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What Skin Type Am I, Really?

By Amalah

Dear Amy:
I feel a little silly what with the weight and gravity of the last few questions you’ve dealt with, but, heck, I was in the shower this morning pondering a question and it FLASH! BANG! occurred to me that maybe you were the perfect person to answer it.
In short, what kind of skin do I have? Seriously, could you maybe look at it for a second?
I also feel a little silly because I am old enough to have figured this out by now. I mean, years and years of reading teen and grown lady magazines telling me what “dry” and “normal” and “combination” skin meant and I still have no idea. The reason this has come up now is because I have a teething, growth-spurty, developmental-spurty, 8 and a half month old son. And, to be honest, sometimes there are days (sometimes multiple days in a row) in which I don’t get around to washing my face (gross, I know). And for those stretches of time, nary a pimple in sight! No breakouts, no nothing. Then when I haul myself back into the world of the living, I start washing my face again and then suddenly have one or two enormous pimples. Good god!
I have always thought myself to have “normal” skin. I never really suffered from acne as a teenager (just kind of run of the mill stuff), don’t have dry patches, don’t get oily, and my skin doesn’t feel all tight after washing, except in the winter. But this morning, I was thinking hey! Maybe this whole washing = zits thing actually means I have dry skin. Hmmmm.
I moisturize after washing (and the face wash is totally benign, not alpha-hydroxy or anything), every time, and use a light, non-comedogenic moisturizer. I don’t over-exfoliate (maybe one or twice a week). Up until I ran out, I was using Kiehl’s under-eye cream at night. I have very fair skin with freckles, and it’s probably pretty thin, given that every time I exercise someone has to ask me if I am having a heart attack and good lord should they call an ambulance I am so red.
Any thoughts you have would be seriously welcome. I am trying very hard to take care of myself, and look a little more like the woman I once was before being a mom took over my life. (And I head back to my professional world in January, and it would be nice not to show up looking like a tween!)
Thank you! And, oh, I love you.

So…this is without looking at you, or even seeing a picture, thus take with a grain of salt…it sounds to me like you have “normal” skin. As in, not oily, not dry, not combination, mostly pretty good all-around well-behaving skin. The thinness and redness suggests you might be a tad sensitive, so that might be something to keep in mind when trying out new products. But overall, yes, “normal.”
But let’s get one thing straight about “normal” skin. It’s still SKIN. It still needs to be washed and moisturized and protected against sun damage. It’s still prone to irritation and it’s getting older and more delicate every day. The eruptions of pimples you’re seeing after periods of not washing is simply your skin attempting to purge the crud that has built up under the surface and get back to “normal” — honestly, you’re lucky that your skin responds so efficiently after you neglect it. (I skip one washing and YE GODS ALMIGHTY IN THE MORNING, my combination skin veers full on into oily and I’m dealing with the cloggy fallout for weeks.)
So. Your skincare routine sounds perfect. Perfect! You just need to keep up with it. Wash and moisturize your face at least once a day, no matter what. Please! Use SPF every time you leave the house (fair? freckled? thin? PROTECT THAT!) Get back on the eye cream train. It’s good for you, as a mom, a woman, a HUMAN to continue to take care of your skin, even when it seems to be behaving pretty well on its own. You’ve got many, many years left with that skin. Treat it well.
For everybody else who may or may not really know what skin type they have (and it really is a common thing — people self-diagnosing themselves incorrectly and then overcompensating with products that are too much for them), here’s the criteria I was taught and have always thought seemed to make the most sense:
Oily skin: Naturally and persistently shiny, particularly in the t-zone, but also across the cheeks. Feels tight when irritated, prone to enlarged pores, blackheads and zits. If you wear foundation, you may have a problem with it “sliding off” or disappearing after a few hours.
Dry skin: Rough and dull, prone to cracking, flaking and fine lines. Feels tight after washing or spending time outside. Fair skin gets angry red patches while darker complexions look ashy. You may have a problem with foundation not going on evenly, getting snagged in your dry patches or looking streaky.
Sensitive skin: Easily irritated by products, prone to allergies, rashes, welts or broken capillaries. Blushes very easily and veins are sometimes visible under the surface, due to the skin being kind of thin.
Combination skin: Oily through the t-zone and dry or normal everywhere else. Major complaints tend to flip-flop depending on the season (dry in winter, oily in summer). Sometimes combination skin is referred to as “normal” skin, which is true to a certain extent (“normal” is not “perfect”), but I tend to think combination skin is definitely more of a troublemaker than what I consider normal skin.
I think combination skin is most commonly mistaken for oily — especially in the summer, or by people who suffered from a lot of acne as teenagers and haven’t actually stopped to reassess just how oily their skin still is. The best way to check is to pat an oil-absorbing sheet or piece of tissue paper on your dry, clean face. Blot your forehead, nose, chin, jawline and cheeks. Does the paper stick or immediately get an oily spot on it? If your skin is truly oily, you’ll find oil EVERYWHERE. If you only notice it on your t-zone but not your cheeks and jaw, you probably have something closer to combination skin, so dial back on the harsh scrubs and oil-fighting products.
If you don’t notice ANY oil, your skin is probably dry, depending on the level of irritation you get on a regular basis. (Although dry AND sensitive is a really common type of “combination skin” as well, but that’s definitely not what the cosmetic companies consider to be combination.)
What I consider to be true, awesome “normal” skin is skin that’s just generally in balance. Your pores are not invisible but you don’t have black polka dots across your nose. Your complexion is even and has a nice color without looking red or flushed. You may occasionally get a little shine but it’s not immediately followed by zits. You never get flaky patches of dead skin and probably only get pimples during PMS or times of great stress. You can generally get away with using just about any mild cleanser or soap and may even feel silly using toners or moisturizers, but BELIEVE ME, they’re a worthy insurance policy for the day when you realize your skin is now “aging” or “sun damaged” or when your body chemistry completely up and changes on you (say, after childbirth or menopause).
I say it over and over again, but FOR REAL, you only get one face, and it needs to last your WHOLE ENTIRE LIFE. Shouldn’t you at least put as much care and effort into selecting and using skincare products as you do for…say, the laundry detergent you use to wash your favorite shirt that is going to be sooooo out of style by next year?


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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I have the exact same kind of skin as she is describing and I too break out after I wash my face.
So I don’t wash my face, except for running water over it in the shower and then moisturizing/doing the rest. Soap just makes water wetter, right? So the water itself is fine for me… and I’ve just accepted that my face is WAY more efficient than any cleaner!

Amy in StL
Amy in StL

My dermatologist said that getting that flushed when I exercise meant I had the beginning stages of rosacea.

Kate B.
Kate B.

That’s funny, Sarah. I’m the same way. I have a 3 week old baby and stopped taking care of my skin as regularly due to the fact that I no longer have a fixed routine (nor have I worn make-up since she was born) and my skin has NEVER been better. Maybe post-natal changing hormones play a part? At any rate, I’m with you–I’m actually scared to wash my face in case doing so will “jinx” my good luck.
I know, Amalah is probably tearing her hair out right now.


Totally agree with you, Amy. That is exactly what I do. I do use face mosturizer after though