Do You *Really* Know Your Skin Type? Here’s How To Tell

Time to reassess.

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how to determine skin type

Every skin care journey begins with the same question: What is my skin type? From dermatologist appointments to YouTube tutorials to conversations with friends, as teen or young adult, it was probably the single most important factor in determining which products you used, the makeup you wore, and maybe even how often you chose to play sports. As the years have gone by, it’s likely the initial analysis has changed. However, understanding how to determine your skin type as an adult is just crucial as it was during adolescence. As you age, your complexion has different needs and will require new key ingredients to keep it healthy.

“Your skin is constantly changing and reacting to the environment around it,” says Dr. Nava Greenfield, M.D., board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City. That alone can cause a shift in your skin type, but lifestyle and hormonal influences can also shake up your complexion. As the foundation of your routine, knowing how your skin has changed, whether it’s oily, dry or combination, is essential to finding the right products. In short, it’s time to upgrade if you’ve been using the same lineup as you did when you were a teen.

Ahead, TZR tapped two dermatologists for insight into why your skin type changes, how to determine what category you fall under, and how to alter your regimen to meet its new needs.

How Aging Affects Skin Type

The surface of your skin, also known as the skin barrier, is considered to be acidic and can range anywhere from 4.1 to 5.8 on the pH scale. From birth, your skin’s pH level is a lot closer to being neutral, however, studies have shown that it becomes acidic as early as four weeks into life and remains that way until around 50 years of age. Acidic skin may sound problematic, but it’s actually extremely important for maintaining homeostasis, as skin that is more alkaline tends to be dry. According to Dr. Aanand N. Geria, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in Rutherford, NJ, the skin barrier protects from external threats and prevents the body from losing water and dehydrating.

Decreased moisture retention is one of the many signs of aging, but it can also affect your skin type. “As we get older, cellular turnover is slowed causing the skin to become dry,” says Dr. Jenny Lui, M.D., board-certified dermatologist, and assistant professor at the University of Minnesota. She tells TZR that while puberty often increases oil production, aging can do the opposite, and can easily cause your skin type to shift from oily to dry.

How The Environment Affects Skin Type

The world around you can also play a big role in how your skin thrives. “On a daily basis our bodies are exposed to many factors such as changing weather conditions, UV rays, and pollution that take a toll on its health,” says Dr. Greenfield. While these elements are unavoidable, she notes that they can transform your skin. “Sensitivity is one of the major changes that can occur due to the environment around you,” she says. While the term itself can be somewhat ambiguous, Dr. Greenfield explains that increased irritation whether minor or considerable is not the least bit uncommon, especially when moving from one climate to another.

Determining Your New Skin Type

Booking an appointment with your dermatologist is the fail-proof method of determining the current state of your skin. However, there’s a few methods of figuring out your skin type at home. “Using a magnifying mirror, take a close look at the oil glands on your face to assess their size and distribution on the surface,” says Dr. Greenfield. The glands contain thin filaments that are designed to move the oil from beneath the skin to its surface. Though they typically appear as tiny dots around the nose and T-zone area, sebaceous filaments that are more noticeable can be a sign of oily skin.

You can also perform a simple test to give you some insight into your skin type. “Wash your face with a mild cleanser such as Cetaphil, pat dry then do nothing after for 20 to 30 minutes,” says Dr. Lui. Once the time has passed, take a quick assessment to how your skin looks and feels to the touch. “If your skin feels tight, you most likely have a drier skin type, while skin that’s shiny depicts oily, and dry on some parts of the face and oily in other areas can be concluded as combination,” she says.

Adjusting Your Skin Care Routine

Given that the changing seasons can cause your needs to fluctuate, you probably already have a few staple products designed for different skin types. “Dry skin tends to need the help of external hydration to remain moisturized while sensitive skin reacts to ingredients that typically do not cause irritation,” says Dr. Greenfield. She explains that if your skin has transitioned to either of the two types you will need to change your products to address the new skin reality. She suggests adding a lightweight moisturizer, like REN’s Evercalm Overnight Recovery Balm, to your routine to help replenish oils and ceramides that are missing to strengthen the skin barrier.

On the contrary, if your skin has shifted from dry to oily, Dr. Greenfield recommends incorporating products that include sebum-controlling ingredients to help balance production. “A salicylic acid-based wash such as Carbon Theory Salicylic Acid Exfoliating Gel Cleanser, is great for absorbing the excess oils without completely stripping the skin,” she says.

Additionally, Dr. Lui notes that it will be helpful to change out your moisturizer for one that best suits your skin's needs. “Richer-bodied creams are more ideal for dryness, while water gel-cream products can be soothing for sensitivity and prevent oily skin from feeling overly greasy.”

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