What skin-type classifications are based on and how to figure out yours
Have you ever wondered what makes skin oily, normal or dry? What are these classifications based on? Quite simply, it is all about sebum, a complex cocktail of lipids (fatty compounds) produced by your sebaceous glands that form a protective barrier against the evaporation of water from your skin cells. Not to go all Goldilocks on you, but If your skin makes too much sebum, you have Oily skin; if it makes too little, you have Dry skin; and if its just right, you have Normal skin.
You are born producing sebum and, hopefully, you’ll continue doing so throughout your life. Sebum production, triggered by your genes and hormones, is typically at its peak during puberty, sometimes more than double normal amounts. Other hormonal events like menstrual cycles, pregnancy, stress, and menopause can also affect sebum production, as can diagnoses such as Parkinsons. In addition, exposing the skin to too many products that upset its own natural balance can also trigger the over-production or under-production of skin oils, including sebum.
Believe it or not, sebum is actually good for your skin. It protects it from moisture loss, bacteria and fungus infection, and aging. Sebum contains Vitamin E, triglycerides, diglycerides, fatty acids, squalane and cholesterol (interestingly, all major components of anti-aging creams).
As your body’s largest organ, your skin perform as a number of important, complex jobs—from regulating your body temperature to protecting your insides against germs. Your outermost skin layer is composed mostly of lipids, like sebum, that act as a gatekeeper between your skin and the external environment. Their job is to keep water in and harmful stuff—like bacteria and fungus—out.
So when we talk about skin care, we are actually talking about keeping water in and germs out. And we do this a couple of ways: one, by creating a healthy skin barrier, regardless of how much sebum your skin makes; and two, by taking care of the other factors that affect sebum production like stress, diet and exposure to irritants.
Figure out your skin type - Oily and Break-out Prone
Oily Skin is caused by overactive sebaceous glands that produce too much sebum.
The good news is that sebum production tapers off as we age, leading to dryer skin. Lucky you, because oily skin ages more slowly than dry skin, so when you move into your 40s and beyond, you may actually be thankful for your oiliness!
One way to test your skin to see if it is full-on oily or Combo skin is to wash it in the morning with a gentle cleanser, pat it dry with a towel. Don’t apply any make-up or moisturizer; wait an hour or two. Now it's mirror time. If your face is shiny all over, you have oily skin. If your cheeks are dry but your forehead and nose are shiny, you have combination skin--that means your skin is producing more sebum where you see the shine (most often in the T Zone) and more balanced sebum production skin everywhere else.
Figure Out Your Skin Type - Normal and Combination Skin
Your Normal skin presents as smooth, supple, with no visible blemishes, pores, flaky areas or greasy patches. Your skin cells have good elasticity and moisture retention capability. There are no severe sensitivity issues. Its pH is slightly acidic, due to acids in sebum, sweat and keratin. Hormone changes can increase your skin’s sebum production and bring on a zit now and again, but nothing major that stays more than a day or two.
One way to test your skin to see if it is Normal or Combination skin is to wash it in the morning with a gentle cleanser, pat it dry with a towel. Don’t apply any make-up or moisturizer; wait an hour or two. Now it's mirror time. If your face feels not too oily, not too dry, you likely have normal skin, . If your cheeks are dry but your forehead and nose are shiny, you have combination skin--that means oily skin where you see the shine (most often in the T Zone) and Normal skin everywhere else.
Overall, Normal skin doesn’t need a whole lot of care. Upside? Well, your skin doesn’t need a whole lot of care! Downside? You may forget to give yourself the daily care you need to maintain your skin’s sebum balance through diet and hormone changes. Also, if the area across your forehead and down your nose to your chin (the T-Zone) gets shiny through the day, you may have Combination skin, which means your skin care routine will need ingredients that can work in both zones. Skin hydration and moisturizing are a must to help support that graceful aging that Normal Skin is so brilliant at doing.
Figure Out Your Skin Type - Dry and Sensitive Skin
We all get dry skin now and then, especially through the winter months. But us card-carrying members of the Dry and Sensitive skin Club (yes, that includes me) will notice certain things about our facial skin that put it into the Dry skin type category.
Your skin sometimes has a dull or ashy complexion, more easily visible in skin with more melanin . That doesn’t mean your skin isn’t sparkling at party conversation—it means that there is an accumulation of dry, dead skin cells on the surface that gives your skin a kind of greyish hue. Occasionally, you see red patches. Sadly this is not because of the blush of a happy surprise! It’s usually a reaction to a skinirritation, as seen in conditions like Rosacea.You notice fine lines and wrinkles more earlier in life. Yeah. I think they euphemistically call that “premature aging”. Sometimes your skin gets so dry it starts flaking and peeling, sometimes cracking. Ouch! And your skin has sensitivities to harsh cleansers, chemicals and even preservatives, leaving your face feeling itchy and dry. Yeah, I know. It’s a lot.
What makes skin dry (you guessed it) is a lack of a sebum production. When there is enough sebum, skin cells are plump and elastic--the hallmark of younger skin. But as we age and go through hormone changes, skin loses the lipids or fats it needs to protect its cells and hold onto moisture. The loss of this skin barrier protection also leaves your skin more vulnerable to outside elements, like weather, chemicals, etc. So the name of the game with dry skin is to use ingredients that will help build that barrier protection
Caring for your Skin Type
Skins care is essentially a balance game between cleansing, hydration and moisturizing. This is true for all skin types, using different ingredients that support your skin, regardless of how much sebum your skin is making.
While cleansing is key for reducing the bacteria that might lead to a break-out, I want to emphasize that not all skin bacteria are bad. In fact your skin is host to a biome that includes helpful bacteria that likes to eat dead skin and other critters. Think of these bacteria as skin barrier patrol. It is another example of how we live interdependently with our fellow creatures, from micro to macro. Our goal here is to work with our skin biome, to feed it what it needs to survive and thrive.
And what would that be, you ask? Well, believe it or not, it’s natural ingredients. Join me in the next blog for a look at which natural ingredients help each skin type thrive and a deep dive into face care routines for each skin type.