Medically reviewed by Dr. Nancy Shannon, MD, PhD on April 15, 2021
While any skin type is capable of developing acne, some are more acne-prone under certain conditions. If you’re hoping to get a handle on your acne breakouts, you need to know what role your type of skin plays first. Here’s how you can do just that:
Identifying Your Skin Type
While everyone’s skin is different, it generally falls into one of five major categories.
Balanced skin, sometimes called “normal” skin, is skin not inclined towards excessive dryness or oiliness. Balanced skin is generally not very shiny or flaky, and pore size is relatively small. If your skin is usually neither dry nor oily and has the same quality on all parts of your face, you likely have balanced skin.
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Oily skin is just what it sounds like: skin prone to collecting oils on its surface. Oily skin occurs when the sebaceous glands located under each hair follicle produce too much natural oil, or sebum. Those with oily skin are most likely to see evidence of this in the “T-zone” on their face, the part of the body where oil is most common. Those with oily skin also may find that some moisturizers or body creams leave their skin feeling greasy.
The water content of our outermost layer of skin, the stratum corneum, is what determines the difference between normal skin and dry skin. In dry skin, the water content of the stratum corneum is lower than the water content of the layers beneath it, which makes it shrink in volume and surface area, causing the tightness, flaking, and mild wrinkles common in dry skin. Those with darker skin tones may also find evidence of dry skin when their skin appears ashy. If your skin always seems to be in need of moisturizing, it’s likely you have dry skin.
Combination skin has both dry and oily areas. If, for example, you find your T-zone getting oily but your cheeks appear dry and flaky, you probably have combination skin.
Sensitive skin reacts poorly to most mainstream dermatological products. There are many possible causes for sensitive skin, but people with a genetic predisposition towards allergic diseases, such as eczema (atopic dermatitis), asthma and allergies, may be more prone to sensitive skin. If you find yourself developing rashes or irritation after a few consecutive days of applying products, this might be a sign of sensitive skin. If similar reactions occur for a number of different products, it’s much more likely that your skin is sensitive.
Still unsure what type your skin is? Try the wash test. Wash your face with a mild cleanser and don’t apply any products after. After 30 minutes, examine how your skin feels:
- Does your face feel oily and look shiny? You probably have oily skin.
- Is your T-zone shimmering, but the rest of your face is mostly matte? Your skin is likely combination.
- Do you have minimal oil, flakiness, or redness, or none at all? This usually means you have balanced/normal skin.
- Is your skin flaky or tight? Your skin type is likely dry.
- Is your skin itchy, red, or inflamed? If yes, it’s probably sensitive.
Best Practices for Acne-Prone Skin
There’s not necessarily one “acne-prone” skin type: each different skin type can develop acne like all the rest. That being said, not everyone experiences the same level of frequency of acne. For those who are finding themselves regularly contending with pimples, your first steps likely depend on your skin type.
For balanced/normal skin types, the key is to keep your face in its natural state of balance. Excessive acne may indicate that something is interfering with the typical composition of your skin: one or more products, higher levels of sweat, dry weather conditions, even genetics or hormones. Find acne treatments that don’t dry out your skin — you don’t want to move your skin away from where it is normally.
For oily skin types, breakouts are likely because the skin’s excess sebum mixes with dead skin cells and clogs pores. Start by cleansing twice daily with a mild cleanser, so those natural skin oils don’t trap the sweat, dust, and pollutants that collect on the skin over the course of a day. Doing a thorough cleanse in the morning and evening can prevent too much of that buildup from taking place.
For dry skin types, moisturize, moisturize, moisturize, because excessively dry or dehydrated skin can cause irritation leading to acne. Choose a non-comedogenic moisturizer that comes in a jar, not a pump (cleansers in pumps typically contain high content of water that will just evaporate from skin). By the way, “non-comedogenic” is just a fancy way of saying that a product does not clog pores. Be sure to avoid any potentially irritating products such as toners, as they may only exacerbate the issue. As with oily skin, regularly cleanse using a gentle cleanser in order to open up your pores and remove dead skin cells.
For combination skin types, consider treating the dry parts of your face separately from the oily parts. This can allow you to optimize your skincare routine based on which parts of your skin would respond best to which treatments. Use a gentle cleanser on your entire face, but avoid or use less acne medications, especially prescription retinoids, on the dry areas compared to oilier areas. Or use retinoids less frequently on the sensitive areas.
For sensitive skin types, avoid harsh products at all costs. Irritating leave-on treatments, scrubs, and exfoliants can do significantly more harm than good. There’s no catch-all solution for those with sensitive skin—your skin may not be able to handle the same products that others can—but common ingredients to avoid include alcohol, sodium lauryl sulfates (SLSs), synthetic fragrances, and some essential oils like tea tree, citrus, mint, and lavender. The Nurx medical team doesn’t recommend toners, because toners often contain alcohol, which can be drying to the skin and don’t fundamentally add anything to a skincare regimen.
Oftentimes, even the best cleansing and treatment routines still don’t have the effect on acne that you want them to. If you’re wondering what your next steps should be in the fight against acne, reach out to one of our medical providers here at Nurx today to learn about what your options are.