What to Do When You Have Combination Skin
Dry in some areas? Oily in other areas? You have combination skin! How to balance two different skin types can seem like a mystery, but unlocking this mystery is easier than you might think! With the right info and products, balance can be beautiful!
What is Combination Skin?
Combination skin is simply having oily skin in some areas of your face and dry skin in other areas. Typically, there’s a mix of oily and dry areas on different parts of your face, with the t-zone (forehead, nose, and chin) being slightly to very oily.
Whether you have oily areas only around the nose and center of the forehead and dry areas over the cheeks, jaw area, and along the hairline, what you do to lessen those problems is the same.
What Causes Combination Skin?
A variety of factors can contribute to combination skin, but more often than not, it just comes down to the luck of the draw in terms of what you inherited from your parents. However, the types of skincare products you’re using can absolutely make it worse or even cause the problem. Read on to learn what you might unknowingly be doing to contribute to making combination skin more of an issue.
As you might already have suspected, using products that contain harsh or skin-aggravating ingredients will inevitably dry out some areas of your face while stimulating oil production in other parts (especially around the nose) that were already oily.
If you’re using the wrong products, you might actually be causing your combination skin. If you use the right products, you may still have some amount of oily skin, but at least you won’t have dry, rough skin underneath excess oil. Once you start using the right products, your skin can improve almost immediately, with the dry areas softened and smoothed and the oily areas less oily and red—plus minimised pores.
Which Products Work for Combination Skin?
The key thing to keep in mind with combination skin is there’s no one-size-fits solution. It depends on how dry your dry areas are naturally and how oily your oily areas are. It comes down to this: You’ll have to divide and conquer by caring for different parts of your face differently.
The oil-absorbing or matte-finish ingredients that work great on the oily areas will be trouble-makers on the dry areas. This means you will need to apply a more emollient moisturiser over the dry areas, but if you apply that all over your face, the oily areas will become oilier. That’s why keeping things separate is important. And the same for the products that absorb oil; keep them off the dry areas.
For the oily areas, you will need to use the lightest weight but effective formulas possible. Potent, concentrated amounts of beneficial ingredients in products with a gel, thin lotion, or liquid texture will work great over the entire face. You would then only need to use an emollient booster, serum, or moisturiser over the dry areas, including around the eyes. The secret to balancing combination skin is knowing when and where to layer products!
No matter what, none of the products you use should contain any harsh or skin-aggravating ingredients. Every part of your skincare routine needs to be non-irritating. Whenever your put products with sensitising ingredients (especially fragrance, both synthetic and natural) on your skin, you would be making everything worse. In the case of combination skin, the dry areas will become drier and the oily areas will become oilier. This can lead to what we refer to as extreme combination skin, discussed below.
Dealing with Extreme Combination Skin
Those struggling with extreme combination skin experience an exceptionally oily T-zone, while the sides of the face are typically very dry and may also be flaky.
Not surprisingly, finding the right routine for extreme combination skin can be difficult in terms of finding the right balance of textures. Products for very dry skin will make an oily T-zone worse (possibly triggering breakouts), while formulas that are best for very oily skin won’t help very dry areas!
For extreme combination skin, layering isn’t going to be as helpful. For best results, apply emollient-rich products to the very dry areas, blending away from the oily areas. Add oil-absorbing products where needed, being careful to dab them on precisely where needed rather than massaging them all over, where you risk mixing them with the ingredients needed to improve your very dry areas.
As for cleansers, you can choose gentle formulas labeled for combination skin, and for your daytime moisturiser with sunscreen, go for the lightest possible formula but apply a rich moisturiser or facial oil to the dry areas first.
How to Take Care of Combination Skin
Start with a gentle but effective water soluble cleanser. It can be a lotion-based or gel-textured cleanser, but the goal is for it to effectively remove impurities, debris, and makeup without leaving skin feeling tight or dry or greasy. If you need a bit of extra cleansing, you can consider a very soft-bristled cleansing brush. The softness is important, because anything less will drive your skin crazy from the feeling of aggravation and tightness it causes.
Apply a hydrating, soothing non-irritating toner filled with a healthy amount of skin-replenishing ingredients and antioxidants. A well-formulated toner really can help nourish dry skin and minimise oiliness at the same time—and it won’t make the dry areas drier or the oily areas oilier! Don’t skip this step, we promise you’ll be impressed by the benefits!
Use a gentle, non-abrasive, leave-on BHA exfoliant. This is an optimal choice for gently but effectively exfoliating combination skin. A BHA exfoliant helps skin shed dead skin normally without abrasion (meaning no scrubs or stiff cleansing brushes), unclogs pores, lessens oily skin, and at the same time gently smooths rough, dry, flaky skin and revives a healthy glow. For combination skin, a gel or weightless fluid or water-like liquid BHA exfoliant is best.
Protect from sun damage. No skin type is exempt from the need of a broad spectrum sunscreen applied 365 days a year. This is the one step that reduces the early signs of ageing now and into the future. For combination skin, an extremely feather-light formula with a soft matte finish works best all over the face (and don’t forget to apply to the neck!). You would apply a nourishing serum or booster over the dry areas and then apply the ultra-light sunscreen over that. Perfecto!
Use a nighttime moisturiser with a gel, serum, or even a liquid texture all over your face that contains all the amazing ingredients we hope you know by heart now: Antioxidants, skin-replenishing ingredients, and skin-restoring ingredients. These are imperative to help calm skin, lessen excess oil on skin’s surface, and improve dry areas, including around the eyes. When combined, these ingredients have stunning anti-ageing properties for skin. Apply an emollient serum or oil booster to relieve the dryness and give those areas extra nourishing enriched hydration, while leaving the oily areas with just a layer of lightweight moisture.
For more information, see our article How to Put Together a Skincare Routine, which walks you step by step through the process that applies to all skin types.
References for this information
American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, April 2010, issue 2, pages 95–102
Skin Research & Technology, February 2010, issue 1, pages 38–54
International Journal of Cosmetic Science, June 2008, issue 3, pages 175–182
Skin Research and Technology August 2005, issue 3, pages 189–195 and August 2002, issue 3, pages 168–172
About the Experts
Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books about skincare and makeup. She is known worldwide as The Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula’s Choice Skincare. Paula’s expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international radio, print, and television including:
The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and providing expert advice that solves your skincare frustrations so you can have the best skin of your life!