- Skin types are commonly divided into five major categories: normal, dry, oily, combination and sensitive.
- Each skin type requires a different skin care routine, and will respond differently to skin care products.
- Knowing your skin type and properly addressing its needs is an essential part of skin care.
- Four simple at-home tests can help you determine your skin type.
The five skin types were determined in the early 1900s. Although there are alternatives to this basic classification system, it continues to be the most popular one today.
Every individual’s skin type is determined by their genetics, but can also be influenced by external factors such as weather, cleansing habits and airborne pollutants. Skin types are also liable to change over time.
Assessing your skin type is key to developing effective skin care strategies. In order to do so, you will need to know what characterizes each type, as most at-home tests rely on your observations to assess the natural state of your skin.
Why Knowing Your Skin Type is Important
Using skin care products that are poorly suited to your skin type can cause a wide range of complications. Being conscious of your skin type and its particular needs is essential for developing a skin care regimen that keeps you looking your best.
There are five major skin types. These include:
- Normal skin
- Dry Skin
- Oily skin
- Combination skin
- Sensitive skin
Normal skin is characterized by a balanced complexion that is neither dry nor oily, and shows little sensitivity or susceptibility to irritation. Normal skin typically has fine pores, smooth texture and good circulation, resulting in a bright, even complexion.
Those with normal skin may experience slightly more oiliness in their T-zone – the chin, nose and forehead area. This occurs naturally and is not usually a cause for concern.
Dry skin is characterized by an overall lack of hydration, and typically appears tight, thin and dull with a rough texture. It can be caused by an impaired skin moisture barrier, or by environmental factors such as dry or hot air. Skin tends to become drier over time as a natural part of aging.
Low moisture levels can interfere with the skin’s protective barrier function, which makes dry skin susceptible to a number of complications, such as redness, flaking and irritation.
Oily skin is the result of an overproduction of sebum, the skin’s natural oils. Oily skin often appears shiny, and is greasy or slick to the touch.
Those with oily skin are more likely to experience breakouts, as this excess oil will often combine with dirt and debris to clog pores and trigger acne. This also causes the pores to stretch and appear larger.
Combination skin typically has both oily (the T-zone) and normal to dry skin elsewhere on the face.
Pores in oily areas may become blocked with the application of moisturizing products, and dry areas can become irritated by strong cleansers and astringents. For these reasons, combination skin requires extra attention through the application of different types of skin care products to address the distinct areas of the face.
Sensitive skin is characterized by sensitivity to environmental stimuli and allergens, which can cause blotchy redness, peeling, rashes or itching. Sensitive skin can be caused by a fragile skin barrier, an overactive immune system or certain skin conditions such as eczema and rosacea.
Skin Type Tests
You can easily determine your skin type with one of four simple tests. These tests rely primarily on feel and observation, and are achieved by examining skin when it is in a clean, natural state, and paying particular attention to the degree of oil present.
The day test
The simplest way to determine which type of skin you have is to use a mild cleanser in the morning, gently pat your skin dry and leave it bare for the rest of the day. At the end of the day, examine the appearance and texture of your skin, and look for the specific signs associated with each skin type:
- Normal skin feels soft and supple with no noticeable signs of oiliness, dryness or irritation
- Dry skin feels taut and rough to the touch, and may be flaky
- Oily skin appears shiny and feels slick to the touch
- Combination skin is oily in the T-zone and dry or normal on the rest of the face
- Sensitive skin may be itchy and inflamed, appearing red or blotchy
The wash test
If you prefer not to wait all day to determine your results, you can take the wash test, which has the bonus of providing faster results. Simply wash your face with a mild cleanser, gently pat dry and then wait 30 minutes.
At the end of the waiting period, examine your skin and look for the signs listed above to determine your skin type.
The blotting test
After washing your face with a mild cleanser, leave it bare for three hours. Place a piece of blotting paper over various areas of your face for several minutes to determine the level of oiliness.
If the paper adheres and you notice patches of oil upon removal, you likely have oily skin. If the paper sticks but doesn’t have any noticeable oily spots, your skin type is probably normal; if it doesn’t stick at all, you likely have dry skin.
Combination skin will produce oily spots on the paper where it makes contact with the T-zone. This test cannot help determine if you have sensitive skin.
The pressure test
The pressure test is intended to evaluate your skin’s suppleness. Simply apply pressure to the skin on your face and observe its elasticity.
Dry skin is the result of a lack of natural oils and lipids, which keep your skin supple and flexible; if your skin doesn’t quickly bounce back after you apply pressure, it’s probably dry. Normal and oily skin types will quickly return to normal after pressure is applied.
Skin Types in Dermatology
The standard five-type model has been criticized by the dermatological community for its lack of accuracy. Most people exhibit traits of more than one type, and will often cycle through traits associated with different types as seasons and weather conditions change.
A number of alternative skin typing systems have been proposed within this community including the Baumann Skin Type Indicator.
The 16 Baumann skin types
Developed by Dr. Leslie Baumann in 2004, the Baumann Skin Type Indicator categorizes skin as having 16 unique types. The system establishes four parameters to evaluate skin types:
- Dry (D) vs. oily (O)
- Sensitive (S) vs. resistant (R)
- Pigmented (P) vs. nonpigmented (N)
- Wrinkle-prone (W) vs. tight (T)
In this system, all four parameters are factored in when determining a person’s individual skin type, making 16 possible combinations.
