Finding the right products that'll keep your skin happy, healthy, and protected can feel a little like stepping into a minefield. One wrong move and your face could stage a rebellion: leaving you with symptoms like redness, itchiness, scaling, breakouts, and general discomfort. Not pleasant.
Luckily, though, understanding your skin type allows you to "demine" the skincare shopping process – helping you maximize your chances at building a regimen that's tailor-made for your skin's unique strengths and weaknesses.
But wait. What’s a “skin type”? How many skin types are there? And most important of all: how does one go about identifying their skin type? Continue reading to find out.
What’s a “skin type”?
First things first. Your skin type refers to the "structure" of your skin based on pore size and oil production. It's primarily determined by genetics (i.e., what you're born with) and will typically stay the same your whole life. Only a handful of factors – such as Accutane, chemotherapy, and pregnancy – have the potential to alter your skin type.
The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recognizes 5 main skin types: normal (well-balanced), dry, oily, combination, and sensitive. Can’t help but feel as though the list is incomplete? If you do, then you’re likely wondering about the omission of the “skin types”, “mature” and “blemish-prone”. Well, as it turns out, these aren’t “skin types” – but, instead, simply what we like to call “skin needs” concerns” (or “skin conditions”).
Essentially, your skin condition or skin need is the state of your skin presently. Environmental (e.g., weather, pollution, and response to skincare products) and internal factors (e.g., stress and hormones) can cause skin conditions. Common skin concerns include inflammation, dehydration, hyperpigmentation, blackheads, breakouts, fine lines, wrinkles, and loss of elasticity.
Unlike skin types, you could improve skin conditions by treating them with the right products – like applying a vitamin C serum to fade hyperpigmentation – or making certain lifestyle changes, including practicing meditation to beat stress-induced acne.
In short: while your skin condition can temporarily change in response to external and internal factors, it would tend towards the skin type you were born with in the long term.
How many skin types are there?
As mentioned earlier, there are 5 main skin types – with each presenting unique characteristics and, thus, “personalities” of their own.
#1: Well-balanced skin
While the word “normal” is commonly used as a skin type classifier, the truth is that no one has perfectly normal skin. Plus, there’s always that unspoken implication of anything falling outside of “normal skin” being classified as “abnormal” or “worse” skin – when they’re anything but. That’s why we prefer the term “well-balanced”.
Well-balanced skin refers to skin that's neither too oily nor dry; it typically appears smooth, soft, and radiant. This skin type typically tolerates hormonal fluctuations or environmental changes (e.g., ambient temperature) and humidity levels) well. Because of its well-balanced nature, it isn't associated with many skin concerns. Still, as mentioned earlier, well-balanced skin isn't perfect; it can still suffer from the occasional breakouts, dullness, or other conditions from time to time.
#2: Dry skin
Dry skin consistently produces less sebum (i.e., natural oils) than well-balanced skin. The lack of lipids compromises the skin's natural barrier function – making it prone to moisture loss and especially vulnerable to external stressors like sun rays, pollution, and blue light exposure. The tell-tale signs of dry skin include roughness, flakiness, and dullness. In addition, people with dry skin commonly report a feeling of "tightness" in the skin.
Dry skin would be more susceptible to developing wrinkles fine lines and other skin conditions if not cared for properly.
#3: Oily skin
The exact opposite of dry skin: oily skin describes skin with hyperactive sebum production. As such, oily skin feels greasy to the touch and looks shiny. The pores are often more visible, too, creating a complexion with an uneven appearance.
Unfortunately, oily skin is associated with several tricky skin conditions, including acne. That’s because excess oil production increases the chances of pores getting clogged with dirt and other impurities – translating into blackheads and whiteheads.
Another tricky condition? Dehydration. And yes, in case you were wondering, oily skin can still be dry. Why? That's because individuals blessed in the sebum production department typically skip the moisturizer, over wash the face, and use unnecessarily harsh toners. The first fails to replenish the inevitable water loss in the skin, while the remaining 2 strip the skin of its natural oils, further promoting moisture loss.
#4: Combination skin
All skin types present their own unique set of challenges. But combination skin is arguably the most difficult to manage – with its mix of oily and dry spots on different areas of the skin. Products that counteract oiliness can further parch pre-existing dry spots, while anything too nourishing will feel heavy on oilier skin and potentially trigger breakouts.
This means people with combination skin may need to look to multiple products to achieve balance in their skin. For instance, treating dry areas with an emollient-rich moisturizer while treating oily areas with a moisturizer that encourages cell turnover. Another “workaround” to this specific skin type would also be to use different skincare products at different times of the day (e.g., a “lighter” moisturizer in the day, followed by a richer one at night).
