Your skin type is arguably the most important factor to consider when building a skincare routine. There are five main skin types—oily, normal, combination, dry, and sensitive—and each comes with its own set of benefits and challenges. While everyone needs the essentials (think cleanser, moisturizer, and SPF), the best formulas for each skin type can vary immensely. Understanding where your skin falls on the skin type spectrum is therefore key if you want to build a routine that truly works for you.
If you’re wondering, “how do I know my skin type?” don’t worry: We’re here to help (no lengthy skin type quiz needed). Here, you’ll learn two simple methods for identifying your skin type at home. We’ll also teach you a bit about the defining characteristics of each skin type and offer advice on managing your skin’s unique needs. Read on to learn how to determine your skin type—the Kiehl’s way.
What Are The Five Basic Skin Types?
As we mentioned above, there are five basic skin types. Here, we’ll give you a quick rundown on each.
Oily Skin: Oily skin is characterized by a higher-than-average production of sebum, skin’s natural oil. This excess oiliness can make the skin appear shiny or greasy and is often accompanied by skin concerns like blackheads and enlarged pores. As clogged pores are a major contributor to breakouts, those with oily skin may also be prone to breakouts.
Dry Skin: Dry skin is the opposite of oily skin—it’s skin that doesn’t have enough oil. It may look dull or feel tight, while severe dryness can cause the skin to crack, flake, or peel. Dry skin and dehydrated skin are sometimes used interchangeably, but they’re not the same thing—dehydration is a lack of water, and that can happen to anyone, regardless of skin type.
Combination Skin: At Kiehl’s, we define combination skin as skin that displays two or more defining characteristics—like dryness and oiliness—in different areas. Oftentimes, people with combination skin will have an oilier T-zone (forehead, nose, and chin), while their cheeks will be drier.
Sensitive Skin: Sensitive skin is characterized by a heightened sensitivity to stressors, including some skincare products. Degrees of sensitivity can vary: Some people only experience mild irritation when exposed to stressors, while others struggle with redness, itching, and discomfort regularly. That being said, sensitivity isn’t always visible—sometimes, it’s just about how the skin feels.
Can Your Skin Type Change?
Here’s where it gets complicated—your skin type can change (and probably will, at some point). When you’re a teenager, for example, it’s pretty common to have oily or blemish-prone skin. However, it doesn’t mean that you’ll have oily skin forever. In fact, as you get older, your skin gets drier (along with a host of other changes we’re not going to get into here). It’s therefore not uncommon to have oily skin when you’re young and drier skin as you get older.
Other factors, like the climate you live in, may also influence your skin type: Hot weather and humidity can be linked to oilier skin, while cold, dry air is often associated with dryness.
How To Determine Your Skin Type
Now that you understand the different skin types, you can start taking steps to figure out which one you have. Here, learn two simple methods for identifying your skin type at home.
The Bare-Faced Method
An easy way to determine your skin type is to carefully study your bare skin. You can start by washing your face with a mild foaming cleanser, like Calendula Deep Cleansing Foaming Face Wash, which is gentle enough for all skin types. When you’re done lathering up, gently pat your face dry with a clean towel and refrain from applying any skincare products. After 25-30 minutes, observe your skin—both how it looks and how it feels. If it feels tight, dry, and uncomfortable, you probably have dry skin, while those with excessive shine typically fall into the oily skin category. If your skin exhibits both oily and dry areas, you likely have combination skin. Irritation indicates sensitivity and having none of these concerns probably means you’re blessed with normal skin (congratulations!).
The Blotting Sheet Method
Another simple way to determine your skin type at home is to press a clean blotting paper against different areas of your face. Then, hold the sheet up to a light to see how much oil was absorbed: The more oil on the paper, the oilier your skin is likely to be. Similarly, if you see little to no oil, you may have dry skin. Finally, if the blotting sheet reveals minimal oil from your T-zone only, you probably have a combination or normal skin type. For best results, we recommend doing this test around midday or evening—blotting your skin too soon after cleansing can skew the results.
