The Skin Type Handbook

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Everyone has a skin type—understanding yours should be simple, right? Wrong! Skin type is one of beauty’s biggest enigmas. It’s that vague, wordy identifier that dermatologists and facialists say should dictate everything you do in your skincare routine, from your cleanser and your moisturizer to what types of fancy-schmancy masks work for you. And turns out, most people don’t even know what theirs is. That might be you! Glad you’re here.

According to and personal skin consultant to many (many) Glossier employees, finding out your particular skin type matters—because every product you use on your face should be tailored to the type of skin you have there. Use the wrong product and you may very well end up with the reverse result you were looking to achieve. So before you pick your products, you’ve got to gather some data. To help out, let Dr. Mikhail break down and examine seven different skin types for your diagnostic pleasure. Read, find out your type, and then consider reassessing your Top Shelf. Below each skin type is a suggested routine—as always, make sure to apply SPF as your final step. Let’s dive right in:

Dry Skin

Tightness? Flaking? Hello and welcome to dry skin. It just feels uncomfortable…all of the time. On the more dramatic end, this kind of skin gets red and little fine lines easily. According to Dr. Mikhail, the key to figuring out if you have dry skin has to do with how it feels in the morning. If you wake up with flaking or tautness, and you tend to feel like you need thicker creams to keep your skin feeling normal, you probably belong right here. The upside is that you might break out less or have fewer clogged pores than other skin types. The downside is that you’ll need to bulk up on moisturizer. Specific products or environmental factors can also cause dryness, like alcohol-laden cleansers, artificial fragrance, and winter air. Even though these outside elements lead to temporary dryness, Dr. Mikhail recommends treating your skin like it’s naturally dry... until it is back to normal.

The Dry Skin Routine
Every morning
Cleanse with a moisturizing wash—you’ll want one with aloe, glycerin, ceramides, or hyaluronic acid in the label. If your skin is extremely dry, you might be able to skip a morning cleanse entirely, but make sure to splash your face with some water. Next, boost your hydration levels with a hyaluronic serum or essence, and finish with a moisturizer that comes in a jar. That means it’s heavy.

Every night
Wash with an oil cleanser. Follow up with a hyaluronic acid serum or essence, and layer a thick moisturizer on top. Alternatively, you can moisturize with a thin lotion, and seal it with a lightweight facial oil—look out for ingredients like jojoba oil, sunflower seed oil, safflower seed oil, and apricot oil.

Good to have as needed
Face mist for instant hydration, and oil or a multipurpose balm to seal in moisture.

Oily

If you happen to be the rare human who uses their cell phone to—gasp—talk, then examine the screen after you hang up. Do you see a greasy film? Then congratulations! You have oily skin. Dr. Mikhail says that another way to tell whether you have oily skin is if your skin gets progressively shinier or greasier as the day wears on. “This skin type is prone to clogged pores and breakouts...your sunscreen and makeup might seem to ball up or slide off.” And your pores will look bigger, too, oh joy. Oily skin often doesn’t need a whole lot of moisturizing, but it does need a strong face wash to combat oil production and keep pores clear. The upside? Oily skin tends to age pretty well. Wrinkles are in everyone’s future, but yours may be further down that road.

The Oily Skin Routine
Every morning
You’ll need a cleanser that can cut through the oil your skin produced overnight, so wash with one that mentions clay on the label, or one that is mildly exfoliating with salicylic acid. Pat on a balancing serum afterwards to trick your skin into producing less oil, and to prevent excess oil from clogging your pores. The best ones include ingredients like niacinamide, salicylic acid, and tea tree oil. For extremely oily skin, sometimes hyaluronic acid can replace a moisturizer. Otherwise, look for a water gel moisturizer that’s lightweight yet extremely hydrating.

Every night
Double cleanse! Start with an oil cleanser first, and then wash again with your morning cleanser. Tone with witch hazel or a liquid salicylic exfoliant, and then top off with a water gel cream.

Good to have as needed
Every week or so apply a clay mask for 20 minutes. Find one that combines the clay ingredients with a little bit of hydration, like aloe, so the mask doesn’t completely strip your skin. Overdrying can lead to more oil, oddly enough.

Combination

Combination skin is the mullet of skincare—it’s two opposing things, and neither are all that great. “Combination people can be greasy in some areas and dry in others, and usually this is worsened by products or the weather,” Dr. Mikhail told ITG. Your T-zone is usually the oily area, and the circumference of your face and cheeks are usually drier. To make this even more complicated, when your cheeks naturally get drier in the winter and you reach for a thicker cream to help them out, your T-zone becomes extra oily and greasy. The reverse happens in the summer—when you dial down your moisturizers for a T-zone that’s less slick, the rest of your face gets dehydrated. Pay attention to how your skin feels as the seasons change—it might improve or worsen depending on the conditions.

The Combination Skin Routine
Every morning
Use either a gel or lotion-based cleanser—it’s up to you! If you choose a gel, make sure that it’s buffered by moisturizing ingredients, like glycerin or oils, so it doesn’t totally dry your skin. Next, pat hyaluronic serum around the areas where you tend to get dry, and then rub a lightweight water gel moisturizer all over.

