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Skin Care: How to Tell What Type of Skin You Have

Find out the difference between oily, normal, dry skin

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Woman's face
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There are 5 basic skin care types: oily, combination (normal), sensitive, dry and sun-damaged. Your skin type is determined by how much -- or how little -- oil your skin produces. Genes, diet, stress level, hormonal fluctuations, medication and even your skincare regimen all determine how much oil your skin produces and you may find your skin type changes frequently going from dry to oily to normal -- all in the course of a matter of months. This is normal.

Rona Berg, in her book, "Beauty the New Basics," suggests you take the "skin test" to tell what skin type you have. To do this, wash your face, pat it dry, then take a few pieces of rice paper or lens-cleaning tissue paper and press on different spots on your face. If your skin is oily, the paper will stick, pick up oily spots and become translucent. If the paper doesn't stick or pick up any oily spots, your skin is likely dry. If it sticks in your t-zone (forehead, nose and chin) then you have combination (or normal) skin. Most women actually have combination skin.
Here are the 5 different skin types and their tell-tale characteristics.

Oily Skin

Oily skin is shiny skin, especially in the T-zone (from the forehead, down the nose to the chin). You may have enlarged pores, and you may be prone to blackheads and breakouts due to the overproduction of the sebaceous (oil-producing) glands. The good thing about oily skin is it ages better than dry skin because the oils keep the skin plump allowing fewer wrinkles to form. Many young women have oily skin but as they age, they may find their skin becomes more dry, especially after age 35.

To take care of your skin, wash with a cleanser formulated for oily skin before you go to bed. Exfoliate twice weekly with a gentle scrub and use oil-free moisturizers. If you suffer from breakouts, an astringent may help. When it comes to blush and bronzers, powdered blends work better than liquid ones and look for oil-free options for tinted moisturizers or foundations.

Read more about oily skin in How to Tell If You Have Oily Skin.

Combination/Normal Skin

Most women (some experts say up to 70 percent, although how anyone arrived at that number is beyond me), have combination, or "normal" skin. Combination skin means you may have a slightly oily T-zone and drier cheeks with dry patchy spots here and there. You may also have larger pores on your cheeks and possibly your forehead. This skin type has medium pores, a smooth and even texture, good circulation and a healthy color.

To take care of your skin, you may need to treat the T-zone differently from your drier spots. If your T-zone tends to be oily, try an astringent on those areas only after you've washed your face. Make sure to exfoliate twice weekly (I love my Clarisonic Mia) to remove any dead skin cells and use a heavier facial moisturizer on your dry spots as need be.

Read more about combination skin in How to Tell If You Have Combination Skin.

Dry Skin

After I turned 35 my skin magically became much drier. This skin fluctuation can definitely be attributed to hormones. Dry skin feels tight, especially after cleansing. You have a tendency towards fine wrinkles, flaking and red patches. In women of color, skin may appear ashy or dull from dead skin buildup.

Dry skin requires special care. I prefer heavy cleansers and moisturizers over the lightweight products of my oilier years. I exfoliate weekly and even slather on primers before I apply foundation just to plump the skin up as much as possible. I carry Evian spray water with me when I'm traveling to less humid areas and I keep a bottle on my desk to spray my face in the winter, when furnaces dry out the air. If you live in a cold environment, I suggest using a humidifier in your office and bedroom to keep skin from drying out.

Read more about dry skin in How to Tell If You Have Dry Skin.

Sensitive Skin

Sensitive skin tends to be thin, and delicate with fine pores. If you are easily irritated by the sun, certain cosmetic products and if you are prone to redness, itchy patches or blotchy skin, you likely have sensitive skin.

Finding the right cleansers and moisturizers for your skin type can be tricky. The good news is many companies have developed products specifically for sensitive skin. Look for mild products that contain no scents. Many drugstores and department stores allow you to return products, so check out the return policy before you buy or ask if the store carries freebies so you can try before you buy.

Aging or Sun-damaged Skin

This skin also feels tight with visible wrinkles, slack skin tone -- especially around the cheeks and jawline -- with leathery texture and broken capillaries.

To care for aging skin, you should consider using moisturizers and heavy creams to plump up your fine wrinkles. I love Retin-A which has done wonders on my skin tone and has smoothed some fine wrinkles. And if you are really upset about your deeper lines, you can have them frozen with Botox or filled with injectables. More on this in How to Fix Deep Wrinkles: 5 wrinkle fixes you can get at your doctor's office.

For best products for aging skin, see 7 Anti-Aging Products Dermatologists Swear By.

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