- The five basic types of skin are normal, dry, oily, combination and sensitive.
- While skin type is primarily a result of genetics, there are also external factors such as diet, stress and sun exposure that affect skin type.
- Skin types can change over time, usually becoming more dry with age.
Normal skin is the baseline for skin type; genetically and environmentally speaking, skin is well balanced and able to function at its peak level. Other skin types are the result of a genetic, hormonal or environmental imbalance.
Dry skin indicates a lack of moisture or natural oils in the skin, while oily skin is the result of an overproduction of natural oils. Sensitive skin is due to a reduced epidermal barrier function, while combination skin exhibits both oily and normal to dry areas.
Some skin types are associated with specific concerns, such as acne or aging. Acne-prone skin is often oily and appears most often in teenagers, but can also develop in any skin type, at any age. Mature skin shows signs of the natural aging process with reduced collagen, ceramide and hyaluronic acid levels that result in wrinkles, dark spots and dryness.
Understanding Skin Types
Your skin type will depend largely on how well your natural skin barrier is functioning, especially when it comes to moisture and water content.
If your skin barrier is not working properly, it may not produce enough lipids or retain enough water in order to keep skin soft and firm, which leads to dry skin. On the other hand, producing too many lipids or natural oils like sebum can result in oily skin.
Lastly, this natural barrier protects skin against external irritants, and if it is weak, skin will be more sensitive. While the skin barrier has certain genetic predispositions, external factors such as makeup, air pollution, weather and UV radiation can affect it as well.
Understanding which skin type you have is an essential first step when devising a customized skin care routine. It is important to determine your specific type to identify which skin care ingredients and products are optimal; it is equally important to understand which to avoid.
Normal Skin Type
Normal skin is essentially skin that is well balanced; it is not too dry or oily, not too sensitive and has very few imperfections. Characterized by small pores, an even skin tone and soft texture, normal skin is what many would consider to be the ideal skin type.
Skin care tips for normal skin
Normal skin has the lowest maintenance of the five types, but still requires daily attention to keep skin looking its best. Those with normal skin should take precautions to avoid the development of blemishes and other skin issues.
- Cleanse daily to avoid buildup of dirt, pollutants and other bacteria which can lead to acne
- Apply a broad spectrum sunscreen daily to protect skin from photoaging
- Exfoliate as needed for ideal skin texture
- In dry conditions, or for mature skin, moisturize daily or as needed, to maintain normal skin conditions.
Dry Skin Type
Dry skin can be caused by issues with the skin’s natural moisture barrier, or by external factors such as cold weather and excessive washing.
Dry skin exists on a scale. While it is universally characterized by its rough texture, it may begin to flake, peel or even crack depending on the severity. If your skin is constantly dry, and shows signs of cracking or bleeding, you have severely dry skin and may want to consult a dermatologist.
In addition to texture, this skin type often appears dull with some redness and itching. On a positive note, dry skin is characterized by small pores and is usually not acne-prone.
Skin care tips for dry skin
As harsh cleansers and astringents can exacerbate the symptoms of dry skin, choose gentle products and rich moisturizers instead.
- Use nonabrasive cleansers and cleansing techniques
- Use rich moisturizing products as needed
- Stay hydrated
- Use a humidifier in dry climates
- Protect skin from the drying effects of cold weather with physical barriers such as scarves
Oily Skin Type
Oily skin is typically the result of excess sebum production. This is most widely attributed to internal rather than external biological factors. For instance, some people have a genetic predisposition to producing more sebum than others; hormonal changes can cause an increase in sebum production, which commonly occurs in adolescence.
Oily skin is characterized by:
- Shiny appearance
- Slick or greasy feel
- Visible or enlarged pores
- Makeup that won’t adhere to skin
If your skin shows only one or two signs, you have slightly to moderately oily skin; if your skin shows all of these signs, you have very oily skin. Additionally, because excess sebum blocks pores and leads to acne, those with oily skin are prone to blemishes such as whiteheads and blackheads.
