All about skin types

Help! I don’t know what my skin type is. Relax – help is at hand. 

All about skin types

What are the different skin types?

The four traditionally defined skin types are normal, oily, dry and combination. However, skin types are a spectrum, and most of us move between being more dry or oily at various times.

Combination skin is the most common skin type, characterised by skin that is oily in the T-zone (the forehead, nose, chin and inner cheeks), and normal or dry elsewhere. It’s the most common skin type.

Oily skin is characterised by skin that produces excess sebum, or oil. This can lead to shiny appearing skin that is more prone to enlarged pores, comedones (blackheads and whiteheads), and acne. 

Dry skin tends to produce less sebum, or oil, than other skin types. It may appear flaky, rough and dull and may feel tight or uncomfortable. Dry skin can be more prone to irritation than other skin types. 

Normal skin is neither too dry or too oily, and generally feels smooth. It is less prone to acne and sensitivity than other skin types. 

Sensitive skin is not actually a skin type, although it’s often mistaken for being one. Any of the above mentioned skin types can be prone to sensitivity. 

What factors can influence your skin type?

Genetics have a big role to play in your skin type. Other factors include hormones, age, the environment (such as humidity, temperature, and exposure to air conditioning or heating), and the products we use on our skin. 

Is it important to know my skin type?

Yes and no. It’s useful to know how your skin is feeling and behaving at a particular point in time, to help decide what products to use. If your skin feels dry, it will be helpful to use more hydrating products and moisturising creams. If it feels oily, products which can help reduce oil production and non-occlusive moisturising lotions are recommended. 

In general, I prefer to avoid labelling people as having a particular skin type, as our skin is forever changing. Many factors can influence how our skin feels and behaves at any point in time, such as the climate, our age, lifestyle, and the products we’re using on our skin. Instead, it can be more helpful to think about the tendency of your skin at a particular time – right now, does it tend to feel more dry, more oily, or a bit of a mix? Then choose the products you use based on that. This may mean you have several different products to use at different times, depending on how your skin feels. 

How can I best manage my skin type?

Managing combination skin can be tricky, as the needs of the skin on the different areas of your face differ. Some people use different products for the different areas of the face, but this can be complicated and more time consuming. An alternative is to use gentle products that aren’t too drying, nor too heavy or comedogenic, which are suitable for all skin types.

Oily skin is best managed with a gentle cleanser and a non-comedogenic moisturiser such as a lotion, rather than a cream or balm. Harsh cleansers that dry the skin too much can actually result in an increase in oil production. In addition, topical retinoids, salicylic acid and niacinamide can all help reduce oil production. 

For those with dry skin, use cool or lukewarm water to cleanse, and choose a gentle, fragrance-free and SLS-free cleanser. Use a cream, ointment or balm moisturiser which contains a combination of moisturising ingredients such as humectants, emollients and occlusives, and look for added ingredients that target dryness such as ceramides, squalane, hyaluronic acid and essential fatty acids. Apply your moisturiser straight after bathing or cleansing to damp skin, to trap in the moisture. 

When introducing active ingredients which have the potential to be drying or irritating, always start slowly. Introduce one product at a time, applying to a test area first, and use in conjunction with a moisturiser. Avoid over-exfoliating the skin, using a gentle chemical exfoliant at most three times per week. 

Normal skin tolerates most products fairly well, and doesn’t require products targeting particular concerns. However, it’s always a good idea to use a gentle cleanser, and a moisturiser with a combination of moisturising ingredients to maintain the skin barrier function.




Spotlight on Skin was created by award-winning Melbourne-based dermatologist, Dr Julia Rhodes.

Julia knows first-hand how overwhelming the skincare world can be, and that’s with over 10 years of experience practicing dermatology. Given that even she gets overwhelmed, she appreciates how hard it can be for those of you without a scientific background to make sense of all the information available, and choose products that are right for your skin…