Up until six months ago, I always thought I had oily skin.
The physical and emotional scars (that my many freckles thankfully now hide) of going through high school with red, angry acne had me convinced my skin type was oily.
Only, things didn’t make any sense because no matter how many different oil-free moisturisers and purifying salicylic acid cleansers I bought, stubborn pimples and congestion would hang around on my chin, long past puberty’s expiration date.
Finally, when I went to see a dermatologist, they told me I didn’t have oily skin. I had dry, dehydrated skin, tipping over into the sensitive skin range because I’d been stripping my skin’s moisture barrier of hydration for years.
By using harsher products for oily or acne prone skin, I was essentially forcing those stubborn pimples to set up camp on my chin because my skin was too dry to let oil regulate and break through the surface properly.
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I’m not alone in this. A large percentage of people think they know what their skin type is, but don’t. It’s something dermatologist Dr. Li-Chuen Wong, Paediatric and Adult Dermatologist and Co-founder of Sydney Skin Clinic, sees quite often.
“Particularly if people have combination skin, or are getting dry skin and sensitive skin mixed up, they can get their skin type wrong. Using the wrong products for your skin type can actually worsen your condition,” she told Mamamia.
“It’s a common pattern [with people using the wrong products] because you can grow out of having oily, acne-prone skin, and sometimes your skin type can change as you get older. For example, in your early twenties, your hormones settle because puberty is over, but if you’re still using the same regime of really strong products, that tips you over into having dry skin.
“When your skin is dry and inflamed because those products are stripping the moisture from the skin barrier, that can lead to increased oil production and the formation of pimples. It’s a vicious cycle.”
Aside from my cautionary tale, how are you meant to figure out what skin type you have? To find out, I asked Dr Wong to explain each specific skin type, and her tips for figuring out which one belongs to you.
What is normal skin?
- Technical name: Eudermic skin.
- Feels: Moisturised but matte, not itchy, oily or irritated.
- Looks: Pore size is minimal, isn’t dry or flaky, the skin looks supple and it glows.
- Use: Skin works well with most products and products containing active ingredients like alpha hydroxyy acids (AHAs) and retinol.
What is dry skin?
- Technical name: Xerosis, can be hereditary.
- Feels: Sometimes itchy, tight, uncomfortable and easily irritated.
- Looks: Flaky, red, enhanced pigmentation, more defined wrinkles and older looking skin tone because the skin barrier doesn’t have enough moisture and is broken.
- Use: Cleansing milks like REN’s Evercalm Gentle Cleansing Milk rather than foams or gels, a hydrating serum with hyaluronic acid and a moisturiser to lock in moisture.
What is oily skin?
- Technical name: Seborrhoea, can be hereditary.
- Feels: Oily and slick, prone to painful breakouts throughout the month.
- Looks: Large, open pores, can see a visible sheen on the skin’s surface after a few hours.
- Use: Oil-free moisturisers and foundation formulas, a facial oil like The Jojoba Company Australian Jojoba Oil to let your skin know its got enough oil and to stop producing more.
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What is combination skin?
- A combination of oily and dry skin.
- Feels: Oily and slick in the t-zone (forehead, nose and chin) and tight on the cheeks.
- Looks: Prone to different types of pimples (blackheads, whiteheads, papules and pustules) and a visible sheen in the t-zone, dry or red on the cheeks.
- Use: Different products for your cheeks and t-zone, especially avoid applying thick moisturisers to the t-zone.
What is sensitive skin?
Dr Wong explained sensitive skin is more a byproduct of a skin condition, or having used the wrong products for your skin type.
“As everybody gets older, the skin becomes dryer and more sensitive. But people who have a skin condition like rosacea, eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis, or even dry skin, they are prone to having sensitive skin,” she said.