The Ultimate (Derm-Approved) Guide For Combination Skin

Daily Routines

Combination skin is one indecisive complexion type! It’s typically distinguished by an oily T-zone and comparatively dry cheeks. One major downside is that if your skin is on the extreme end of combination, the process of finding holy grail day-to-day skincare solutions becomes a little more intricate. In addition, combination skin tends to fluctuate and change with the seasons, requiring a bit more attentive care. To help you navigate through the upkeep of combination skin, we got in touch with celebrity dermatologist Dr. Lancer and got all kinds of expert insight, from dos and don’ts to bathroom cabinet must-haves.

The Telltale Signs of Combo Skin

To begin, Dr. Lancer spotlights three indicators of combination skin:

  • Seasonal skin changes,
  • Discernible areas of oiliness and dryness and,
  • Pore size

“There are various indicators of combination skin, one of which is the way your skin reacts to different weather patterns. Having oily skin in the summer and drier skin in the winter can often point to this conclusion,” Dr. Lancer says. You may also notice areas of both oiliness and dryness on the skin as if your complexion is going through a major identity crisis. “For example, having a T-zone that’s oily while the remainder of the face stays dry. Combination skin tends to get very oily around the T-zone, meaning the forehead, nose, chin, and area around the mouth. Oftentimes, the cheeks and remainder of the jawline will have dry patches and areas appear drier depending on the weather.” Dr. Lancer also tells us that “pore size can also help determine your skin type, as having bigger pores on the nose versus on the cheeks and chin often points to combination skin.”

The T-Zone Chronicles

While an oily T-zone is a common trait, there is such a thing as a ‘reversed T-zone’ too (a forehead, nose, and chin that’s dry while cheeks remain relatively oily.) The cause of this? Dr. Lancer explains that “reversed T-zones are usually hormonally induced and can be genetic. They occur in individuals who have more estrogen being produced in the upper part of the face, while more testosterone is being produced in the lower part. Testosterone tends to cause acne-prone skin because oil glands have a sensitivity to it.”

Oily skin

So now that we’ve covered the key signs and causes, it’s time to evaluate your skin regimen…

Treating Combination Skin

“Generally, if an individual has combination skin, he or she can use the same products around the entire face. If he or she has extremely oily and extremely dry areas of the face, each area can be treated according to necessity. Depending on the level of difference around the face, I would recommend using different products to target specific concerns.”

Bringing Back Balance 

“You can rebalance combination skin by changing the surface product blend that is currently being used on your skin, along with altering lifestyle and diet choices,” explains Dr. Lancer. But ultimately, it all comes down to your routine. “Adjust it so that it starts with gentle exfoliation and cleansing, then ends with hydration.” Dr. Lancer also stresses the importance of having “a consistent program – as loss of a regular skincare routine causes a shock to the skin due to shifting balances in acid pH level.” For those struggling to choose the correct ingredients, Dr. Lancer recommends “avoiding products that are alcohol-based as well as any oils that are high in oleic acid, including sunflower oil and coconut oil. Certain emollients can also irritate the skin, such as paraffin and certain waxes. I would recommend using alternative oils such as grape and hempseed.” 

And a few tips allied with diet? 

Dr. Lancer advises that you “limit salt, dairy, alcohol, and caffeine as much as possible.”

Curating Your Skin Regimen

By shifting how you treat your combination skin based on the insight above, you’ll soon see a difference. If your combination skin isn’t strictly dry and oily, there are plenty of other skincare steps that you can incorporate. For example, if you’re looking to brighten your skin, a vitamin C serum will work wonders. Alternatively, if you have hyperpigmentation, adding retinol into your routine can help even out skin tone. 

Like all other skin types, finding the right solutions that work best for you will require a degree of trial and error. But a few expert-approved product suggestions won’t hurt, right? Scroll down for our selected picks.

Step 1: Cleanse

Dr. Lancer instructs using a gentle cleanser both in the morning and before you catch some zzzs. “This will help remove excess oils around the T-zone without drying out other areas of the face.” Neutrogena’s Hydro Boost Hydrating Cleansing Gel, $13, is an affordable fave that offers a deep cleanse without stripping your skin of moisture. It’s also really important to double cleanse every evening, so check out our guide to double cleansing here.

Step 2: Exfoliate

“Like all skin, combination skin requires exfoliation to remove dead skin cells and impurities from the surface. I recommend exfoliating regularly as this keeps cell renewal consistent and skin looking healthy and refreshed,” explains Dr. Lancer. Our love is real for the WISHFUL Yo Glow Enzyme Scrub, $39, as it contains a combo of pineapple and papaya enzymes, AHAs, and BHAs like lactic, citric, glycolic, and salicylic acids to gently exfoliate and reveal a smoother, radiant, and clearer complexion. However, we recommend exfoliating just once or twice a week to avoid over-exfoliation, but our WISHFUL formula is gentle enough for everyday use. 

Step 3: Tone

This is an underrated but essential skincare step that can rebalance your skin’s pH level. On top of this, a good toner will tighten pores and remove any remaining bits of dirt and impurities on the skin (not a toner’s job, but it still does!), allowing all your other skincare ingredients to be absorbed more efficiently. Try out Glow Recipe’s Watermelon Glow PHA+BHA Pore-Tight Toner, $34, designed to balance, brighten, and hydrate your skin without irritating, making it great for combo skin types. 

Serum step: Should you wish to include a serum to tackle any other skin concerns like hyperpigmentation, breakouts or dullness, use them here.

Step 4: Moisturize

Moisturizing is super important if you have combination skin as you want to replenish dry areas and ensure your T-zone doesn’t become dehydrated, as this can lead to increased production of oil to compensate for the lack of moisture. Lancer Skincare’s The Method Normal-Combination Moisturizer, $125, is a firm favorite as it’s made with combination skin in mind. We also love The Ordinary’s Natural Moisturizing Factors + HA, $8. It’s lightweight, non-greasy, and is formulated to give immediate and continuous hydration with a combo of natural moisturizing factors that include amino acids, fatty acids, hyaluronic acid, and other compounds that can be found naturally in the skin.

Step 5: Protect

If you ask any dermatologist, they’ll tell you sunscreen is one of the most important skincare products you’ll ever own. It should be the last step of your skincare routine, applied before you start any face beat. We’ve recently converted to mineral-based SPFs, in particular, the EltaMD UV Pure Broad-Spectrum SPF 47, $16. It’s an oil-free, non-comedogenic formula that’s super-lightweight and doesn’t pill underneath makeup.

Weekly Ritual: Mask Up

An extra step that Dr. Lancer puts forward is “[Using] a mask once per week that works to decongest the skin and pores. You can place the mask on your entire face or just on your T-zone, depending on congestion needs.” Your skin will enjoy The INKEY List’s Kaolin Mask, $7, as it’s formulated with kaolin and smectite clay to draw out grease and dirt – you can literally see the oil being extracted. Our tip is to mask in the shower so that the steam prevents the clay from fully drying and becoming uncomfortable. Always mask after you’ve cleansed, and make sure you follow any clay masks with a hydrating serum and moisturizer to rehydrate your skin.

For more healthy skincare tips, check out how to switch up your skincare routine according to your age. 

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