Every night
Cleanse with your morning cleanser, and then tone with witch hazel or liquid salicylic acid where you’re most oily. Apply hyaluronic acid where you’re the driest, and then give your skin a pump or two of a bouncy water gel cream.

Good to have as needed
Apply a clay mask to your T-zone and wherever else you get oily once a week. Your silver bullet is the multi-mask technique. Gone are the days where one mask or product goes everywhere. Welcome to independence.

Breakout-prone

OK, this skin type is easy to spot [slow clap]—blackheads, whiteheads, and big (and sometimes painful) cysts. While greasy skin may be prone to breakouts by nature, “breakout-prone” skin isn’t always oily. “Dry skin types might be breakout prone because of hormones—generally around the time of periods,” explains Dr. Mikhail. That’s because “it’s actually a shift in oiliness in the skin at the time of the month.” And that shift in the matrix triggers your skin to flip out.

The Breakout Prone Skin Routine
Every morning
Assess whether your skin leans oily or dry, and then wash with the matching cleansers described above. Always follow with a liquid salicylic acid formula to clear your pores. Apply a spot treatment with benzoyl peroxide to zits, wait a few minutes for it to dry, and then finish with a moisturizer that corresponds to your dry, or oily skin.

Every night
Double cleanse with an oil wash, and then your morning cleanser. For intense breakouts, pat a salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide treatment on your face. (More on those ingredients here.) End with a lightweight moisturizer.

Good to have as needed
Pimple patches! Also consider sulfur masks for once-a-week use, and azelaic acid to help shrink pimples and prevent dark marks.

Sensitive And Reactive

Redness, bumps, scaling, itching, and burning—the hallmarks of sensitive and reactive skin. Dr. Mikhail says it’s usually triggered by allergies or an underlying symptom of something else—rosacea. Does your skin turn red in response to environmental triggers, like stress, the sun, caffeine, hot beverages, spicy food, or alcohol? You just might have rosacea, says Dr. Mikhail. “Itch is more likely linked to allergy, while burning is linked to rosacea.” If your skin does appear to be reactive, it’s a good idea to talk to your dermatologist. And even if it’s just sensitive, you’ll want to avoid products with fragrance and harsh chemicals as much as you can.

The Sensitive And Reactive Skin Routine
Every morning
Wash your face with a milk or cream cleanser. Ideally all of your products should be fragrance-free, and avoid lavender, peppermint, and camphor as well—those can trigger redness and stinging. Skip serums—your routine should be very minimal, and hydrate with a moisturizer infused with calming ingredients, like green tea, squalane, or ceramides, which also boost your skin’s natural barrier to irritants as well.

Every night
Wash your face and moisturize with your morning products. It’s important not to introduce too many different ingredients in your routine.

Good to have as needed
Consider a calming serum, which can actually strengthen your skin and prevent it from irritability. Also helpful—a cold, wet washcloth. It’s the simple things.

Resilient

Is your skin just “fine, totally fine, thanks for asking?” Step into the “resilient” skin room, which is classically known as “normal skin” because it is “typically neither oily nor dry.” Dr. Mikhail says resilient skin is able to tolerate a wide array of products, from acids to fragrance without reaction or irritation. It also heals quickly in the off chance it does get irritated or inflamed. “Breakouts are rare and come and go quickly, and people can use a wider range of products—even oil based products—without getting clogged pores.” OK, now this skin is just bragging.

The Resilient Skin Routine
Every morning
Cleanse with whatever you like, and then follow up with a serum of your choosing. Want brighter skin? Try a vitamin C serum. Smoother skin? Look for products with alpha hydroxy acids. Or, skip the serum entirely—it’s up to you. Finish up with any moisturizer.

Every night
More of the same here. Cleanse and moisturize with your morning products. Add an essence or serum if you’d like.

Good to have as needed
You can try anything. Face mists, sheet masks, peels...the world is your oyster.

Mature

“Mature skin is characterized by increased dryness, sun spots (poikiloderma), fine lines, and laxity,” says Dr. Mikhail. It comes with age, but “it’s often related to sun exposure and smoking, too.” So yes, you can be a young person with “mature” skin. There are three things to look for: 1. Fine lines that appear while your face is resting; 2. Poikiloderma—a word to describe red and brown discoloration—AKA sun spots that don’t go away in the wintertime; and 3. Broken blood vessels, which are a sign of sun damage. If you notice any of these in your skin, talk to your dermatologist.

The Mature Skin Routine
Every morning
Cleanse with a lotion-based cleanser, and then tap on a targeted serum. The one you’ll want will mention peptides, hyaluronic acid (to plump fine lines), or a blend of antioxidants. Layer a medium-to-thick moisturizer on top.

Every night
Cleanse skin and then apply a retinol. Finish with your morning moisturizer and an oil of your choosing, if you’d like.

Good to have as needed
Monthly acid peels can lighten dark marks and reinvigorate your skin. Weekly moisturizing masks can restore lost hydration. Give them a try to see if they’re your jam.

Collage by Tom Newton.