effect of synthetic humectants, beauty companies often include occlusives in their formulas. An occlusive creates an oil barrier on the skin to prevent moisture loss – the same way Vaseline is used as a lip balm. However, occlusives are generally too thick for combination skin.
Some occlusives to avoid include:
- Mineral oil
- Shea butter
Added fragrances are the ingredients most likely to irritate your skin, especially if you have sensitive skin or inflammation due to acne. Opt for a fragrance-free moisturizer to eliminate this risk.
Combination Skin Moisturizers with SPF
Regardless of your skin type, daily use of a broad-spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF 30 is your best defense against accumulated sun-damaged skin.
The easiest way to incorporate sunscreen into your skin care routine is to choose a moisturizer that already includes sun protection. Apply in the morning as part of your daily skin care routine; reapply sunscreen every two hours for extended periods in the sun.
Combination skin variations
Within the category of combination skin, there are also several variations that may require extra attention.
Extreme combination skin
Extreme combination skin is characterized by areas of excessive oiliness and dryness.
If you have this skin combination, try using two moisturizers: a richer formulation for the drier areas of your face and a light, gel-based formula for your T-zone.
To regulate extreme combination skin, it may serve you well to extend this same principle to other products in your skin care routine, such as face wash and toner, until your sebum levels become more balanced.
Combination skin with rosacea
For those with combination skin and rosacea, as with extreme combination skin, it’s recommended to use two products on the face to address the areas with and without rosacea. This customized application may help normalize the skin barrier to reduce redness and sensitivity.
Acne-prone combination skin
If you have oily combination skin with acne, you might think you don’t need a moisturizer. However, keeping acne-prone skin hydrated is beneficial for regulating oiliness because if your skin senses it’s becoming too dry, it will overproduce oil to compensate. If you experience frequent breakouts, use a light gel moisturizer in small quantities.
Sensitive combination skin
If your combination skin is also sensitive, choose only fragrance-free moisturizers.
Often, skin sensitivity is a reaction to using too many harsh products and destroying the acid mantle, the skin’s natural barrier against its environment.
Switching to gentler, fragrance-free products may help restore your skin’s overall health and reduce sensitivity in the long term.
How to Use a Moisturizer with Combination Skin
To keep your combination skin looking hydrated and healthy, moisturize with a light SPF-containing product every morning after cleansing and toning your face. Apply the moisturizer when your skin is still damp to lock-in extra hydration.
At night, cleanse and tone your face again and apply any serums before moisturizing.
You may consider using a heavier night cream, especially on the dry areas of the face. Since combination skin is often affected by the changing seasons, you may need to use more of this heavier night cream in the winter and less or none at all in the summer.
When selecting the best facial moisturizer for your combination skin, you might not find a single one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, mix and match lighter and heavier products and pay attention to your skin’s seasonal needs.
Avoid synthetic humectants and occlusives in favor of natural humectants and light, noncomedogenic oils. As your skin ages, opt for formulations that replenish lost lipids such as ceramides and squalene.
Perhaps most importantly, let your daytime moisturizer serve double-duty as a sunscreen by using a product containing an SPF.
With some experimenting, you should achieve a moisturizing routine that keeps your combination skin appearing hydrated, healthy and balanced.
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