Skin care tips for oily skin
Skin care for oily skin is centered around reducing the oily shine on skin and addressing acne. Look for products and choose a routine that will address sebum production and breakouts.
- Cleanse twice daily and after physical activity, but do not overwash
- Use oil-free skin care products and makeup
- Choose noncomedogenic moisturizers for oily skin to avoid clogging pores
For more severe cases, consider using skin-blotting papers throughout the day to maintain an oil-free appearance.
Combination Skin Type
Combination skin is characterized by two areas: oily and normal or dry skin. Typically, combination skin presents as an oily T-zone—the forehead, nose and chin—with dry skin elsewhere on the face. The T-zone is typically oilier because it has a higher concentration of oil glands.
While anyone can have dry or oily patches of skin on occasion, those with combination skin will consistently or recurrently experience the same dryness and oiliness. Often, the T-zone will feel greasy and appear shiny; elsewhere it will feel rough and appear dull.
Different degrees of combination skin also exist – the T-zone may be slightly oily, while the rest of the face will fall within the normal to dry range.
Skin care tips for combination skin
To care for their combination skin, most people use separate products to address the two distinct needs. While some experimentation is often required to find the right products, there are some general tips to keep in mind.
- Apply an oil-free moisturizer to the oily areas
- Choose heavier moisturizers, such as occlusives, for dry areas
- Use blotting papers throughout the day to control oily skin
- Don’t apply one cleanser or exfoliator to the entire face; use astringent options on oily areas and gentler options on dry areas
- Use oil-free sun protection to avoid clogged pores
The frequency with which you use these products will depend on the severity of your dry and oily skin. Generally, avoid cleansing more than twice per day, as this can irritate both skin types.
Sensitive Skin Type
Skin sensitivity is often attributed to impaired skin barrier function or an overactive immune system.
It can be caused by a genetic predisposition, such as rosacea or eczema, and certain allergies. Those with dry skin often have increased sensitivity because dryness does harm to the skin’s natural protective barrier. Sensitivity can also be triggered or worsened by environmental irritants and allergens such as animal dander, pollen and makeup.
Skin can have minor or severe sensitivity, identified by blotchiness, patches of redness, peeling, itching or burning. If you find that skin care products or certain fabrics irritate your skin, or if you develop contact dermatitis easily, you likely have sensitive skin.
Tips for caring for sensitive skin
There are a range of products formulated with gentle ingredients designed for those with sensitive skin. However, it is also important to identify any particular triggers to avoid any products that contain these irritants.
- Look for cleansers with low concentrations of alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) and retinol
- Use moisturizers, such as those containing ceramides, to help improve skin barrier function
- Choose products with soothing and cooling ingredients such as willow bark extract and menthyl lactate
- Use gentle anti-inflammatory ingredients such as chamomile
- Avoid products that contain fragrances, simple alcohols, sulfates, citrus and essential oils
Related Skin Conditions
Acne-prone and mature skin can be seen in any of the five skin types. Both these skin concerns require adjustments or additions to an individual’s skin care regimen in order to address their particular needs.
Acne breakouts occur when the oil glands attached to the hair follicles on the skin produce too much oil, causing the skin around the follicles to rupture and become inflamed. Acne is most common in those with oily or combination skin.
Those with acne-prone skin should:
- Avoid oil-based makeup and skin care products
- Avoid products that contain occlusives
- Blot skin as needed to help prevent oil buildup
- Choose cleansers with acne-fighting ingredients such as AHAs and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs)
Mature skin is characterized by looseness, wrinkles, dryness and fragility. With age, the body naturally slows production of collagen, sebum, hyaluronic acid and ceramides. These all serve to maintain skin barrier function, which improves skin elasticity and moisture.
Additionally, mature skin often develops dark spots as a result of prolonged exposure to UV rays. Skin that has been exposed to significant amounts of UV radiation may experience signs of aging earlier.
