Identifying and Balancing Your Skin Type

Skin type is something you probably only think about when you’re reading product labels.

What is “normal to oily” skin, anyway?

When you pay attention to your skin type, you’re better equipped to care for your skin health, slow the aging process, and bring out your natural beauty.

Skin type identification is easy.

Basically, we’re looking at your skin’s levels of moisture, oil, and sensitivity.


Misidentification is easy, too, so follow the instructions closely. Treating your skin incorrectly can cause problems like itching, redness, signs of aging, breakouts, and other uncomfortable problems.

How To Identify Your Skin Type

Begin by washing your face.

Do not use soap.

There’s a big difference between body soap and facial cleanser.

Soap breaks up oil droplets and drags that oil away from your skin, along with any dirt. There’s a reason your skin produces oil, though, so stripping all of the oil from your skin isn’t healthy.

Facial cleansers remove sweat, dirt, excess oil, makeup, and other impurities from your skin without the harsh stripping effects of soap.

Using soap is harsh on your skin, and because your skin reacts to try to replace the moisture and oil you lost, it makes it difficult to accurately identify your skin type.

Wash with a gentle facial cleanser, carefully pat your skin dry, and then wait.

Don’t touch your face for an hour.

Whether you realize it or not, and even if you wash them after every trip to the bathroom, your hands are dirty.

Touching the skin on your face is a bit of a bad habit, anyway.

Bacteria and grime on your fingers ends up in the delicate pores on your face, and it can cause problems like irritation and breakouts.

While you’re determining your skin type, it’s even more important to treat your skin well and let it rest in its natural state without extra irritants.

After you’ve given your skin time to return to its normal state, you can look for indicators to figure out your skin type.

Normal Skin Type Indicators

Normal skin might also be called balanced skin, because your water and oil contents are in balance.

You probably have normal skin if:

  • Blemishes and imperfections are few and far between
  • Skin isn’t particularly sensitive to the environment
  • Pores are small and difficult to see
  • Complexion is bright and radiant
  • There are no oily, flaky, red, or rough patches

With normal, healthy skin, it’s still important to maintain a healthy skincare routine.

Skin condition changes with age, and you’ll enjoy your glowing complexion for much longer if you start taking care of it before there are problems.

Dry Skin Type Indicators

Dry skin is the most common, and even people who have oily skin in their youth often transition to dry skin as they age.

Chronic dehydration dries your skin, too, so be sure you’re drinking enough water every day!

Dry skin might be your type if:

  • Breakouts appear at the edges of your face, on your chin, and near your hairline.
  • Skin feels tight after cleansing.
  • Pores are small and difficult to see.
  • Complexion is dull or rough.
  • Red, flaky, and itchy patches appear.
  • Fine lines are very visible.

Sometimes, dry skin can be tricky to identify.

Over-cleansing or washing with soaps that dry out your skin even more can cause excess oil production to overcompensate.

This leads many people with dry skin to believe their skin type is oily, so they use harsh products designed for oily skin. Condition worsens, so they treat more aggressively, and skin produces more oil.

You can tell the difference because oily skin doesn’t feel tight after cleansing, and breakouts on oily skin tend to be centered around the nose, while dry skin tends to break out along the hairline.

If you’ve been treating for oily skin and the condition hasn’t improved, try moving to gentle cleansers and deep moisturizers.

Treating Dry Skin

Be gentle with your dry skin. Stick with cleansers and treatments that lock moisture into your skin, and beware products that boast of “pore cleansing” abilities, since they pull oil and moisture out of your skin.

Exfoliate once or twice per week with a gentle, enzyme-based exfoliant. Enzyme exfoliators tend to irritate skin less than products that require you to scrub away the dead skin, and exfoliating can help brighten your complexion when dry skin starts to flake.

Drink plenty of water, too – most people go through their day in some degree of dehydration, and that affects your entire body.

You’re not going to drink a glass of water and immediately see a soft, glowing complexion. In fact, when you start hydrating properly, your skin is the last thing that reacts. Drink water anyway, because your other organs need hydration, too.

Oily Skin Type Indicators

Oily skin is more common among younger people, especially teenagers.

Things like hormonal imbalances, genetics, and environmental stressors can cause skin to overproduce oil.

It’s likely that you have oily skin if:

  • Breakouts occur in the middle of your face, especially around your nose.
  • Pores look large.
  • Skin is shiny.
  • Blackheads frequently appear on your nose, upper lip, and chin.
  • Patches of skin feel greasy or oily to the touch.

When your skin overproduces oil, pores get clogged and blemishes are far more common.

Blotting papers can serve as temporary, on-the-spot solutions to oily patches, and cleansing and moisturizing are still important to balance your skin.

Treating Oily Skin

Balancing your oily skin might actually be recognizing that it’s really dry skin and you’ve been treating it incorrectly.

For correctly identified oily skin, though, treatment depends on the root cause of sebaceous overproduction. You might need to protect your skin from environmental stressors like pollution and irritants, or balancing your skin might mean balancing your hormones.

Deep pore cleansers, spot treatments, and oil-controlling masks can relieve some of the more annoying symptoms of oily skin, though they generally don’t correct oiliness.

Consider changing your diet to be more focused on nutritious foods, and adopt a skincare routine centered around natural, non-irritating products.

Avoid deep moisturizing masks until your skin starts to balance, because oily skin needs to breathe. You don’t want to use any products that might keep oil in your pores. Exfoliating regularly will also help gently remove dirt and oil from your pores, so add an enzyme exfoliant to your skincare routine.

Combination Skin Type Indicators

Combination skin is just what it sounds like – parts of your skin are one type, and parts are another.

In most cases, combination skin is normal or dry on the outer parts of your face, and oily in the T-zone, the section across your forehead and down the middle of your face.

Sometimes, the difference is extreme; you might have a very oily T-zone with extremely dry skin elsewhere.

The contrast may also be less pronounced.

For the more drastic combinations, it may be wise to treat your T-zone and the rest of your face separately. Though it takes a few seconds longer, proper treatment helps your skin normalize.

In cases where there is only a moderate difference, it’s generally reasonable to treat your skin as if it’s dry.

Sensitive Skin Indicators

Your skin may be naturally sensitive, or you may have increased sensitivity due to factors like:

  • Rosacea
  • Allergies
  • Contact dermatitis
  • Acne

Sensitive skin reacts to environmental factors with irritation, itching, redness, flaking, or burning.

Notice that some of those symptoms are the same as the characteristics of dry skin.

The distinguishing factor here is that sensitive skin reacts, and without stressors like harsh cleansers, chemicals, and allergens, it doesn’t show signs of irritation.

Balancing Your Skin Type

There are a lot of skincare products out there. Between all the cleansers, toners, treatments, masks, moisturizers, gels, peels, and whatever else fills up drugstore shelves, there’s definitely something for your specific skin challenges.


The goal isn’t to find a product that works for your skin type.

The goal is to find a skincare routine that balances your skin as much as possible.

Taking proper care of your skin is a major factor in taking care of your overall health. If something isn’t right externally, it’s a sign that things may be out of balance internally, as well.

It’s tempting to treat the most obvious and irritating symptoms of imbalance, like blemishes. Some of those short-term solutions aggravate the root cause, though, so proceed with caution.

Good skin care isn’t about treating problems. It’s about getting healthy and staying healthy.

Kimberly Parry