How to Determine Your Skin Type

Fair skinned woman.
Knowing you skin type can help you choose the right products.
© Cutler

Beauty may be only skin deep, but even getting that far presents quite the challenge. After all, clear, healthy skin is fundamental to looking your best, and it's the one thing the beauty industry hasn't really found a substitute for. Think about it: No matter how much makeup you put on, what clothes you wear or how you style your hair, it's tough to mask chronic issues like acne breakouts. A few lucky people are born with naturally smooth, flawless skin. But the rest of us have to work a little to get our outermost layer looking great.

Skin care should be a part of your daily beauty routine. But before you go and drop a lot of money at the drugstore, you need some personal information to help you weed through the thousands of over-the-counter products that are out there. Basically, everyone's skin is a little different, and the sorts of creams, cleansers and treatments you need can vary from person to person. So understanding a few main categories of skin types and how they differ can help you decipher product labels more easily [source: Barel].


It's also important to figure out where you fall among these categories. By identifying your skin type, you can choose the most appropriate products to meet your skin care needs and learn what you should be doing on a daily basis to keep your skin looking as clear, young and healthy as possible. Specifically, you might figure out which substances will work best with your body chemistry and which might make your problems worse [source: Lees]. There's no guarantee you'll ever achieve flawless skin -- some issues, like wrinkles, may be unavoidable. But understanding your own skin better could at least help you make these problems less noticeable.

Read on to take your first step toward looking better: learn about five basic skin types.


Skin Types

Your skin is one of the first things people notice about you, and it can make or break your appearance. There are countless products on the market promising to fix every skin ailment imag4inable, from wrinkles to acne to oversized pores. But the first step in proper skin care is to know your skin type. It's likely you fall into one of the basic categories:

  • Normal -- People with a normal complexion have the ideal skin type. The skin is not too oily or dry, and it appears smooth, clear and healthy. Normal skin has a nice balance of moisture and oil, with good elasticity. The pores are minimally visible, and the skin has an even tone.
  • Dry -- Many people have a dry skin type. Dry skin does not retain enough moisture, which causes wrinkles and fine lines to develop more easily. A lack of oil makes the skin flaky and fragile and reduces its ability to act as a protective barrier. As a result, the skin is much more susceptible to the effects of external elements such as pollution, UV radiation and extreme weather. Small pores are another characteristic of this skin type.
  • Oily -- Some people have oily skin, particularly during adolescence. The skin has large pores and produces too much oil, which gives it a greasy, shiny appearance. People with an oily complexion tend to develop lots of blemishes, pimples and blackheads, and the skin looks plump because dead cells do not shed as quickly.
  • Combination -- People with a combination skin type have both dry and oily areas. The skin is usually most oily in the T-zone -- the forehead, nose and chin -- with dry patches on the cheeks and around the eyes. Combination skin can be difficult to manage because the various areas of the skin require different treatment.
  • Sensitive -- This skin type is the most fragile. People with sensitive skin tend to burn easily, and the skin is prone to irritation and redness [sources: MayoClinic, WebMD, The National Skin Care Institute].

Knowing your skin type can help you learn how to treat your skin right. Read the next page to learn about an easy test that will help you determine what category you fall into.




Skin Type Test

Plenty of products on the market are designed to meet your skin care needs. But deciding which ones to use can be a bit overwhelming. The key to any good skin care regimen is to figure out which skin category you belong to and choose your creams, cleansers and other treatments accordingly.

There are a few ways to determine what type of skin you have. For some, simply reading through the descriptions of the various types will make it obvious. For example, if you have flaky skin on your face every morning, afternoon and night, you've got dry skin. If the flaky patches appear on your cheeks, but you wake up with a shiny, greasy film on your nose and chin, that's combination [sources: WebMD, The National Skin Care Institute].


If your skin type isn't so easily defined, there are some other simple tests you can do to figure it out. All you need for one of them is a clean piece of tissue or some face blotting strips. When you wake up in the morning, immediately use the tissue to blot your face and take a close look at the results [source: Beener].

If the tissue has lots of transparent spots, then you probably have oily skin. People with oily skin are prone to blackheads, blemishes and breakouts, so cleansing the skin on a regular basis is an absolute must. After washing the skin, use a toner to unclog pores and remove dead skin cells from the face. An oil-free moisturizer can then be applied to hydrate the skin [source: WebMD].

