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Combination skin manages to be both dry and oily at the same time. Not exactly the dermatological jackpot (we see you, normal skin types), but with the right skin care routine, your dry and oily patches of skin can live in harmony.
No doubt this skin type can be tricky but here’s how to level up your skin care routine for combination skin.
Combination skin 101
What is it? Combination skin is a skin type where you have regions of both dry and oily skin. This happens because some parts of your face produce too much sebum and other areas don’t produce enough.
What are the signs? If you have combination skin, you’ll have:
- an oily T-zone (your nose, chin, and forehead)
- dry skin around the cheeks, eyes, and mouth
- large pores or congested skin on the T-zone
What causes it? Genetics are mainly to blame, but your environment (i.e., dry winter and hot summer) and hormonal changes can also affect your skin.
Managing combination skin requires a daily skin care regimen designed to create more balanced skin, says Dr. Jen Haley, board certified dermatologist and host of the Radiance Revealed Podcast.
You might also need to switch up your skin care depending on the season.
“Combination skin is often oilier in the summer and drier in the winter, while in the fall and spring people with combination skin have an oily T-zone and dry cheeks,” adds Dr. Jeannette Graf, a board certified dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
Reminder: Always do a patch test before you try out any new product!
Your morning routine
1. Cleanse. “In the morning, it’s important to use a cleanser first thing to remove any buildup that may have happened overnight,” says Haley.
2. Tone. “You can then use a toner to remove the oil your cleanser may have missed,” adds Haley. This is optional depending on your skin’s needs and includes gentle leave-on exfoliators. Just always opt for an alcohol-free toner and avoid using it on dry areas.
3. Moisturize. “The next step is important, and this may be where you make the biggest change to your routine: when you moisturize, on the dry areas of your skin, choose a creamy moisturizer, and for the oily sections use a more lightweight water-based formula,” Haley adds.
4. Sunscreen. All derms will agree, wear SPF 30 or higher every 👏 single 👏 day 👏.
Your nighttime routine
1. Cleanse. “In the evening it can help to opt for a gel or foaming cleanser which is designed to remove excess oil that can build up throughout the day,” says Dr. Marisa Garshick, a dermatologist with MDCS Dermatology in New York. “However, it should still be formulated with hydrating ingredients to help nourish the skin.”
2. Exfoliate. Consider exfoliating with a chemical exfoliator about once a week to help remove dead skin cells and clear out congested skin.
3. Treat. You can use various serums and treatments for your unique skin needs. But, Garshick generally recommends a retinoid to help regulate skin cell turnover and prevent pores from becoming clogged. Serums with hyaluronic acid can also help your skin retain moisture without making things greasy.
4. Moisturize. You can take the same lightweight and creamy moisturizer approach to handle your dry and oily spots. “A richer night cream can be used on dry areas of the skin overnight,” adds Garshick.
What if I have acne?
“Exfoliate regularly, use a gentle toner, and always wear sunscreen at least SPF 30,” advises dermatologist Dr. Elizabeth Mullans of Uptown Dermatology in Houston.
Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) that can help oil production and unclog pores to keep the breakouts at bay. Look for it in topical spot treatments, serums, and gels to target oily spots.
When choosing skin care for your a.m. and p.m. routines, look for these ingredients to help your oily and dry skin:
- Hyaluronic acid can hydrate the skin without the grease. You can find this in serums, moisturizers, and cleansers you can use on your entire face.
- Lactic acid is a alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that can gently clear pores in oily sections and exfoliate dry skin without aggravating it. You’ll find it in serums, toners, and other treatments.
- Retinol is a type of retinoid created from Vitamin A that helps skin cell turnover for fresh even skin tone. It’s a go-to treatment for fine lines and hyperpigmentation, and as a bonus, it can also help reduce oil. Just note: it can be drying.
- Vitamin E can clear pores, even complexion, and reduce fine lines, redness, and itchiness. You’ll find it in acne scar treatments and antioxidant serums.
- Vitamin C helps reduce hyperpigmentation, even out skin tone, and improve the look of fine lines. If you need a boost, try using a vitamin C serum in the a.m. between toning and moisturizing. It can make you photosensitive so always wear SPF!
You’ll want to avoid oil-based moisturizers that can aggravate oily skin and toners containing alcohol that dry you out.
Not sure what products to add to your combination skin care routine? These picks are derm-approved and medically vetted by our experts.
Reminder, always do a patch test before you try out any new product!
- $ = under $20
- $$ = $20–$50
- $$$ = over $50
Best overall products for combination skin
La Roche-Posay Effaclar Purifying Foaming Gel
This oil-free cleanser suds up to help gently remove oil and grime, without stripping your skin’s moisture.
The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5
If dry patches are bumming you out, this serum formulated with hyaluronic acid offers additional hydration for thirsty skin. The water-based formula is also lightweight and fragrance-free so it shouldn’t make your oily patches worse.
Sunday Riley Good Genes All-In-One Lactic Acid Treatment
This serum is oily and dry skin approved to get that exfoliated glow. Thanks to lactic acid, it can also help treat dark spots and uneven skin tone
Clinique Moisture Surge 100H Auto-Replenishing Hydrator
Just a little bit of this moisturizer goes a long way. Hyaluronic acid helps offer lightweight moisture to hydrate dry skin without weighing you down. And vitamin C helps even skin tone.
