Once you do an easy at-home test to diagnose your skin type, follow these dermatologist tips to better manage your skin.

By Susan Brickell
Updated March 12, 2019
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For some people, their skin type is obvious. If you always look shiny, it's safe to say you fall on the oily spectrum; skin that's constantly cracked and flaking is likely dry. Do you always break out when you try new beauty products? Hello, sensitive skin. Still, it's not always easy to pinpoint exactly which skin type you have, especially if your skin is more combination. (And if you have normal skin, well, lucky you.)

Everyone's skin contains sebaceous glands, which produce oil. Some people have more active glands, so their skin looks more oily and pores more prominent, explains Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. On the other hand, skin water content determines whether skin is dry or not; people with dry skin tend to have flaking and tightness, he says. Combination skin usually means oiliness in the T-zone (nose, forehead, and chin) and dryness in the cheeks.

New York City-based dermatologist Debra Jaliman, MD, let us in on a simple way to test skin type without a trip to your dermatologist: she calls it "The Pat Test." Gently wash your face and pat dry. If your skin feels tight within 45 minutes to an hour, you probably have dry skin. If your skin feels oily after washing your face, you likely have oily skin. If the oiliness is only in the T-zone area, your skin is probably combination.

Knowing your skin type is important, since it helps you refine your routine so you're using products that are effective and won't cause irritaton or breakouts. Below, we asked experts for more signs of the different skin types, as well as the best products to use and ingredients to avoid.

RELATED: The 5 Best Products to Combat Oily Skin

Oily skin

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The signs: You're probably a member of the oily skin club if your skin often looks shiny, you have large pores, and makeup has zero staying-power on your face, says Dr. Jaliman. Another dead giveaway? Blotting papers absorb excess oil within an hour after washing your face, says Rachel Nazarian, MD, a New York-based dermatologist and fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology.

Skincare tips for oily skin: You'll want to look for oil-free, non-comedogenic (read: won't clog pores) products and those featuring ingredients like salicyclic acid, glycolic acid, and aloe, says Dr. Jaliman. Powdered foundations are great for oily skin and less likely to clog pores, and you should swap heavy creams and ointments for lightweight lotions.

Also great? Retinoids can decrease oil production over time. Some of Dr. Nazarian's favorites: ProactivMD Adapelene Gel Acne Treatment ($36; ulta.com) and Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Anti-Wrinkle Night Accelerated Retinol SA Facial Moisturizer ($18; amazon.com).

What to avoid: It sounds counterintuitive, but Dr. Nazarian cautions against using aggressive cleansers or alcohols, since they can strip skin's natural oils and actually encourage more oil production. You should also consider your diet: "Having a poor diet, eating too many sweets and sugary drinks can exacerbate oily skin," notes Dr. Jaliman.

Shop more products for oily skin: Best moisturizers for oily skin, best foundations for oily skin, best primers for oily skin, best sunscreens for oily skin, and best products to reduce shine in general.  

Dry skin

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The signs: If your skin often appears matte or flaky and feels dehydrated after coming out of the shower or washing your face, chances are you have dry skin.

Skincare tips for dry skin: Use products with hyaluronic acid (the ingredient has hydrating and anti-aging properties), ceramides (to protect skin's barrier and lock in moisture), shea butter and squalane (both are extremely moisturizing), and glycerin, a humectant which draws water from air into skin's outer layer, Dr. Jaliman says. It's also essential to invest in a moisture-rich cream, such as Cerave Moisturizing Cream ($16; amazon.com); the best time to apply is right when you get out of the shower, since this helps bind water molecules to skin, says Dr. Jaliman.

Pick cleansers that won't strip skin's natural waxy barrier, like the original Dove Beauty Bar ($4 for 3-pack, walmart.com), says Dr. Nazarian. And remember to drink plenty of water and use a humidifier to prevent skin from drying out while you sleep.

What to avoid: Don't use alcohol-based products or those with benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, or glycolic acid, since these can dry out skin even more, says Dr. Nazarian.

Shop more products for dry skin: Best moisturizers for dry skin, best foundations for dry skin, best hand cream for dry skin, and best anti-aging creams for dry skin.

Combination skin

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The signs: Oily in summer and dry in winter? If your skin changes with the weather or seasons, you probably have combination skin, says Dr. Jaliman. Another telltale sign is skin that's greasy in certain spots and flakey in others.

Skincare tips for combination skin: Combination skin can worsen when someone is using many different products that are adding or removing oil too aggressively, or creating too much inflammation in skin, says Dr. Nazarian. She recommends looking for a gentle cleanser that doesn't disrupt the natural waxy barrier, and follow with an oil-free moisturizer that helps rebuild the pH balance of skin. Other key ingredients for combination skin include squalane, apricot kernel oil, vitamin E, avocado oil, lactic acid, green tea, collagen, niacin, and hyaluronic acid, since they won't cause breakouts, says Dr. Jaliman.

Also a good choice? Products that contain prebiotics or probiotics, adds Dr. Nazarian. Her pick: La Roche-Posay Lipikar Balm ($15, amazon.com), formulated with La Roche-Posay prebiotic thermal water, lipid-replenishing shea butter, and niacinamide to replenish skin's essential lipids and provide long-lasting hydration.

What to avoid: Don't use products that are alcohol-based, have fragrance, or contain oil.

Shop more products for combination skin: Best moisturizers for combination skin, best BB creams for combination skin, and best face washes for combination skin.

Sensitive skin

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The signs: While sensitive skin often has underlying redness to it, the true test is how it feels when products are applied. People with sensitive skin often report that many products give a slight “burning” sensation with use, says Dr. Nazarian.

Skincare tips for sensitive skin: Dehydrated skin can cause inflammation, so reach for a moisturizer that decreases inflammation, like La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Face Moisturizer ($18; amazon.com) or Vanicream Moisturizing Skin Cream ($14; amazon.com). Products with shea butter, hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and ceramides are game-changers for sensitive skin types, says Dr. Jaliman. "These ingredients are super hydrating and help rebuild skin’s protective barrier and add moisture back into the skin," she tells us. You should also use a gentle cleanser, such as Dove Sensitive Skin Beauty Bars ($4 for 2-pack; amazon.com).

What to avoid: Make sure the products you're using are hypoallergenic and free of fragrance, parabens, and essential oils, says Dr. Jaliman.

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