The easy ways to determine your skin type, once and for all

Because your skin type dictates your entire product line-up

On the surface, categorising your skin seems rather simple – you're either dry, oily, combination or normal, right? Unfortunately, it’s not that straightforward. The truth is, your skin is as unique as your fingerprint and is unlikely to fit perfectly into one of the four skin categories. Furthermore, because many of us have a tendency to pack our routines full of a million products, there’s a good chance at least one of those products hasn’t been formulated for our specific skin type. Using the wrong products can trigger reactions like redness or flaking and may cause you to incorrectly assume your skin is dry and sensitive

That being said, determining your skin type doesn’t have to be hard. To break it down for you (and to take the guesswork out of determining your skin type), we spoke to Cosmetic Chemist and founder of hop & cotton, Ee Ting Ng.

The different skin types

Put simply, “your skin type is determined by the amount of oil/sebum you naturally produce. Broadly speaking, normal, dry, oily and combination are the main skin type groups. But skin type is actually more of a spectrum than definitive categories we are familiar with,” explains Ng.

“At the extreme ends of the spectrum, you have very oily (robust sebum production everywhere), and very dry (insufficient sebum production everywhere). Right in the middle is normal, where one does not experience noticeable sebum or dryness/tightness,” says Ng. She adds, “quite a large part of the spectrum describes combination skin that produces different amounts of oil in different areas of the face”. Ultimately, where your skin type lies between these two extremes depends on your skin’s level of oil production.

How to determine your skin type

Perhaps the easiest way to figure out your skin type is to conduct a little test when you first wake up in the morning. When you wake up, look for how much visible shine and how many dehydration lines you see, and whether you feel any tightness or discomfort.

Oily skin: You will see substantial oil production all over the face including cheeks, and pores will be visible.
Combination skin: You will have an oily T-zone with dry or normal cheeks.
Normal skin: You will see no visible shine or tightness and no apparent difference in skin type between various areas of the face.
Dry skin: You will see a lack of oils and skin will likely have a flaky appearance, feel tight and uncomfortable, and fine lines may be visible over a large surface area regardless of age. 

Does your skin type change over time?

While you shouldn’t expect any changes to occur on a daily or monthly basis, your skin type can gradually become drier with age. Having said that, “as sebum production is tightly linked to hormones, your level of oil production can fluctuate during the time of the month or it can also remain high for a couple of years during puberty,” explains Ng.  

How your skin type differs to skin conditions

Unlike skin types, which are determined by the amount of oil you produce, skin conditions are determined by other factors such as genetics and your environment. “Skin type is described from very oily to very dry, while skin conditions are issues such as acne, sensitivity, reactivity and medical conditions such as dermatitis,” says Ng. She adds, “dehydration is a skin condition caused by drying environmental factors such as air-conditioning and heating, but it can also accompany dry skin, as skin lacking natural oils also has difficulty holding onto moisture”.

The importance of choosing the right products for your skin type

The products we use every day and night should complement our skin type and compensate for what it lacks naturally. “Using the wrong products not only exacerbates oiliness or dryness, it can also induce a whole range of conditions such as congestion, acne, sensitivity, dryness or trickier skin issues,” says Ng. To ensure you’re using the right products for your skin type, check the packaging of all your skin care products. Most products are formulated for specific skin types – i.e. foaming cleansers for oily skin and cleansing milks for drier skin types – so establishing if a product hasn’t been formulated for you shouldn’t be too tricky. You just need to do a little research. However, if you’re having trouble, by far the simplest way to compile your ideal skin care routine is to consult a dermatologist. 

Looking to take your skin care routine to the next level? Then check out the top things to avoid after a facial laser treatment and discover the best products for getting rid of dark circles

What products do you rely on to keep your skin happy and healthy? What skin type are you? Let us know in the comments below. 

Main image credit: @juleshough

Kate has worked for BEAUTYcrew since early 2016, first as a contributor, before being named Beauty Writer in 2017. She loves picking the brains of the industry's top experts to get to the bottom of beauty's toughest questions. Bronze eyeshadow palettes are her weakness and she's forever on the hunt for the perfect nude nail polish to suit her fair skin. Her words can also be found in Men's Health magazine.