The Best Skin-Care Routine for Combination Skin, According to the Pros

Some have oily skin and some have dry, but others have what’s coined as combination skin, a skin type dermatologists say is not a one-size-fits-all diagnosis. Here, they break down how to know if you have combination skin, what your routine should look like and even share a few of their favorite products.

What is combination skin?

“Combination skin refers to skin that has different personalities going on at the same time,” says Davie, FL dermatologist Lesley Clark-Loeser, MD. “Commonly, we hear patients say that their complexion is both dry and oily. Or, that they have both sensitive and acne-prone skin.”

But, just because you have some oily, dry or irritated spots here and there doesn’t mean you fit perfectly into this category. “What determines our skin category is how much water or oil content is actually produced and transported to our skin,” says Beverly Hills dermatologist Ava Shamban, MD, who adds that in order to classify your skin as combination, you must have ongoing, clearly defined dry and oily patches. “The reality is that our skin can fluctuate regularly due to epigenetic factors, hormonal changes, environment, diet, stressors, lifestyle and overall health and there is a difference between the temporary change or condition of skin and an actual skin type or category.”

What does combination skin look like?

“The signals of combination skin exhibit as signs from both dryness and oil,” says Dr. Shamban. “You may notice larger-than-normal pores in a specific area on the face and invisible pores in other areas, some areas of blackhead concentration, congestion or clogged pores, shine in some areas of the face (like forehead or nose), tone inconsistencies and patchy redness in certain areas, dull areas of skin and roughly complected areas.”

While Dr. Shamban offers some telltale signs, Omaha, NE dermatologist Joel Schlessinger, MD says it’s best to get your skin type evaluated by a board-certified dermatologist, especially because combination skin can sometimes be a telltale sign of something else going on underneath the surface. “If there is continuous or intermittent scaling on the central facial area, you could have seborrheic dermatitis or an allergic predisposition, which needs special care and potentially, a prescription treatment,” he says.

What does an ideal morning skin-care routine look like for combination skin?

If Dr. Shamban were to offer a morning skin-care routine to a patient with combination skin, she would tell them to start the day off with tepid water and a light oil or lotion cleanser to gently wash the face. “Then, an alcohol-free toner with either rose water, witch hazel or apple cider vinegar is great before applying a hydrating or balancing serum and finishing off with sunscreen,” she says. If you’re seeing signs of acne or inflammation, Dr. Clark-Loeser may prescribe a prescription cleanser with either niacinamide for reducing inflammation or acne-attacking sulfur, along with a light noncomedogenic moisturizer to help maintain the skin’s barrier function and a physical sunscreen with minimum SPF of 30.

What does an ideal evening skin-care routine look like for combination skin?

“In the evening, cleansing is an absolute must,” Dr. Clark-Loeser continues. “For that acne-prone yet sensitive skin type, a cleanser with either salicylic acid or lactic acid is great. Either of these ingredients will help promote cell turnover, and they posses some antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. What follows after cleansing really depends on the severity of an individual’s skin condition, and believe it or not, the patient’s age.”

After cleansing, Dr. Shamban recommends using a gentle exfoliator three times per week (or more, as needed) at night.” The exfoliant should have some light acids like lactic, salicylic and kojic acids to keep pores clean and clear.” She also says that a repairing serum, blemish-busting masks and a balancing moisturizer are essential.

“Look for ingredients like hyaluronic acid, tea tree oil, apricot kernel oil, vitamin E and squalane in your moisturizer,” adds Dr. Shamban. “Also, betaine helps skin to adapt to moisture loss and gain, so it essentially works to balance hydration and can be used over the entire face.” If you’re experiencing sensitive skin, she says it’s all about ingredients like calendula, green tea and jojoba. “These will maintain moisture levels so that the surface of the skin is not disrupted or damaged with flaking and irritation.”

What are some products great for combination skin?

A few of the products Dr. Shamban keeps on her list of favorites: Glytone Acne Treatment Mask ($36) for cleaning out the pores, Éminence Organic Skin Care Calm Skin Arnica Booster Serum ($56) to restore lost moisture, Biossance Squalane + Antioxidant Cleansing Oil ($30) to leave skin feeling fresh and healthy and Biologique Recherche Masque Vivant to improve cellular turnover.

For both morning and night, Dr. Schlessinger recommends products from the LovelySkin LUXE regimen to most of his patients because “the products are formulated with proven anti-aging ingredients like resveratrol and peptides, in addition to the line’s proprietary ingredient afaLUXE,” he says. “afaLUXE is a novel blend of amino-based filaggrin antioxidants, vitamin C and Dead Sea minerals that encourage natural exfoliation without irritation to help improve skin’s natural moisture and barrier functions. This means that any skin type (including dry or sensitive) can reap impressive rejuvenating benefits without irritating or drying out skin.”

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The Best Skin-Care Routine for Combination Skin, According to the Pros

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