Skin types are categories that people use to describe how oily, dry, or sensitive their skin is. Once someone knows what skin type they have, they can learn how to care for it.
This article explores the different skin types, their features, and how to tell what kind of skin a person has. It also provides skin care tips for each type.
Skin type is determined by how much oil, or sebum, a person’s skin produces. Sebum is a substance that the skin creates to seal in moisture.
The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recognize five main skin types:
If a person has dry skin, their skin produces less sebum than it needs. These people may notice their skin:
- feels tight or dry, especially after bathing or swimming
- flakes, itches, or cracks
- looks dull, rough, or ashy
If a person has oily skin, their skin produces more sebum than it needs. They may find their skin:
- feels greasy
- looks shiny, especially around the nose and forehead
- has large pores that clog easily
- is prone to pimples or blackheads
In people with combination skin, some areas of their skin will be oily, while others may feel dry. Areas prone to oiliness include the forehead, nose, and chin, collectively known as the T-zone. The cheeks or other areas may feel normal or dry.
Sensitive skin can become irritated or inflamed easily. A person with this skin type may notice:
- skin that burns, stings, or itches when applying products
- visible reactions to substances, with bumps, hives, or peeling
Unlike other skin types, sensitive skin is not determined by how much sebum a person’s skin produces. People with dry or oily skin can also have sensitive skin, though it is most often associated with dryness.
People use the term normal skin to describe skin that is not noticeably oily, dry, or sensitive. This skin type produces enough sebum to keep the skin evenly hydrated without becoming greasy.
People with normal skin have even complexions with few blemishes.
To determine skin type:
- wash the face with a gentle cleanser
- pat dry with a clean towel
- observe how the skin looks and feels immediately after washing
- take note of how this changes over the next few hours
Dry skin will feel dry or tight shortly after washing. It may also look dull, rough, or flaky.
Oily skin may look matte after washing, but will become shiny or greasy over the next few hours. The oil will be visible if a person blots their nose with tissue.
Combination skin typically involves an oily T-zone and normal or dry cheeks. The T-zone includes the forehead, nose, and chin. After some time, this area will look shiny or greasy, but the cheeks will not.
Normal skin will look clear, even in tone and texture, and will not feel tight or irritated after washing. It will not change much during the course of the day.
Sensitive skin may sting, burn, or itch after a wash.
For many people, keeping the skin clean, hydrated, and protected from UV light is enough to keep the skin looking and feeling healthy. A basic skin care routine could involve:
- gently washing the face
- applying moisturizer if the skin feels dry or tight
- using a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or above before going outside
At the end of the day, a person can remove sunscreen and makeup from the face with a gentle, pH-balanced cleanser. They also add moisturizer if needed.
If people have specific concerns, they can take extra steps to care for their skin, and see a doctor or dermatologist for further guidance.
People with dry skin may require a very gentle cleanser and a heavier moisturizer than other skin types. The AAD recommend that people look for products that contain the following ingredients:
- humectants, which draw moisture to the skin, such as glycerin or hyaluronic acid
- oils and butters that seal in moisture, including jojoba, lanolin, or shea butter
Products that contain alcohol, retinoids, alpha-hydroxy acids, or fragrances dry the skin, so it is best to avoid these.
Those with dry skin may need to re-apply moisturizer throughout the day, particularly after showering, bathing, or washing the hands. Generally, it is a good idea to use warm rather than hot water for washing, while keeping baths and showers short.
While people are indoors, a humidifier may help increase moisture in the air when during dry weather.
Sometimes, applying too much moisturizer may confuse the skin, and it could stop producing the oils it needs to stay hydrated.
Anyone can get acne, but people with oily skin are often prone to getting pimples.
Therefore, dermatologists advise people with oily skin to use non-comedogenic products. This means that the product ingredients will not block the pores and are unlikely to cause breakouts.
People with oily skin may also wish to use a lighter moisturizer than those with other skin types to avoid adding oil to the skin. An oil-free moisturizer may feel more comfortable during the day.
Some moisturizers have additional ingredients that help absorb oil, including:
- starches, such as corn or rice starch
- clays, such as kaolin or bentonite
- silicones, such as dimethicone
Oil-free sunscreens containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide can also help reduce oil and the risk of breakouts.
People with oily skin should avoid harsh cleansers and products that contain alcohol. While these can temporarily make oily skin look matte, they are drying, causing the skin to create more oil. It is also a good idea to use water-based makeup rather than oil-based products.
A person can use blotting sheets to absorb excess oil throughout the day. However, if the oil is excessive, a person may wish to speak to a doctor.
People with combination skin can follow many of the same steps as people with oily skin, using a gentle cleanser and lightweight or oil-free products to reduce oiliness in the T-zone.
For dry patches, people can apply a more intensive moisturizer to those areas only.
A person with sensitive skin needs to consider the type of products they use on their skin carefully. They may find these tips helpful:
- using hypoallergenic, fragrance-free products with simple ingredients
- using mineral sunscreens that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, rather than chemical sunscreens such as oxybenzone
- trying out new products on a small area of skin to test for tolerance before using them anywhere else
If a person has persistent rashes with no known cause, they can discuss them with a doctor. Sometimes, they may indicate an underlying condition.
A person’s skin type changes throughout their lifetime due to changes in their body.
Most children under 11 years of age have normal skin. However, according to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, around 75% of all people in the United States aged 11–30 years have acne. This occurs because, during puberty, a person’s sebaceous glands get bigger and produce more oil.
During adolescence, a person’s skin may be oilier than it was during childhood. Sometimes, this continues into adulthood. Other factors that can cause fluctuations in skin type include:
- moving to a different climate
- exposure to pollutants and irritants
How oily, dry, or sensitive skin is can determine many aspects of skin care. However, a person’s skin tone also plays a role.
Too much exposure to UV light increases the risk of skin cancer for all skin tones, but particularly those with light skin. The American Cancer Society list the following traits as risk factors for UV damage:
- light skin
- naturally blond or red hair
- blue or green eyes
People with lighter skin may wish to use a higher SPF sunscreen, or avoid sun exposure.
While people with lighter skin are significantly more at risk for developing cancer, people with darker skin are more likely to die from skin cancer due to delays in detection and a lack of awareness from physicians.
As a result, it is still crucial that people with darker skin protect themselves from UV light with proper skin care and sunscreen.
The sensitivity of skin and how much sebum it produces will determine a person’s skin type. People can find their skin type by observing how it looks and feels after washing.
Keeping the skin clean, adequately hydrated, and protected from UV light is essential for all skin types. People with dryer skin may need heavier moisturizers, while those with oily or combination skin may wish to use lighter moisturizers and sunscreens that absorb excess sebum.
Skin tone also influences how a person looks after their skin. It is essential to be aware of any changes in the skin’s appearance, while people should also discuss any sudden rashes or moles with a doctor.