Each skin type is named with a four-letter acronym denoting where a person belongs in regard to each of the four parameters. For example, the “OSPT” skin type characterized as being oily, sensitive, pigmented and tight, while the “DRNW” type is dry, resistant, nonpigmented and wrinkle-prone.
This is a more holistic way of categorizing skin type, which makes it easier for individuals to determine how to care for their skin. For instance, if you know that your skin is oily as well as sensitive, you will know not to choose abrasive or potentially irritating products, even if they are recommended to reduce oiliness.
How to Care for Your Skin Type
While every skin type will vary in its needs, skin care routines for all types are generally centered around cleansing and moisturizing to different degrees.
|Skin Type||Routine Goals||Ingredients to Consider|
|Normal||Gently cleanse and moisturize regularly to maintain a healthy complexion||Vitamin C serum, products with alpha-hydroxy acid|
|Dry||Cleanse very gently; avoid harsh drying ingredients; moisturize regularly to keep skin supple||Safflower, sunflower, jojoba and apricot oils, hyaluronic acid, aloe vera, glycerin and ceramides|
|Oily||Apply strong cleansers and toners to reduce shine; moisturize lightly with noncomedogenic products to avoid clogging pores||Salicylic acid, tea tree oil, witch hazel and hyaluronic acid|
|Combination||Cleanse, tone and hydrate according to different needs of the T-zone and the rest of the face; avoid using strong cleansers on dry areas and heavy moisturizers on oily areas||Glycerin, witch hazel, salicylic acid and hyaluronic acid|
|Sensitive||Cleanse and hydrate with gentle products formulated to avoid irritation||Ceramides, green tea, squalane|
Normal skin care routine
Normal skin simply needs to be kept clean and hydrated in order to look and feel its best. If you have normal skin, use a gentle cleanser in the morning and evening, and the moisturizing product of your choice.
Normal skin types also need to protect against UVA and UVB rays in order to avoid dark spots and other signs of premature aging.
Although normal skin is naturally well balanced (not too oily, dry or sensitive), it is still susceptible to environmental factors that can alter this balance. Be sure to reassess your skin’s condition regularly in order to provide the best possible care.
Dry skin care routine
For dry skin, twice a day, use a gentle cleanser that won’t strip the skin of its natural oils. If your skin is very dry, replace the morning wash with a quick rinse of lukewarm water instead. Afterward, gently pat your skin dry and apply a moisturizer and sunscreen.
For severe dryness, consider using a ceramide cream instead of a moisturizer. These creams mimic the skin’s natural hydration system, which can help treat the root cause of skin dryness as well as the symptoms.
Oily skin care routine
Skin continues to produce sebum during sleep, so it is normal for those with oily skin to wake up with an oily sheen. Using a water-based cleanser in the morning will help remove this excess oil buildup. Afterward, apply a balancing serum, followed by a water-based moisturizer. Hyaluronic acid can stand in for moisturizer if your skin is extremely oily.
Wash your face in the evening with an oil-based cleanser to remove makeup, dirt and other surface impurities. Repeat the wash using your morning cleanser to remove any oily residue.
Finish your evening routine with the application of a witch hazel toner or a salicylic acid exfoliating product, and smooth on an oil-free moisturizer.
Combination skin care routine
Choose a mild, nondrying cleanser for both morning and evening. Apply witch hazel or another astringent to oily T-zone areas and hyaluronic acid to dry areas, then apply a water-based moisturizer to the entire face.
Sensitive skin care routine
Sensitive skin requires a minimal routine that cleanses and hydrates without causing further irritation.
Milk cleansers are particularly gentle on skin because they have a base of emollients and water. Emollients are oil-soluble fats, which means they are able to break through makeup, dirt and sebum on the skin, while still being gentle and hydrating. Use a cleanser with a milk or cream base both morning and evening, and follow with a moisturizing product containing calming ingredients.
Avoid abrasive scrubs, bar soaps and any products with simple alcohols or added fragrances, as these may cause irritation to sensitive skin. If you’re prone to flare-ups, keep a calming serum on hand, and apply it to help bring down symptoms when experiencing acute sensitivity.
To find the best skin care routine for you, it is important to identify your skin type. One’s skin type is not always obvious, but simple tests exist for the purpose of helping you identify which type of skin you have. Among these are the wash test, day test, blotting test and pressure test, which work best on product-free skin.
Although the five-type model is still the most commonly used to identify skin types, other more recent models such as the Baumann Skin Type Indicator can provide you with a more in-depth classification of your skin type.
Each skin type requires a specific routine in order to keep it looking and feeling healthy. For normal skin, focus on maintenance and anti-aging. For dry skin and sensitive skin, be sure to apply moisturizing and soothing products. For oily skin, cleanse daily with oil-soluble or oil-free products. Lastly, combination skin will benefit from a combined skin care routine; stronger cleansers on oily areas and thicker moisturizers on dry.
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- Baumann L. Understanding and treating various skin types: the Baumann Skin Type Indicator. Dermatol Clin. 2008 Jul;26(3):359-73, vi. doi:10.1016/j.det.2008.03.007
- Andriessen, Anneke. (2013) Prevention, recognition and treatment of dry skin conditions. British Journal of NursingVol. 22, No. 1, Dermatology. https://doi.org/10.12968/bjon.2013.22.1.26
- Spada, F., Barnes, T. M., & Greive, K. A. (2018). Skin hydration is significantly increased by a cream formulated to mimic the skin’s own natural moisturizing systems. Clinical, cosmetic and investigational dermatology, 11, 491–497. doi:10.2147/CCID.S177697