- Combination skin has both oily and dry areas
- You may need more than one moisturizer to serve your combination skin’s needs
- Ingredients to look for include non-comedogenic 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 if and where to use 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—but if your skin is on the drier side, the driest areas might not be adequately hydrated. If that’s the case, you can use a combination of two moisturizers, each targeted at the areas that need their effects.
Ingredients to Look For
A few categories of ingredients work in different ways to hydrate and moisturize combination skin.
Squalane is a saturated, more stable form of squalene, a lipid (fat) produced in the body that naturally moisturizes the skin. Production of this chemical in the body drastically drops off after age 30, but it can be replaced by being topically applied in a moisturizer. Although it is technically an oil, it does not have an oily feel, which works well if your t-zone is prone to greasiness.
Plant oils like marula, jojoba and argan oil are light in texture and also suitable for combination skin.
Noncomedogenic oils come with 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 do not affect sebum production or clog pores.
Absorbent ingredients like silica microbeads and cornstarch are included in some moisturizer formulas. These ingredients absorb excess sebum to reduce shininess without inducing dryness in the skin.
Antioxidants can keep your combination skin looking healthy by protecting it from damaging free radicals. Skin-brightening Vitamin C and Vitamin E are some of the most common antioxidants in skin care products, but you can also look for 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 both retain moisture and protect your skin against external elements.
However, as with squalene, the production of ceramides in the body slows with age and sun damage. Anti-aging moisturizers therefore are formulated with ceramides to restore what’s been lost and even encourage 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 unsuited for combination skin.
Synthetic humectants draw moisture upwards 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.
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, like using Vaseline as a lip balm. However, occlusives are generally too thick for combination skin.
Some occlusives to look out for are:
- 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 that risk.
Combination Skin Moisturizers with SPF
Regardless of your skin type, daily use of broad-spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF 30 is your best defense against accumulated sun damage to the skin.
The easiest way to incorporate sunscreen into your skin care routine is to choose a moisturizer that already includes SPF. Apply in the morning as part of your daily skin care routine. If you’ll be out in the sun during the day, reapply sunscreen every two hours.
Combination skin variations
Within the skin type category of combination skin, there are a few variations that may require extra attention.
Extreme combination skin
Extreme combination skin is characterized by areas of extreme oiliness and dryness.
If you have extreme combination skin, try using two moisturizers: a richer formulation for the drier part 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 the 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
Most people with rosacea also have combination skin. As with extreme combination skin, it’s recommended to use two products on the face for the areas with and without rosacea: the 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, it may be tempting to think you don’t need a moisturizer. However, keeping acne-prone skin hydrated is beneficial for regulating oiliness. If you experience frequent breakouts, use a light gel moisturizer in small quantities.
Sensitive combination skin
If your combination skin is also sensitive, use 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 your face. Apply the moisturizer when your skin is still damp to lock in extra hydration. (You may use a separate eye cream for the delicate under-eye area, but some dermatologists argue this isn’t necessary.)
At night, cleanse 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 of it (or none at all) in the summer.
When it comes to selecting a 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 a little experimentation, you’ll be able to find a moisturizing routine that keeps your combination skin hydrated and healthy.