If the tissue is clean and your face feels tight, then you have dry skin. People with dry skin are prone to premature signs of aging, which makes proper skin care particularly important. A good moisturizer with SPF protection should be worn on a daily basis. Use a gentle face wash to cleanse the skin, and apply a night cream before going to bed to seal in moisture.

If the tissue only picks up a tiny amount of oil in the T-zone, then you probably have normal skin. Even though the skin appears smooth and clear, people with a normal skin type need to practice good skin care techniques to maintain the health of their skin. Wash your face daily with a good cleanser and moisturize the skin with a lotion that contains SPF protection.

If the tissue has oil spots from just your forehead, nose and chin, then you have combination skin. Combination skin can be hard to manage because different areas of the skin require different treatments. Wash the skin daily with a good cleanser and use a toner on your T-zone to remove oil and dead skin. Apply an oil-free moisturizer all over your face, but make sure to concentrate on particularly dry areas of the skin [source: WebMD, Beener].

People with sensitive skin should look for hypoallergenic facial cleansers and lotions to avoid irritation. Read the next page to learn about the factors that affect skin type.


Skin Type Factors

Why is it that some people have beautiful, radiant skin while others battle constant blemishes and breakouts? There are many factors that influence skin type. One of the biggest factors is heredity -- your biological predisposition to a particular skin type [source: WebMD: Breakouts]. And while you might not be able to alter your genes, the good news is there are many factors that you can control to manage your skin type. Hormone imbalances, for example, can affect skin quality by causing an increase in oil production, which often clogs pores and leads to acne breakouts. Many women combat this issue by taking birth control pills to reign in the hormones' activity [source: American Academy of Dermatology].

Environmental conditions, like the weather and exposure to UV radiation, can also influence skin type. During the winter, for example, both the cold wind outside and hot air from indoor heaters can push your skin into the dry category. In the summer, the sun also dries and burns the skin, causing fine lines, wrinkles and other signs of aging [source: The National Skincare Institute, AAD]. Long-term exposure to UV radiation can also cause more serious problems, like skin cancer. Always wear a moisturizer with SPF protection on your face and neck, even in cold weather.


A diet rich in antioxidants can act as a barrier against free radicals caused by environmental pollutants, and a good moisturizer usually helps keep your skin from getting dried out in any season. It's also important to wash your face daily to get rid of excess oil, dirt and dust particles on your skin [source: Bouchez].

Everyone wants great, healthy-looking skin, but few are born with it. By knowing your skin type and the factors that influence it, you can have beautiful, radiant skin. And you don't have to stumble upon the fountain of youth to get it.

Read on to find more tips for taking care of your skin.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • American Academy of Dermatology. "Causes of Aging Skin." AgingSkinNet. (Accessed 8/31/09)
  • American Academy of Dermatology. "Hormonal Therapies Offer Effective Solutions for Many Adult Women With Acne." (Accessed 08/18/2009)
  • Barel, Andre O., Marc Paye, Howard I. Maibach. "Handbook of Cosmetic Science and Technology, Third Edition. Google Books. (Accessed 8/18/2009).
  • Beener, Boydie. "I Know My Skin Type - StyleLIES." Stylist - AOL Living. March 16, 2009. (Accessed 08/18/2009).
  • Bouchez, Colette. "Nutrients for Healthy Skin: Inside and Out." Medicine Net. (Accessed 8/18/2009).
  • Ladock, Jason. "Understanding Why Your Skin Ages and What You Can Do About It." Heath Guidance. (Accessed 08/18/2009).
  • Lees, Mark, and Joel Gerson. "Skin Care: How to Save Your Skin." Google Books. (Accessed 8/18/2009).
  • Mayo Clinic. "Dry Skin." Dec. 16, 2008. (Accessed 8/31/09)
  • Shapouri, Beth. "What's Your Skin Type? Do You Even Know?" Glamour Magazine. August 20, 2009. (Accessed 8/20/2009).
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  • WebMD. "Skin Care Tips for Teens." Feb. 8, 2009. (Accessed 8/31/09)
  • WebMD. "How to Banish Your Breakouts." (Accessed 8/31/09)