How to Wash Combination Skin

Washing combination skin requires a little more care than normal skin.
Washing combination skin requires a little more care than normal skin.

For some people, washing their face is as simple and automatic as brushing their teeth. A little soap, light scrubbing and a quick rinse may be all it takes. But for folks with combination skin, keeping their skin clean and healthy isn't so easy. In fact, you can easily be seduced into spending a pretty penny on skin-care products, plus time spent figuring out which beautifiers actually work. Instead, steal these dermatologist-approve tips for washing and taking care of combination skin!

It's bad enough to have a dry or oily complexion, but folks with combination skin have to deal with both. "Combination skin generally refers to skin that is dry and oily," says Francesca Fusco, M.D., assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. "People who have it are usually oily in their T-zone and dry or normal on the rest of their face." The T-zone (which includes the forehead, nose, and chin) typically is oily because of the high concentration of sebaceous (aka, oil-producing) glands. Because the T-zone produces the most oil, it is especially prone to blackheads and shiny skin. The cheeks, on the other hand, may be relatively less oily or even dry.


You may think having combination skin is just bad luck, but it's usually related to genetics, hormones or puberty (when the sebaceous glands start working over time). Your skin type may also change as you age.

Not sure if you have combination skin? Try using the tissue test to find out. Simply blot your nose, chin, cheeks and forehead with a tissue. If the tissue comes up dry when you blot your cheeks but oily when you blot your chin, nose and forehead, then you've got combination skin. In the case that the tissue was oily everywhere you blotted your face, then you probably have oily skin. A tissue that's dry after blotting your entire face means that you have dry skin.

The good news is that you don't need a million products to wash combination skin. "A gentle gel-based or mild-foaming cleanser works best since it will help prevent irritation and sooth dryness," says Jody Levine, M.D., clinical instructor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. Pre-soaped towelettes are also a good option since they are usually gentle and appropriate for both dry and oily skin. Avoid bar soaps, which can clog pores and often contain ingredients that are very drying and irritating. When washing your face, always use lukewarm (not hot) water and pat your face dry with a towel instead of rubbing.

Using a gentle cleanser is just the first step in caring for combination skin. "You may need to treat different parts of the face with different products depending on each area's needs," says Levine. For example, a thicker moisturizer may be applied to the drier areas, while toner should only be used on oily areas. If you like to use an all-over, everyday moisturizer, stick to one that's oil-free. "Look for the hydrating ingredient dimethicone, which can not only can add moisture to dry areas, but also can help absorb oil in the T-zone," says Zeichner.

Another ingredient to look for in your products is beta hydroxy acid. "It's great for combination skin because it exfoliates, reduces pore size and aids in killing bacteria that leads to acne," says Levine. And make sure the label says the product is "noncomedogenic," which means it won't clog pores.

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  • Fusco, Francesca, M.D. Personal correspondence.
  • Zeichner, Joshua, M.D. Personal correspondence.
  • Levine, Jody, M.D. Personal correspondence.