If you want soft and smooth skin, know your skin type. And don’t call it combination

Leslie Baumann, M.D.
·4 min read

There is no such thing scientifically as combination skin.

People often say they have combination skin, dry combination skin or oily combination skin. These are misnomers.

Cosmetic queen Helena Rubenstein first used the term combination skin in the 1940s. Clinique used the terms dry combination skin and oily combination skin in the late 1960s when they described the Clinique Skin Types.

These terms have no scientific validity. So, what do people mean when they say they have combination skin? I will use the word “combination skin type” to help explain this concept, but it is my hope that you will understand it is not an accurate term.

What Is Combination Skin?

Combination skin is used by non-dermatologists to describe one of two situations:

Changing Skin Type: The skin is dry in winter (low humidity and cold environments) and skin is oily in summer (hot, humid environments). Of course, in Miami it is always warm or hot and humid, so we do not hear about this issue often unless someone lives in a dry climate part of the year.

Oiliness in the T-Zone: The skin is oily and dry at the same time. There are more oil glands in the T-zone (the forehead, nose and chin) than on the sides of the face. When the oil glands are overactive and making an excess amount of sebum, this leads to an oily T-zone.

However, skin that has an impaired barrier (water evaporates off the skin leading to dehydration) will be dry in the areas that do not have oil glands such as the sides of the face. This type of skin is often incorrectly called an oily combination skin type. This situation is correctly categorized as oily skin because the sebaceous glands are overactive.

The Best Combination Skin Care Routine

The best combination skin care routine depends upon which of the above situations describe your “combination” skin. If you live in South Florida and think you have combination skin, you likely have the “Oiliness in the T-Zone type” of combination skin and you should treat your skin as an oily skin type.

Tips For Combination Skin Types

If you are oily in the T-zone and dry on the cheeks, use a lightweight non comedogenic moisturizer and avoid applying moisturizer in your T-zone. If you have dry skin but feel shiny when you apply a sunscreen, look for a moisturizing sunscreen with glycerin so you can use only a SPF and skip the moisturizer.

How To Know Your True Skin Type?

In 2004-2014, when I was at the University of Miami, we developed and validated a scientific skin-type quiz that will determine if skin is oily or dry. This skin-type quiz is now in all the major textbooks and used by dermatologists around the country to diagnose skin type.

Your dermatologist can give you this skin-type quiz and recommend a proven skin care routine for your skin type. No matter what skin care brand you or your dermatologist prefer, knowing your correct skin type is the key to choosing the best personalized skin care routine for your unique skin type.

Beware of Skin Care Quizzes That Are Not Proven

There are many online quizzes that claim to assess your skin type, but most of these are not proven skin type quizzes — meaning that they have no research behind them. These online skin type tests often ask “Is your skin oily or dry?”

Studies have shown, however, that most people are wrong about how oily or dry their skin is. It is more accurate to ask a series of scientifically validated questions to determine if skin is oily or dry or to take measurements with a tool such as a sebumeter.

It is important to use the best skin care products for your skin type to have healthy skin. Do not buy products labeled for combination skin because that is not a true scientific skin type category and can confuse you.

If you think you have combination skin and you live in various climates, it is likely that you need two skin care routines, one for dry climates and one for humid climates. If in doubt, treat your combination skin as a slightly oily skin type. If you get confused, ask your dermatologist for guidance. Many are offering telemedicine visits.

For more skincare advice and tricks, be sure to follow Baumann Cosmetic on YouTube, or follow @BaumannCosmetic on Instagram or Facebook.