Everyone Has Combination Skin

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The drugstore is great for many things—impulse buys, emergency face-wipe restocks, really big bottles of moisturizer...But as with any relationship, it’s important to acknowledge holes in communication. That's how you grow and mature and become more productive. So now seems as good a time as any to acknowledge that drugstore product descriptions have a major communication problem.

Namely, the term “combination skin.” What does that even mean? Oh, so you’re dry in some areas and oily in others, and sometimes it changes? Welcome to having a face. At this point in our collective lives, I suggest we come to terms that this nebulous “combination skin” nonsense means nothing.

And I'm not alone.

'I never use the term 'combination skin,'' said dermatologist/psychologist Dr. Amy Wechsler. “I think people get confused by it. There are people who have acne and dry, sensitive skin, and they are like, 'I must be oily because of the acne, but I’m dry so it’s combo.' Or 'Normal skin is almost always more oily in the middle of the face and less oily on the sides, so is that combo?' That all sounds normal to me.”

Sounds normal to me, too. But even then, I feel like we're overthinking it. “For most people there are more oily or sebaceous glands on the nose and central face.” Dr. David Colbert of the New York Dermatology Group said, echoing Dr. Wechsler's remarks. “So this area is naturally more oily. Many of my clients say they have combination skin, and in a sense, they are right.” Maybe we all have combination skin. But if everyone has it, then does anybody really have it?

Regardless of your answer to that question, there are steps to take to correct any wavering state in which you might find your face. Dr. Wechsler continues: “Sometimes people create their own dryness. If you’re over-scrubbing your skin, you could be making it dry. American women in general tend to over-cleanse. I like to tell people to listen to their own skin rather than listening to what a product says or listening to someone they met in a store telling them what to do for their skin.”

Products flagged for “combination skin' might be pure marketing, so look for things that tout balance instead. Dr. Colbert recommends his Balance Purifying Cleanser to gently clean without the oil-stripping effects of soap. Both doctors said a routine with fewer products (albeit the right products) might be the very simple solution to happier skin. “If your skin is reacting differently, the ingredients in your products may have changed, or something bigger might be changing with your skin.” Dr. Wechsler said. “But in general, I think if you find something that works for your skin, you should never have to change it.”

—Emily Ferber

Photo via ITG.

So now you know your skin's not combination, but do you know its pH balance?