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Do I Have Oily Skin? Combination Skin? Combination With a Side of Oily?

By Amalah

But first, in case you haven’t seen this yet:

And now that my heart is all up in my throat, let’s talk about beauty products. (In a positive, natural-beauty-affirming sort of way, OF COURSE.)
I have been reading your blogs since before Noah arrived, and suspect I will never stop. Addiction bordering on obsession. So, thank you!
I know you get questions about Philosophy all the time, but I scoured your archives and still haven’t found the answer to mine. I am 20 years old and have never really had serious acne, just constantly a couple of big, nasty pimples. Recently, my skin has actually gotten worse, and now I get little clusters of two or three pimples in my T-zone, and the occasional monster in random places- next to my lip, nostril, or on my jaw line. Also, when I have a pimple, it is guaranteed to scar, whether I pop it or not. The scars last forever- I have a little red dot on my cheek from a pimple that I popped a year and a half ago, etc.
All I have tried until now is the Neutrogena liquid “facial cleansing formula” before bed, which used to work, but now causes oil slicks within minutes after washing. I used to use the Clean & Clear Deep Cleaning Astringent, but it started giving me elephant skin and didn’t seem to be
doing much anyway. As you can see, I’ve never tried anything pricier than your typical
drugstore brands, but I’m really fed up with bad skin, and am ready to splurge. I thought maybe the Philosophy acne kit would be right for me (and is in my price range), but is that too heavy duty? I don’t really know how to define my skin type, probably combination, but how are you supposed to tell?
Here’s the last little twist- I have long, heavy bangs that I love and are the answer to all my hair woes. But with my forehead so oily, an hour after I shower they deteriorate to greasy looking chunks. I’m also worried they might be causing more pimples. Any tips on bang maintenance? Yours are gorgeous.
I’m sorry this e-mail is so long, I just figured I should try to include anything that might be relevant when it comes to my face. Thank you for all the advice over the years, I own and love both Bed Head products you recommended to Lizzie after you mentioned them at

Well, hmm. It IS hard to diagnose skin type over email, but I can say your woes sound awfully familiar — a lot like my skin in my early 20s, when I was aimlessly jumping from product to product with no idea what I was doing either.
Since your breakouts are mostly around your T-zone, I’m guessing you are combination. Too many people self-diagnose as oily (like I did), and are shocked to hear that they need to dial-back on the acne/oil control stuff. If you think your skin is oily, try this: take a blotting paper and gently touch it to your cheeks and the tip of your nose. Don’t rub and touch it only once to each area. If the sheet is saturated and see-through, your skin is oily. If there’s only a minimum of staining, newsflash, your skin is NOT what the skincare industry considers oily.
philosophy%20acne.jpgSo unless you fail that oil test, I’m going to say that the Philosophy acne kit is probably too hardcore. The blemish serum and moisturizer are probably good, but the other two products are going to dry out your cheeks, possibly overstrip your T-zone and throw everything out of balance. Or they might not. Am just trying to lead you in the direction that worked for me, which…wasn’t this one.
If you were older I’d order you to run, don’t walk, to the nearest Makeup Optional Kit for Congested Skin, which is what I bought all those years ago, on a day when the clouds parted and the angels announced that the gates of hell (aka my big-ass pores) were about to finally close. It’s a full $30 more than the acne kit, but considering the eye cream costs $33 alone, it’s a fantastic value.
philosphy.jpgBut. You are 20, and honestly do not need a kit that includes two firming/lifting/anti-aging products. (Yet! Dun dun dun.) You need a cleanser, moisturizer and blemish control serum. Which will cost…the same as the Makeup Optional kit, when purchased separately. Blah. Philosophy needs a build-your-own starter set option.
Start off with the Purity cleanser and the Hope in a Bottle exfoliating moisturizer, and then when your budget allows it, get the serum to treat your breakouts. That’s the lineup that worked for me, so give it a try. (If it doesn’t and you end up buying the acne kit later down the line…well, uh…consider this all just a necessary step in building your beauty-product resume for when you start your own advice column that will put this one to shame.)
As for the bangs? I think the Philosophy exfoliating moisturizer will help (it has a little salicylic acid in it), as would upgrading to a better clarifying shampoo. It’s possibly a chicken-and-the-egg scenario there — is the oil from your forehead slicking up the bangs, or the other way around? Best to treat them BOTH like the culprits. No conditioner on your bangs. Wear headbands or pin your bangs back at home and at night, or consider a slightly more side-swept style (that’s the only kind of bangs I can get away with). Don’t touch them during the day (keep your hands off your jawline too!) or brush them too much. Using those on your forehead might be a good idea too.

Published October 5, 2007. Last updated October 5, 2007.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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