Because the issues associated with mature skin vary, the steps for maintenance will vary as well.
|Concern||Key Ingredients||What They Do|
|Dry skin due to aging||Hyaluronic acid|
|Moisturizes and hydrates skin by restoring its natural barrier|
|Skin looseness and wrinkles||Vitamin A|
|Promotes firmer skin by stimulating and increasing collagen production|
|Dark spots||Vitamin C|
|Reduces visibility of dark spots through antioxidant properties|
How to Identify Your Skin Type
In addition to your skin type, determining the tone of your skin is important when considering skin care. Lighter skin is more sensitive to sunlight and will require more protection against sun damage; darker skin tones will also need to take certain precautions.
The Fitzpatrick scale
Skin types I–II are very pale and should always wear sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. People in these categories should also consider using physical barriers such as wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses for the best protection.
Those with darker skin (III–VI) should also avoid the sun’s damaging rays and wear sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15, however, they are less likely to burn or have permanent sun damage.
Skin Care Do’s and Don’ts For Every Skin Type
No matter what type of skin you have, there are several do’s and don’ts that are universal to skin care best practices.
- Follow a skin care regimen suited to your skin type
- Remove all makeup before bed
- Drink adequate amounts of water to remain hydrated
- Avoid using tobacco products and the excessive use of alcohol
- Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen daily, with an SPF of 15 or 30 depending on skin tone.
- Wear a hat and sunglasses when in direct sunlight
- Avoid tanning beds and limit sun exposure
Determining your skin type is an important first step in developing a skin care regimen that keeps skin looking and feeling healthy.
Those with dry or sensitive skin will want to avoid harsh or astringent skin care products, and instead seek out products that soothe and moisturize. People with oily skin should cleanse their skin with slightly stronger ingredients and avoid occlusives as well as oil-based products. Combination skin benefits from applying different products designed for the dry and oily sections of the face.
If you have acne-prone or mature skin, this adds another consideration in how you should care for your skin. For mature skin, choose ingredients that moisturize, have antioxidant benefits and stimulate collagen production. In acne-prone skin, cleansers that have effective anti-fighting ingredients and emulsions can help clear the face of dirt and oil, and prevent future outbreaks.
- Rodan, K., Fields, K., Majewski, G., & Falla, T. (2016). Skincare Bootcamp: The Evolving Role of Skincare. Plastic and reconstructive surgery. Global open, 4(12 Suppl Anatomy and Safety in Cosmetic Medicine: Cosmetic Bootcamp), e1152. doi:10.1097/GOX.0000000000001152
- Mojumdar, E. H., Pham, Q. D., Topgaard, D., & Sparr, E. (2017). Skin hydration: interplay between molecular dynamics, structure and water uptake in the stratum corneum. Scientific reports, 7(1), 15712. doi:10.1038/s41598-017-15921-5
- Endly, D. C., & Miller, R. A. (2017). Oily Skin: A review of Treatment Options. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology, 10(8), 49–55. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5605215/
- Farage M. A. (2019). The Prevalence of Sensitive Skin. Frontiers in medicine, 6, 98. doi:10.3389/fmed.2019.00098
- Sutaria AH, Schlessinger J. Acne Vulgaris. [Updated 2018 Nov 14]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2019 Jan-. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459173/
- Amaro-Ortiz, A., Yan, B., & D’Orazio, J. A. (2014). Ultraviolet radiation, aging and the skin: prevention of damage by topical cAMP manipulation. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 19(5), 6202–6219. doi:10.3390/molecules19056202
- Papakonstantinou, E., Roth, M., & Karakiulakis, G. (2012). Hyaluronic acid: A key molecule in skin aging. Dermato-endocrinology, 4(3), 253–258. doi:10.4161/derm.21923
- US Department of Health and Human Services. The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer. Washington (DC): Office of the Surgeon General (US); 2014. Table 3, Fitzpatrick Skin Type. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK247164/table/skincancer.t3/