It’s also oil-, fragrance-, and paraben-free!
Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40
This SPF offers protection from the sun’s harmful rays without the strong sunscreen scent. The formula also feels weightless on skin and looks invisible. Bonus: It’s oil-free and is reef-friendly!
Best drugstore products for combination skin
CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser
This gentle cleanser contains salicylic acid to help clear your pores and retain your skin’s natural barrier so it doesn’t irritate your dry skin. It’s also noncomedogenic and fragrance-free.
Neutrogena Skin Perfecting Exfoliant
One of Graf’s picks, key ingredients like glycolic acid, mandelic acid, and gluconolactone help smooth the skin and even out tone and texture.
Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gel-Cream Extra-Dry
This lightweight face moisturizer is formulated with combination skin fave hyaluronic acid. The water-based gel is light enough for acne-prone skin and ingredients such as glycerin and dimethicone help moisturize the driest skin. Make sure to get the extra-dry version, which is fragrance-free.
Natural skin care products for combination skin
Herbivore Natural Jasmine Green Tea Balancing Toner
This toner is plant-based, organic, and cruelty-free. Ingredients like jasmine water offer refreshing spa feels; green tea and white willow bark target oil and breakouts; and aloe vera and witch hazel help soothe skin.
Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum
This serum combines vitamin C, vitamin E, and ferulic acid for antioxidant power that won’t make you irritated or oily. Hyaluronic acid provides additional moisture and chamomile extract to help soothe skin.
It’s also vegan and cruelty-free!
Tatcha The Water Cream Moisturizer
This water-based cream includes botanicals for a hydrating glow without the grease. The brand claims Japanese wild rose can help tighten pores and improve texture and Japanese Leopard Lily can help skin turnover and control oil production. Tatcha’s blend of green tea, algae, and rice may also help fine lines.
Korean skin care products for combination skin
Ohlolly Korean Skincare Kit for Combination Skin Types
If you want to dive straight into K-beauty skin care (and can shell out some major cash), this skin care kit includes nine products picked just for combination skin. Here’s what’s included:
- Oil-based cleanser to remove makeup: Dr. Ceuracle Pro-Balance Pure Cleansing Oil
- Gentle, water-based cleanser: Heimish All Clean Green Foam
- Exfoliating peel: Pyunkang Yul Peeling Gel
- Toner: Pyunkang Yul Essence Toner
- Serum: Pyunkang Yul Moisture Serum
- Eye Cream: Cosrx Advanced Snail Peptide Eye Cream
- Moisturizer: Dr. Ceuracle Vegan Kombucha Tea Gel Cream
- Face sheet masks: Sioris Make It Bright Sheet Mask
- Pimple patches: Cosrx Acne Pimple Master Patch
Innisfree Balancing Cream with Green Tea
This lightweight gel-cream moisturizes skin with 16 hydrating amino acids, with added antioxidant extracts from green tea. It’s hydrating enough to help dry patches, but shouldn’t clog pores.
If you’re looking for more treatment options on a budget, you can mix up your own face masks for a self-care sesh. Again, just make sure you do a patch test, and Graf recommends applying a face mask made from all-natural ingredients.
Try these DIY treatments for some combo skin care self-care.
Green herb and yogurt face mask:
- Mix together 3–4 tablespoons of plain, full fat yogurt; 1/2 cup of fresh mint; and 1/3 cup fresh chamomile (Hot tip: cut open about 2–3 chamomile tea bags as a substitute).
- Using a blender, blend your mixture until smooth.
- Spread evenly on clean skin.
- Leave on for 15–20 minutes.
- Rinse off with lukewarm water and follow up with a moisturizer.
For an egg white face mask:
- Whip an egg white in a bowl until stiff peaks form.
- Mix in a tablespoon each of lemon juice and honey.
- Apply to a clean face with a brush or cotton pad.
- Leave on for 15–20 minutes.
- Rinse off with lukewarm water and follow up with a moisturizer (and sunscreen if it’s during the day!)
Mullans points out these common pitfalls when treating combination skin:
- Forgetting to take off your makeup at night. Try a gentle micellar water prior to cleansing to wipe the day away. Your skin will thank you.
- Overdoing the exfoliation. Overexfoliating can dry out your skin and make it red and irritated. Stick to once a week, or twice a week max if you’re only targeting oily areas.
- Skipping the moisturizer. All skin types need moisture, even those oily patches. To make your combination skin happy, you can use a combo of a lighter weight moisturizer on oily areas and a richer moisturizer on dry patches.
- Not wearing sunscreen. We will scream this from the rooftops over and over, but sunscreen is essential.
People with combination skin types have both dry and oily areas of skin. Caring for combination skin often requires using different products on the dry and oily parts of your face. Sticking to ingredients that are hydrating but won’t make your face greasy can help you maintain a balance.
If you want to keep things simple in your skin care routine, go for a gentle cleanser, serums with hyaluronic acid, a moisturizer, and SPF. And don’t forget to exfoliate once a week.