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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Northwestern chapter.

If you’re new to skincare, you’ve probably heard about a million different “miracle” products that leave you with perfect flawless skin. However, most often these products are unique to certain skin types. Knowing which products work best for your skin type and planning your routine accordingly is essential. Oily, dry, combination and sensitive skin types all have different needs and should be taken into consideration in developing a skincare regimen.

Doing an oil-blot test is an easy way to determine your skin type. To do this test, wash your face with a gentle cleanser and dry. Do not apply any other skincare products. The point of this test is to determine how much oil your face naturally produces. After half an hour, take an oil-absorbing sheet (note these sheets should only be used in this test, never for routine use) or a tissue and gently blot on your cheeks, nose, forehead and chin. If your sheets do not retain large amounts of oil in any of these places, you likely have dry skin. If some areas like your forehead or nose appear more oily, while others, like your cheeks, are drier, you could potentially have combination skin. Oiler skin shows a significant presence of oil in each zone, including your cheeks. 

The oil blotting test is a good indicator of what products are ideal for you based on your face’s natural oil production. However, determining if you have sensitive skin can be more difficult. Your skin might be reactive to different irritants and fragrances, so it is important to remember what bothers you and safely patch test products before applying them to your face.

Once you know your skincare type, you can figure out what ingredients are suitable for your skin: 

Ingredients for Oily Skin Types

Oily skin is typically associated with frequent breakouts and overwhelming oil production. Avoiding products that are comedogenic and pore-clogging is essential in tailoring your routine to your skin type. Avoiding petroleum jelly and pore-clogging oils trap your oil in your pores, leaving you with blackheads and acne. Tea tree oil is a good option for acne-prone skin, as its antiseptic properties prevent pore clogging but do not strip away the skin’s natural oil. A common mistake of people with oily skin is stripping your face of your body’s natural oil, throwing off the natural balance. Harsh scrubs and alcohols have a dehydrating effect and can cause your face to overreact and produce more oil. Make sure your face is adequately hydrated with a safe moisturizer with non-comedogenic ingredients. Hyaluronic acid is a good option to hydrate without adding excess oil to the face.

Ingredients for Dry Skin Types

Dry skin typically shows signs of flaking, itchiness and irritation. Your skin’s natural barrier of hydration is not protected in this case and finding products to provide this barrier is essential. Using products with alcohols or harsh scrubs remove too much oil from the face, wreaking havoc on people with dry skin types. Using products with hydrating ingredients like natural jojoba oil can restore this barrier between the skin and the environment. Take into account that gentle exfoliation is still necessary for those with dry skin. If you don’t exfoliate, hydration reaches layers of dead skin, preventing you from reestablishing the natural oil barrier. Lactic acid is a good option for gentle exfoliation for those with dry skin. 

Ingredients for Combination Skin Types

Combination skin is especially tricky to care for, as certain parts of the face produce more oil, while others are more dry. Finding products that care for every part of your face is hard with the seemingly contradictory needs of each patch of your skin. However, dry skin and oily skin regions have some similar needs. Proper skin hydration is key. Moisturizers that are non-comedogenic for oily regions, but do not contain drying agents like alcohols for dryer areas. Hyaluronic acid is a good moisturizing agent for both oily and dry skin alike, so this is a good option for combination skin. Light chemical exfoliation is beneficial too, but ensure that you aren’t stripping away the natural oil from your skin.

Ingredients for Sensitive Skin Types

Sensitive skin is particularly difficult to develop routines for. Associated with redness, irritation and itchiness, having sensitive skin can be uncomfortable and frustrating. Avoiding irritants, while taking into consideration other needs of your skin, is important. Fragrances are a common irritant, so opting for scentless products is a good rule of thumb. Opt for ingredients that are soothing and calming, like oatmeal or chamomile. Keep in mind, sensitive skin and other oil skin types are not mutually exclusive, so you need to account for your sensitivities but also your skin’s oil production needs when choosing the right products. If you have sensitive skin, patch testing is especially critical in preventing allergic reactions.

Learning about your skin is part of the fun of skincare. Finding the right ingredients and listening to your needs is critical. If done carefully and patiently, your skin can see serious benefits. Ensure that you listen to your skin’s needs and craft a routine that is 100% right for you.

Alli Kane

Northwestern '24

Alli is a Senior at Northwestern University studying Neuroscience and Global Health. In her free time, she loves spending time with friends, working out, and exploring the Chicago food scene.