Figuring out the best skin-care routine for you means considering your skin type as well as your particular skin tone.
The biggest factor in determining the type of complexion you’ve got is the amount of oil your skin produces. If you’re lucky, you have “normal” skin, which means you won’t typically encounter significant skin-related problems. But if you’ve got dry, oily, combination, or sensitive skin, chances are you’ll have one or more skin issues, some more annoying than others. Skin tone counts, too, since different shades can make you more sensitive to certain types of conditions. Here’s an overview on how to tell what’s what.
What Skin Type Do You Have?
• Dry Skin: If the words itchy and flaky pop up often when you describe your skin, you fall in the dry category. That means your skin lacks the natural oils it needs to retain moisture. (Very dry skin can actually crack and bleed at times.) There are other factors that can exacerbate dryness, such as harsh weather, sun exposure, dry heat, hot water, certain bath products, hormones, medications, or other skin conditions, like eczema or psoriasis. Your mission is to determine what’s causing the problem so you can avoid your triggers and soothe your skin.
• Oily Skin: If you’re prone to slick or shiny skin, as well as regular acne, these are sure signs of an oily complexion. Who and/or what’s to blame? Your ancestors, for starters, since genetics definitely makes it more likely you’ll possess oil glands that produce too much oil, or sebum. Hormones, which can fluctuate greatly especially during puberty, pregnancy, and menopause, only add to the problem — and there’s not much you can do about those either. So what can you do to keep oil at bay? For one thing, avoid overwashing your skin; you might think that cleansing often will solve the problem, but in fact too much washing can stimulate the oil glands to produce even more sebum. Also, be sure your skin is completely clean before applying moisturizers — you don’t want to seal oil in, which will clog your pores. When choosing products, opt for light, oil-free cleansing, moisturizing, and sun-protection formulas, and keep a pack of blotting sheets handy to remove excess shine from your face during the day. If these steps don’t do the trick, ask your dermatologist about prescription-strength topical or oral medications.
• Combination Skin: Combination skin is just like it sounds — it has the characteristics of both oily and dry skin types. Typically, oily spots make up the T-zone — your forehead, nose, and chin — while dry skin usually shows up on your cheeks. Combination skin is the trickiest to care for because it requires you to manage two very different sets of skin-care needs. In other words, what’s good for your T-zone might not be good for your cheeks. Your goal: Find the right mix in terms of skin-care treatments to simultaneously control T-zone oil and maintain moisture elsewhere.
• Sensitive Skin: You know it if you’ve got it — easily irritated skin that can burn, sting, or itch and/or is prone to acne, rosacea, or contact dermatitis. What’s challenging is how to care for a sensitive complexion especially if there is more than one cause. Some commonsense tips: Always do a patch test before using any new product; wash with lukewarm (not hot) water; use fragrance-free, nonirritating products formulated for sensitive skin; and avoid irritating clothing fibers, such as acrylic or wool.
Skin Care and Skin Tone
Regardless of race, we all have the same amount of melanocyte skin cells, and those contain structures called melanosomes. It’s ultimately the melanosomes, and the melanin they produce (melanin is the pigment that colors the skin) that determine our skin tone. People with dark skin have melanocytes that contain larger melanosomes — and more of them — than people with olive or light brown skin, so their melanosomes make more melanin. People with fair skin have melanocytes that contain fewer and smaller melanosomes than people with medium skin tones, and their melanosomes produce less melanin.
While basic skin care is much more dependent on skin type, there are a few things to keep in mind about skin tone. For example, people with skin of color — that is, dark, olive, or light brown skin — are more prone to hyperpigmentation, vitiligo, melasma, and keloids. People with light or fair skin tend to sunburn easily and are therefore the most susceptible to skin cancer. (No matter what your skin type or tone, sun protection is critical!) Lighter skin types are also prone to actinic keratosis and rosacea.