Skincare Tips: How To Determine Skin Type, What It Means & Why So Many Get It Wrong

By Alexis Wolfer

It seems like every skincare product out there is clearly marked with the type of skin it’s designed to work with – sensitive, oily/acne-prone, combination or dry. Unfortunately, our skin doesn’t come marked with such clear (and permanent) labels designating its type and few of us even actually know what those terms mean, leading many of us to purchase and use the wrong skincare products for the actual skin we’re in.

According to top NYC dermatologist and founder of DermTV, Dr. Neal Schultz, knowing and understanding your skin type is essential if you want your beauty products to work their best possible magic. As Dr. Schultz explains, “If you use a product not appropriate for your skin type, it may not only fail to help your problem, but it may make your skin worse.” And that’s the last thing anyone wants!

So, we sat down with Dr. Schultz for a skincare lesson…

Skin Type 101

You skin type is determined by the presence (or lack thereof) of oil and water. As Dr. Schultz explains, your skin has water glands that make water and oil glands that make oil, neither of which is dependent on the other. The water content of your skin determines how dry (if at all) you are, while the oil content of your skin determines how oily (if at all) you are. Together, these determine your skin type: oily/acne-prone, dry, normal or combination. Remember, though, because the water and oil have nothing to do with each other, it’s possible for the same are of skin on your face to have both water glands that are under producing (dry) and oil glands that are over active (oily), leaving you with both oily and dry skin.

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Figuring Out Your Skin Type

While there is no “test” for skin type if your cheeks feel tight or dry and appear flaky, you have dry skin. If your T-zone appears or feels oily or you breakout, then you have oily/acne-prone skin. If you have both dry skin (anywhere on face) and oily/acne-prone skin (generally in the T-zone), then you have combination skin. And if you have neither dry skin nor oily/acne-prone skin, then you have normal skin.

The Truth About Sensitive Skin

A lot of women seem to think they have sensitive skin. But, according to Dr. Schultz, most people who think they have sensitive skin, actually have normal skin! Particularly common are women who breakout from products and think that means they’re sensitive. But sensitive skin has nothing to do with breakouts. Instead, it has to do with rashy irritation, redness, itching and burning sensations. If you do have sensitive skin, of course, be careful; but if you don’t, you could be missing out on some great products perfectly suited for the skin type you do have!

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So, how do you know if you have sensitive skin? Dr. Schultz tells us that if you really have sensitive skin, your skin is “frequently irritated by many different common skin care ingredients.” The buzz words: frequently, many and common! So really pay attention to whether or not you are truly frequently irritated by many different (not just one or two) common skincare ingredients. And, of course, always test products by your ear for two days when first trying anything new.

The Goal: Normal Skin

If the goal is normal skin (which it is!), you can best get there by balancing your oil/water imbalance by moisturizing dry skin (by adding hydration/water, not necessarily oil) and/or removing oil. And of course, use products appropriate for your skin type when doing this!

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