All skin types can benefit from daily cleansing and moisturizing, but different skin types—which include oily, dry, normal, combination, and sensitive skin—have different needs. That’s why understanding your skin type is the first step in properly caring for it. But how do you know what type of skin you have? The answer can be found through simple observation.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), there are five primary types of skin: oily, dry, normal, combination, and sensitive.1 Each skin type has its own set of unique characteristics and needs that can affect the look and feel of your complexion. By first understanding what type of skin you have, you can begin to make informed decisions—giving your skin the customized care and protection it needs now and for years to come. If you’re not sure what your skin type is, keep reading. We’re covering all the basics about how to identify your skin type below, plus tips for choosing the ideal skincare products and routines for each type.
FINDING YOUR SKIN TYPE
Your skin type is based on the amount of sebum (oil) your skin produces. Skin’s oiliness can change over time and may also be influenced by factors such as stress, genetics, hormones, humidity, and the natural aging process.
Once you know what to look for—using the common characteristics listed below—pinpointing your skin type can usually be determined through simple observation.
There are two tests you can perform at home to help you understand what kind of skin you have in just 30 minutes: the blotting sheet method and the “watch and wait” method.
What Is My Skin Type? Common Characteristics of Each Type
As your body’s largest organ, your skin performs a variety of important and complex functions—from regulating your body temperature to protecting against germs. This is especially true of your skin’s outermost layer, also known as the skin barrier. Composed mostly of lipids (such as ceramides), this protective barrier acts as the primary gatekeeper between your skin and external environment—keeping water in and harmful substances out.
Although a healthy skin barrier is essential for all skin types, it’s also important to remember that each individual’s skin is unique in many ways. This means that there’s no “one size fits all” approach to achieving radiant, healthy-looking skin. However, there are a number of unifying characteristics to look for that can help you answer the question “What is my skin type?”
Here are the main indicators to keep in mind when deciphering if your skin is predominantly oily, dry, normal, combination, or sensitive.
Oily skin produces an excess of sebum that causes the skin to appear shiny and feel greasy—especially throughout the T-zone (forehead, nose, and chin). People with oily skin may tend to have less wrinkles, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD),2 but they may also be more prone to enlarged pores, acne blemishes, blackheads, and whiteheads.
Keep in mind that just because oily skin produces more natural oils, this doesn’t mean that it requires any less moisture than other skin types. Supporting oily skin comes down to choosing the right products that nourish and hydrate, without clogging your pores or triggering breakouts. The ideal oily skin routine should feature a gentle, foaming cleanser that effectively removes dirt, excess oil, and other impurities. It should also include a lightweight, oil-free, and non-comedogenic moisturizer that provides your oily skin with the essential hydration it needs.
Dry skin generally produces less natural oils than other types of skin. This may cause it to appear dull and become rough, flaky, or even scaly. It often feels tight or less elastic, noticeably dehydrated, and may be prone to showing more visible fine lines. In addition, it may become itchy or irritated.
A skincare routine for dry skin should include gentle, soothing, and hydrating ingredients that help maintain the skin’s protective moisture barrier—such as ceramides. For dry skin types, the Mayo Clinic recommends avoiding excessively long, hot showers, moisturizing multiple times per day, and opting for skincare products that are fragrance-free, non-comedogenic, and alcohol-free.
Normal skin is balanced—feeling neither too dry nor too oily. It is not prone to breakouts, flakiness, or feeling greasy or tight. People with normal skin typically have pores that are small, a smooth skin texture, and are less prone to sensitivity or blemishes. However, despite the fact that normal skin doesn’t have any specific issues or concerns, it still requires proper skincare to look and feel its best. The ideal normal skin routine helps maintain your skin’s hydration by locking in moisture and supporting your skin’s protective barrier.
Combination skin includes areas that are dry as well as oily—with the T-zone commonly being oily, and the cheeks being either dry or normal. This skin type can vary during different seasons of the year, and due to various factors, such as stress or hormone fluctuation. Effective cleansing and hydration are key to care for skin that’s oily or normal in some places and dry in others. To learn more about crafting a daily regimen for combination skin, be sure to check out our CeraVe skincare routine for combination skin.
Sensitive skin is often referred to as a skin type, but it’s possible to have oily sensitive skin, dry sensitive skin, or normal sensitive skin. Regardless of which type of skin you have, if you have sensitive skin, it may appear red and feel like it’s burning, itching, or dry. These symptoms may be related to having skin that is more vulnerable to external irritants and may be triggered by certain ingredients—like dyes or fragrance—as well as environmental factors.
If you have sensitive skin, you may be able to determine what triggers your sensitivity and avoid cleansers, moisturizers, or other products containing those specific ingredients. You can also alter your environment to reduce your exposure to triggering agents.
Discover more CeraVe products for sensitive skin
How Can I Identify My Skin Type at Home?
If descriptions of the different skin types didn’t help you come to a conclusion, there are multiple tests you can perform at home to help you determine your skin type. Here are two methods you can use:
The “watch and wait” method
This at-home test allows you to understand your skin type by observing how your skin behaves after cleansing.
To start, wash your face with a gentle cleanser, then gently pat it dry.
Wait 30 minutes.
If your skin appears shiny throughout, you likely have oily skin.
If it feels tight and is flaky or scaly, you likely have dry skin.
If the shine is only in your T-zone, you probably have combination skin.
If your skin feels hydrated and comfortable, but not oily, you likely have normal skin.
The blotting sheet method
When pressed to the skin, blotting sheets absorb oil—and you can use them to help you understand what type of skin you have.
After washing your face with a gentle cleanser, pat it dry and wait for 30 minutes.
Press blotting sheets to various areas of your face, then hold the sheets up to the light to see the oil markings.
If the sheets soaked up an abundance of oil from all areas of the face, you have oily skin.
If they absorb little to no oil, then you probably have dry skin.
If the sheets show only a small amount of oil from your T-zone, you have combination skin.
If you only see minimal oil from every area of your face, you most likely have normal skin.
It’s important to remember that any skin type can also be sensitive or prone to acne breakouts, though those with normal skin may be less likely to experience either. However, with the right products, you can care for your skin while addressing concerns like sensitivity and acne blemishes. When in doubt, visit a board-certified dermatologist for a personalized skin assessment and guidance on the best skincare routine for your skin type.