In an ideal world, there would be a beauty equivalent to those Spotify engineers calibrating “made for you” playlists that exists, only instead of songs you’d get skin-care suggestions based on your individual skin type. They would collect all the necessary metrics — what’s your oil level by bedtime, on a scale from 1 to 5? Do you get dry and flaky year-round, or just in winter? — and spit out products tailored just for you based on the data.
Unfortunately (or is it fortunately?) we’re living in the real world, which means figuring out whether you have oily, dry, combination, acne-prone, normal, or sensitive skin can be a dance of trial-and-error, especially if you don’t have the help of a dermatologist or aesthetician. That’s why we’ve created this easy quiz with the help of the pros. All you have to do is answer a few simple questions, and we’ll direct you to your most likely skin type, plus a few skin-care steps to take accordingly, just because.
What’s that? Ah, yes: music to your ears.
You just washed your face. How does your skin feel?
How shiny does your skin get in a flash photo?
It’s the end of the day. What does your skin need?
Zits happen. Or do they?
Your dream moisturizer: Tell me about her.
What’s your #1 skin concern?
The 101 on Dry Skin
Dry skin is exactly as it sounds: dry. You might have it if you experience rough, flaky patches or that too-tight-to-smile feeling immediately after washing your face. The key for this skin type is to maintaining a healthy moisture barrier by choosing products that lock in hydration.
“Using a gentle cleanser that doesn’t strip the skin is essential for all skin types, and is that much more important for dry skin types,” said celebrity aesthetician Shani Darden. Opt for a moisturizing face wash (like a cleansing oil or balm) instead of a gel, and make sure to look for hydrating ingredients (think: glycerin, amino and fatty acids, ceramides, lipids, and hyaluronic acid) when choosing a serum and moisturizer.
The 101 on Combination Skin
Get you a skin type that does both, are we right? That’s exactly what you’re likely to experience if you have combo skin: certain areas like your T-zone can get oily, while you may get a dry patch here and there on your cheeks.
“Combination skin types should focus on minimizing oil production to keep breakouts in check,” said celebrity aesthetician Shani Darden. That means you’ll want to find products that strike the perfect balance between lightweight and hydrating. Choose a face wash that contains exfoliating alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) to reduce excess sebum and unclog pores, but won’t strip the skin. Then, look for serums and moisturizers with hydrating ingredients like niacinamide to replenish it of its moisture.
The 101 on Oily Skin
The biggest common denominator for oily skin types is shine. This is caused by sebaceous glands overproducing sebum, particularly around the T-zone, and often makes the skin more prone to breakouts (but not always). The key here to choose formulas that won’t clog pores. “Oily skin types should use products that are non-comedogenic,” said celebrity aesthetician Shani Darden.
When it comes to face wash, look for exfoliating ingredients like salicylic acid, AHAs, or benzoyl peroxide that will clear out pores, dissolve excess oil, and prevent new breakouts from popping up. Then, follow up with a gel serum and moisturizer. We repeat: just because you have oily skin does not mean you shouldn’t add extra moisture to your routine. That’s essential to maintaining a healthy skin barrier. Instead, “focus on hydrating the skin without the use of heavy oils by using a lightweight moisturizer,” said Darden.
The 101 on Sensitive Skin
If even looking at a new skin-care product makes your face itch, you probably have sensitive skin. This type is easily irritated, and tends to flare up when the natural skin barrier has been compromised leaving symptoms such as redness, itchiness, and flaking. Sensitive skin can also be combined with others — for example, you can have sensitive acne-prone skin or sensitive dry skin.
It can be difficult to introduce new products into your skin-care routine because the most simple of changes can cause an adverse reaction. That’s why you’ll want to stick to gentle, no-frills formulas that keep the skin moisturized with minimal irritation. Look for the good stuff that’s proven to be effective — think moisturizing ingredients like peptides, hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, ceramides — and skip everything else.
The 101 on Normal Skin
Congrats! Your skin type is “normal,” which essentially just means it’s not too oily and not too dry (and if it does, it most likely changes with the seasons). That means you can adjust your products according to your needs — richer, more emollient creams in winter; gel-light textures in summer — but make sure you don’t choose anything that will throw off your moisture barrier.
“Even normal skin can become sensitive,” said aesthetician Natalie Aguilar, so make sure you’re not using a cleanser that’s too harsh and will disrupt your skin’s healthy balance. Instead, look for a formula that will gently clear away dirt and grime without any potent acne-fighting ingredients as they can cause irritation.
The 101 on Acne-Prone Skin
There are multiple causes of acne, so it’s always your best bet to visit a dermatologist to pinpoint your specific type and the best course of treatment. Still, topical products can help manage and prevent breakouts by reducing inflammation and maintaining a healthy skin barrier.
“Retinoids are great for acne prevention by helping to regulate skin turnover to prevent pores from getting clogged, so it can be especially helpful for whiteheads and blackheads,” said dermatologist Marisa Garshick, MD. If you can’t get to the doc’s office, try an over the counter option like Differin, and be sure to add moisture when you feel your skin needs it. Completely drying out your skin will not get rid of your acne any more effectively and will leave you with flaky patches.
“I always say to rely on gentle, oil-free (noncomedogenic) moisturizers when treating acne because although many people believe acne-prone skin doesn’t need moisturizer, it actually does, especially as some of the treatments for acne can be drying,” she said. “The key is using a moisturizer like that is oil-free, so it doesn’t make the acne worse.”
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