Does anyone really know their skin type? I think... not. Or, to borrow from an MTV masterpiece: you think you know, but you have no idea. It's like how we're all flopping around in the wrong bra size, or how all of our astrological signs may or may not be shifted—when it comes to self-diagnosis, the source material isn’t completely reliable. I've struggled with putting a label on my skin type for as long as I knew it could be labeled. Was it dry? Sometimes but not all the time. And it gets flaky and red and breaks out and, what was I supposed to do with all that? But going to school to become an aesthetician means you’ll see some stuff—namely, lots of other people’s faces with skin that’s just as complicated and nuanced as your own. There’s never some mysterious algorithm to determine skin type. It actually is really simple, and it all starts with pores.
Traditionally, pores are talked about in beauty as a symptom of skin type: you have oily skin so your pores are bigger. But aestheticians are trained to look at them as the indicator of skin type. A big reason pores are a good litmus for skin type is that, in general, they don’t change much over time. “Our skin often resembles the skin of our parents,” confirms board-certified dermatologist Dr. Morgan Rabach, “and a lot of pore size has to do with genetics.”
Instead of decoding the oil on the surface of your skin, I suggest taking a good look at your pores. (And please do it in a regular mirror and not a magnifying mirror, everyone looks like they have huge pores in those.) First, have a look at the pores on your wrist. You can’t see them because the pores on your wrist are very, very small. Now take a look at your cheeks. Do you see distinct dots? If you do, your pores are probably on the larger side. Check for large, visible pores on your forehead, chin, and nose, too. If your pores are mostly large across these areas, you have oily skin—because the pores are bigger, more oil comes out of them. Make sense? If you only noticed the larger pores in the center of your face (the “T-zone” in skin type jargon), you probably have combination skin. Traditionally called balanced, or "normal", skin, most people fall into this category and all it means is that you're oilier in some places than others. And if you can’t really see any pores, your skin is dry. Easy enough, right?
Or maybe it sounds too simple, and you’re wondering where your acneic, sensitive, mature and dehydrated skin falls in all of this. In fact, your skin can still be any combination of those, but they’re conditions, not types. They’ll help you choose the right targeted treatments for your skin (specifically, which ingredients you should add or stay away from), but don’t let them convolute your assessment of your type. Unlike your skin type, conditions can change all the time.
Still, sometimes your pores do change, and your skin type changes, too. Dr. Rabach notes that pores may start to appear bigger as collagen and elastin production lower over time. On the other hand, vitamin A reduces your skin’s natural oil production, which is why those who regularly use tretinoin, or have done a round of Accutane, have smaller pores and less oily skin. In that case, you should run your new pores through the above matrix and treat them as the pores they are.
But let’s not make it too complicated, because skin type really isn’t. It’s just a jumping off point to help you find the products that are going to work best. Just one more reason to thank your pores next time you see them.
Photo via ITG