'I always thought I had oily skin because I got pimples. That mistake made my skin worse.'

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?

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.

Side note – Mamamia’s executive editor and beauty editor of 15 years Leigh Cambell explained everything you need to know about blackheads on the You Beauty podcast below, post continues after audio.

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.

“Those people will have a propensity for flaring up when they come into contact with fragrances, and a physical reaction – redness, itchiness, a rash – to something being put on their face.”

For some, using the wrong products for their skin type – for example, if you’re using stripping products for oily skin all over your dry skin to try and get rid of pimples instead of spot treating – can tip you over into having sensitive skin.

People with sensitive skin aren’t able to use active ingredients like alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) or retinol, nor fragranced products. Products from like Avene’s Avene Skin Recovery Cream, Aveeno Dermexa Moisturising Cream and the La Roche Posay Toleriane range.

“Everything with a fragrance can irritate your skin. Sensitive skin is prone to getting redness and broken capillary-like skin, and can very easily be triggered by the mildest of active ingredients or fragrance in skincare products.”

What skin type am I?

To find out which skin type you have, Dr Wong recommends simplifying your skincare and thinking about the main issues you experience.

“Think about how your skin feels most of the time. Does it react easily to products? Do you have to wipe oil off your face by mid-morning? Do you find that you get breakouts more frequently? Does your skin feel tight or dry?” she said.


If, like me, you’ve been stripping your skin with harsher products or have been slapping a bathroom cabinet fill of different products on your skin, it can take around a month and a half of a simple routine (cleanse and moisturise, no actives) to get to a place where you can identify your skin issues.

“It takes 40 days for your skin barrier to get back intact, so it’s not instant. Once it’s intact, you can introduce the right products for your skin type. Less is more, don’t keep trying to find and buy the next new product because it will worsen your condition.”

“Always look for active ingredients in skincare and makeup, if it doesn’t have any actives, it’s not going to do anything.”

If in doubt, go and see a dermatologist who will be able to help you find the right routine for your skin type.

Do you think you’re using the right products for your skin type? What skin type do you have?

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