#5: Sensitive skin
Sensitive skin refers to skin that gets irritated easily. This irritation usually manifests with symptoms like redness, stinging, burning, itchiness, and general discomfort after coming into contact with a skincare ingredient or environmental trigger. In addition to an increased likelihood of reacting to topical products, those with this skin type also tend to be more prone to inflammatory skin conditions, like rosacea, psoriasis, and eczema, and are super sensitive to sun exposure.
But what's up with this increased reactivity? Once again, it comes down to the skin's natural barrier function. In people with sensitive skin, the protective fatty outer layer on their skin (i.e., the "lipid fat barrier") is typically weaker, thinner, and more easily damaged. This makes the skin underneath more vulnerable. In other words: those with sensitive skin have a more delicate lipid barrier that absorbs products more deeply – explaining why they're often more reactive to skincare ingredients.
It's also common for skin to become more sensitive over time. That's because the body's ability to produce lipids decreases with age, and, imaginably, lesser amounts of fatty acids in the skin barrier would compromise its ability to prevent irritants from penetrating – and causing inflammation.
What skin type am I?
Well-balanced, dry, oily, combination, or sensitive – how do you go about identifying your specific skin type? There are 2 simple tests you can make use of.
#1: The bare-faced test
Cleanse your face with a mild, non-stripping cleanser. Leave your face bare without applying any skincare products (or makeup) for 30 minutes. Then, examine your cheeks, chin, nose, and forehead for any shine. You should also note whether your face feels dry or tight, especially when you smile. Here’s what your observations could mean in terms of your skin type:
- Face feels tight: Dry skin
- Shine on nose and forehead, but flakiness on cheeks: Combination skin
- Shine on forehead, nose, and cheeks: Oily skin
- Smooth with minimal oil: Well-balanced skin
- Face feels tight and looks red: Sensitive skin
#2: Blotting sheet test
Still not sure if you have oily or combination skin? The oil blotter test will help you out. All you need to do is pat a blotting paper gently on your cheeks, then hold it up to the light to see how much oil it's picked up. Then, repeat the process with a fresh sheet – but now on a different part of your face, like the T-zone. Here's what your observations could mean about your skin type:
- No visible oil from cheeks and T-zone: Dry skin
- A little oil from cheeks and T-zone: Well-balanced skin
- Oil from T-zone but not cheeks: Combination skin
- A lot of oil from T-zone and cheeks: Oily skin
Skin type quiz
If you've read thus far, chances are, you already have a good idea of what your skin type is. Still, additional confirmation never hurts. So take the following skin type quiz to find out if you're on the right track (or if, for some reason, you didn't feel like going through the with above 2 tests):
Ultimately, you deserve skincare that truly works for your skin. Not what’s most popular or has worked for others. That’s why it’s so important to get a clear idea of your skin type. This steers you in the right direction when selecting products – so you can build the best skin care regimen that’ll best support your unique skin needs and goals.
To help you get started, here are a few active ingredients you should look out for based on your skin type:
- Well-balanced skin: Hyaluronic Acid is key to promoting and boosting your skin’s hydration levels. That’s why we make sure that all of Terrakai Skin’s products meant to target well-balanced skin contain this potent humectant in their formulations.
- Oily skin: Niacinamide is your secret weapon against excess sebum production; research consistently proves its ability to regulate oil secretion in the skin. And, yep, you can count on finding Niacinamide in the ingredient labels of Terrakai Skin’s products meant for the oilier folks!
- Dry skin: Keep a lookout for Collagen. In addition to stimulating collagen production in the skin, this molecule also acts as an emollient that fills in the “cracks” found in your skin barrier function – preventing further moisture loss. Terrakai Skin products targeted at both dry and mature skin are formulated with Collagen for this reason.
- Combination Skin: As mentioned earlier, you’d want to “mix-and-match” your products based on your dry and oily spots. Apply niacinamide-containing formulations on your oily areas – and nourish the dry patches with one that’s infused with Collagen goodness.
- Sensitive skin: If you have sensitive skin, then you’d do best with gentle skincare formulas that are spiked with inflammation-fighting ingredients like CoQ10 (a potent antioxidant). Just so you know: we designed Terrakai Skin products – across ranges – with sensitive skin in mind.
Oh, and a side note: we also have a youth skincare range designed specifically to help keep teen skin happy, dewy, and balanced.