Why the best skincare starts with finding your skin type

Oily, dry, combination and normal – these are the four common skin types, and all bring their own very different problems. We have you covered on what works and what doesn’t

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 July, 2018, 3:16pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 July, 2018, 4:49pm

When it comes to choosing skincare products, we often look at the brand or price while omitting the most critical step – identifying your skin type.

In general, there are four common skin types – oily, dry, combination and normal. While you can ask a dermatologist to analyse your skin with proper equipment, it is not really necessary. According to dermatologist Dr Carmen Lam Ka-man from Skin Central, you can find your skin type by looking for the following signs.

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Oily skin can be identified by shiny appearance and dilated pores, and is sometimes accompanied by comedones (whiteheads and blackheads) and pimples. “It’s caused by overactive sebaceous glands, which can be hereditary or hormonal,” says Lam.

Dry skin is characterised by a dull, thin appearance with invisible pores. In more severe cases, there may also be scaling, peeling and fine wrinkles. Dry skin occurs when the sebaceous glands are not producing enough sebum to lubricate the skin, and can either be hereditary or a result of ageing.

Combination skin, as its name suggests, refers to the condition where different areas of your face have different skin type. In most cases, the T-zone – the forehead, the nose and the area around the mouth – is oily with dilated pores, while the cheeks and other areas of the face are dry and show signs of peeling.

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If you have perfect flawless skin, then congratulations, you are one of very lucky few that are blessed with normal skin. There is, however, also another subtype that people often confuse with combination skin – oily-dehydrated skin, where the skin of your entire face (and not just T-zone) has all the characteristics of oily skin, yet peeling and scaling still occur.

This is often caused by external factors, such as smoking, seasonal change, spending long hours indoors in either heat or air conditioning, or using unsuitable skincare products.

To address this subtype, you have to first find out what is causing the dehydration. “A very common cause is using the wrong product – a very harsh facial wash that washes away the oil and makes the skin dehydrated,” says Lam.

So how do you find the right products that correspond to your skin type? Despite the hype of 10-step Korean beauty routines, what our skin actually needs is surprisingly simple.

What you should definitely use daily is a cleanser to wash away the dirt that has accumulated on the surface of your skin. And regardless of your skin type, always choose a mild cleanser.

“Harsh cleansers usually wash away too much oil from the skin,” says Lam, adding that your skin should not feel tight afterwards.

While some deep cleansers claim to unclog pores and clear impurities, Lam says most cleansers cannot penetrate deep into the pores and remove the sebum. Instead, strong, abrasive cleansers often strip the skin of its natural sebum, aggravating one’s skin problems.

Another common mistake people make, says Lam, is over moisturising their skin. “We are always taught to moisturise our skin. But actually, it’s not a must,” says Lam. Instead, she advises people to apply moisturiser only when there are signs of dryness and to areas where it is needed, rather than across the whole face. “You have to treat your skin according to its needs. Don’t just blindly apply everywhere,” says Lam.

This is especially important when it comes to treating combination skin. Avoid making your T-zone even shinier by applying excessive moisturiser on the area and instead, use a non-comedogenic moisturiser which can prevent blockage of pores.

Those with oily skin should look for a lightweight, or even oil-free, moisturiser that hydrates the skin without leaving it greasy. If necessary, use an oil control product such as glycolic acid to curb sebum production and improve the texture of the skin. But use with caution, Lam warns, as this kind of product could cause irritation.

Dry skin may often also be sensitive, and the use of moisturiser is important for this type of skin as it can act as a barrier to prevent contact with external stimulants. Choice of moisturiser, however, should depend on the extent of dryness. The dryer the skin, the heavier your cream should be. And avoid sensitising ingredients such as artificial fragrances.

One product to use no matter what skin type you have is sunscreen. “Use a block spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30,” says Lam, even when you are staying indoors as the UV rays can pass through the windows and they are the main reason for premature ageing.

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Lam recommends people to use a physical sunblock – which should contain ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium oxide – rather than a chemical one. “Physical ones have less chance of causing irritation and allergy problems. It just stays on the skin like a filter,” says Lam.

Another product people can add in their skincare regimen is antioxidants, which can come in the form of a serum or cream. “It’s the next most effective anti-ageing product because free radicals are produced within our skin and body everyday. They can destroy our collagen and elasticity,” says Lam.

Some of the signature ingredients known for their antioxidising properties include vitamin C, vitamin E, green tea and grape seed extracts.

One last tip is to pay attention to how you feel after you have applied the product. It should feel comfortable on the skin and if it doesn’t, ditch it.