Beauty retailers and pharmacy shelves alike are filled with products touted for dry and oily skin. But what do you do when your cheeks are dry and flaky, but your nose and T-zone has erupted into a fresh crop of pimples with oily skin to boot?
This is known as combination skin, and while it’s very common, it can be a challenge to care for, dermatologists say. Just as its name implies, combination skin doesn’t fit into any of the main categories of dry skin, sensitive skin, or oily skin—but rather, it’s a combination of all skin types.
“People with combination skin have a hard time figuring out what’s happening with their skin because they are sensing a little bit of everything,” Rachel Nazarian, MD, of Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City, tells Health. That might mean you have dehydrated, sensitive skin on certain areas of your face, while other parts are extra oily. Or, your skin may shift from dry to oily, and vice versa, as the seasons or other environmental conditions change.
“Skin responds to outside weather, temperature, humidity, pollution, and external stimuli,” says Omer Ibrahim, MD, Co-Director of Research at Chicago Cosmetic Surgery and Dermatology. “So the fact that most people juggle a constantly changing skin type in response to the outside world is not surprising.”
Generally, younger people are more prone to combination skin, possibly because they’re more likely to use different products, Dr. Nazarian says. Occasionally, women going through hormonal changes because of starting or stopping birth control—or due to menopause—may encounter this skin type as well.
It’s also often the result of misusing or overusing products with ingredients that aren’t right for your skin, says Dr. Nazarian. This can result in a variety of issues—like an imbalance in the pH of your skin, clogged pores, and the stripping of natural oils that result in dryness—happening simultaneously. For this reason, keeping skin adequately moisturized is super important for combination skin (and yes, that includes the acne-prone areas as well as the dry parts).
The good news? While finding the right moisturizer for this skin type can be a challenge, it’s certainly not impossible. A good rule of thumb is to go with a lightweight lotion that’s non-comedogenic (read: won’t clog pores) if your skin is feeling extra oily, or with a cream if your skin is more dry than usual. “In general, creams are a good middle of the road,” Dr. Ibrahim adds. And once you find the right happy-medium treatments that work for you and your skin, developing a regular routine can keep the fluctuating textures at bay.
Below, we outlined 10 dermatologist-recommended moisturizers for combination skin. From gels and creams to overnight treatments across a variety of price points, these are the best options to soothe dry, irritated skin and prevent breakouts simultaneously.
Read on to learn more about each of these expert-recommended picks, plus why they could be just what your skin needs to stay balanced.
Developed by dermatologists, CeraVe’s Moisturizing Lotion is lightweight, non-comedogenic, and made with soothing ceramides. Dr. Ibrahim recommends this customer-favorite lotion for combination skin because it can “help restore and maintain the skin’s natural barrier and keep the skin moisturized.” Gentle enough for even the most sensitive skin and fragrance-free to avoid irritation, this super affordable drugstore option also contains hyaluronic acid to skin hydrated and plump.
Available at amazon.com, $18
Dr. Nazarian likes this oil-free moisturizer from celeb- and dermatologist-approved brand Elta MD. Along with peptides that encourage new cell growth, it also includes antioxidants—like niacinamide, also known as vitamin B3, and vitamin E—that help skin repair itself and ceramides that calm irritated skin without causing acne, Dr. Nazarian says. The non-comedogenic, antioxidant-rich formula is chock-full of nourishing ingredients that make it ideal for repairing damaged or aging skin.
Available at amazon.com, $35
Dr. Nazarian touts this lightweight lotion from Vanicream as a great option for sensitive skin because it’s free of any harsh ingredients like parabens, fragrance, dyes, or perfumes. Instead, it relies on a gentle, minimalist formula that contains ceramides to help rebuild the moisture barrier on dry, irritated skin. An added bonus? This soothing lotion isn’t greasy, and you can use it on both your face and body for extra soft skin. It’s easy on your wallet, too, at just $26 for a pack of two 16-ounce bottles.
Available at amazon.com, $26 for two
Another suggestion from Dr. Nazarian, this super hydrating overnight lotion will moisturize and replenish your skin while you sleep. The lightweight formula uses ceramides to form a protective layer on the skin while hyaluronic acid locks in moisture and offers anti-aging benefits like plumping. Dr. Nazarian also likes that the fast-absorbing liquid is made without harmful parabens.
Available at sephora.com, $15
This ultra-gentle soothing cream is perfect for people with hypersensitive skin, or conditions like eczema and rosacea that cause irritation. Made with thermal spring water and shea butter that heals and softens dry and damaged skin, this hypoallergenic cream also contains amino acids for added moisture.
Available at amazon.com, $35
Dr. Ibrahim recommends this super lightweight gel moisturizer, which is oil-free and absorbs quickly into the skin while still offering an adequate boost of hydration. The water-based formula contains hyaluronic acid to lock in moisture and soften the skin’s texture; the gel is also non-comedogenic (meaning it won’t clog pores) and never leaves behind a greasy feel, so you can wear it under makeup. This affordable drugstore find has quickly become a cult-favorite among beauty fanatics for it’s ultra refreshing and light texture that keeps skin moisturized all day.
Available at amazon.com, $15 (was $19)
You probably know by now that wearing sunscreen every single day, especially on your face, is of the utmost importance for proper protection against harmful UV rays. And what better way to make sure you don’t forget this vital step in your daily skincare routine than by pairing it with your moisturizer? Neutrogena’s Healthy Defense Moisturizer does just that, combining it’s lightweight moisturizer with mineral sunscreen that contains SPF 50 so you can cover all your bases with one product. Non-greasy and fragrance-free, this lotion is gentle enough for sensitive skin and can even reduce the appearance of fine lines at the same time.
Available at amazon.com, $16
If you’re prone to breakouts and oily skin but still have dry patches, too, this gel is for you. The moisturizing gel cream is lightweight and gentle enough for twice-daily use that’ll leave skin soft and nourished. Along with a modest amount of salicylic acid—a known acne-fighting ingredient—that counteracts oily skin on your T-zone without overdrying, it also contains hydrating agents like squalane and niacinamide to brighten skin.
Available at amazon.com, $25
For more intense skin repair, Dr. Ibrahim says to look for “triple lipid” ingredients—in other words, a formula that combines ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids to keep skin extra nourished. This vegan, peptide-rich cream fits the bill for ultimate hydration. It also offers anti-aging benefits thanks to the inclusion of nutripeptides, which protect the skin from free radical damage that can worsen signs of aging, and lily root extract, which tightens and plumps the skin. The formula is non-comedogenic but packs a heavy punch of moisturization, so if your combination skin leans more towards oily and acne-prone, you’ll probably only want to use this option on your extra dry days.
If you’re willing to pay more for luxury skincare, look no further than this anti-aging moisturizer from Tatcha, the famous Meghan Markle-loved skincare brand. Made with Tatcha’s signature hydrating formula of green tea, algae, and Japanese botanical extracts, The Water Cream works to tighten and reduce the appearance of pores and brighten dull textures, leaving you with ultra smooth skin and a radiant complexion. This cult-favorite water-based cream is also non-comedogenic, so it’ll offer extra hydration without feeling oily or leaving behind a sticky residue.
Available at amazon.com, $68
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