How To Care For Your Skin Type
Knowing your skin type is only part of the equation: You also need to know how to meet your skin type’s primary needs. Ahead, we’ll give you the details so you can be better equipped to build a skincare routine that suits your skin.
Your Skin Type:
Oily skin is especially vulnerable to oil-related concerns, such as blemishes, shininess, and clogged pores. Caring for this skin type can seem tricky because it still needs moisture—but it doesn’t need any more oil. If you have oily skin, you want to reach for products that provide lightweight hydration and help absorb excess oil without stripping your skin’s natural moisture barrier, which serves as the first line of defense between you and the outside world. Regular exfoliation can also help keep clogged pores and blemishes to a minimum.
We also recommend adding a detoxifying mask, like Rare Earth Deep Pore Minimizing Cleansing Clay Mask, to your weekly routine. This award-winning mask with Amazonian white clay helps draw out impurities, like dirt and oil, to deep-clean the skin and pores. It’s clinically-demonstrated to help reduce surface oil by 46% in a single application.* Regular use over time, meanwhile, helps visibly minimize enlarged pores and reduces blackheads for smoother, more refined-looking skin.
*Results based on a two-hour instrumental test vs. untreated skin on 24 subjects.
Your Skin Type:
While dryness and dehydration are two different things, the lack of oil present in dry skin makes it less able to retain water. Without sufficient moisture, the skin’s natural moisture barrier can’t work as effectively as it needs to. This leaves the skin vulnerable to a host of concerns, from minor irritation to visible signs of premature aging. The key to caring for dry skin, therefore, is to reach for products that help nurture and protect the skin’s natural moisture barrier.
Emollient ingredients like squalane can help restore the skin when it’s dry. You’ll find this Kiehl’s signature ingredient in our Ultra Facial line, the star of which is the iconic Ultra Facial Cream with Squalane. Though it has a lightweight feel and absorbs quickly, this effective moisturizer provides instant and long-term hydration and balances the skin’s driest areas. It’s clinically-demonstrated to leave the skin softer, smoother, and visibly healthier-looking with continued use.*
*Results based on a four-week clinical test.
Your Skin Type:
Combination skin can be tricky to care for since it’s not just a single concern you’re contending with but several conflicting concerns (at the same time). Typically, we recommend those with this skin type reach for gentle treatments that provide lightweight moisture without weighing down or drying out your skin. Balance is key.
Look for gentle products that are suitable for all skin types, like Calendula Serum-Infused Water Cream. The fast-absorbing moisturizer with calendula extract soothes and hydrates the skin, keeping it feeling soft for up to 24 hours. With continued use, it also helps improve skin’s tone and texture for a fresh, radiant appearance.
Your Skin Type:
Experts generally agree that sensitivity ultimately stems from a disruption in the skin’s natural moisture barrier. When the barrier doesn’t work properly, stressors that it should be able to resist can get past your skin’s weakened defenses and wreak havoc, causing redness and discomfort. To help keep your skin feeling comfortable, we recommend reaching for mild products made specifically for stressed skin.
Our Cannabis Sativa Seed Oil Herbal Concentrate Face Oil is a great option for sensitive skin types. This non-comedogenic oil with hemp-derived Cannabis sativa seed oil helps calm the feelings of stressed skin while helping balance hydration. It also helps visibly reduce skin redness and provides skin with relief from discomfort.
Your Skin Type:
Last but not least is normal skin—the easiest skin type to care for. Since those with normal skin don’t have any major concerns to address, your priorities should simply be maintaining your skin’s natural balance. Your routine should include, at a minimum, a gentle cleanser, a lightweight moisturizer, and a broad-spectrum sunscreen to help protect your skin from the sun’s damaging rays.
Morning and night, we recommend washing your face with Ultra Facial Cleanser. This iconic cleanser with avocado oil and glycerin gently melts away dirt and other impurities without disrupting the skin’s natural moisture barrier. The pH-balanced formula is dermatologist-tested for safety and suitable for all skin types, making it a perennial Kiehl’s customer favorite.