Are You Using the Wrong Cleanser for Your Skin?

If you happened to read our first video/ article in this series, “Learning to Take Great Care of Your Skin,” (and if you haven’t, you should!), you’ll remember that simply washing your face at the beginning and end of each day is one of the most important steps to taking great care of your skin.

Of course, water alone won’t do the trick! We’ve put together a great video with five tips to help you choose—and use— the perfect face wash.

As we mention in the above video, choosing the right cleanser starts with knowing your skin type. Confused about which category—combination, oily, normal, dry, or sensitive—best describes your skin?

You’re not alone. Many of us have misdiagnosed our skin and, as a result, wind up using the wrong care regimen and products—which can lead to acne, dryness, or even make your skin look older than it really is.

To help you figure out what cleansers will be the best fit, here’s an in-depth look at the five skin types:

Oily Skin

If you blot a tissue against skin several hours after it’s been washed, oily skin will leave a residue facial oil behind—particularly from the cheeks, nose and forehead. That’s because oily skin has overactive sebaceous glands, producing more oil than necessary.

Oily skin Image via

Generally, this skin type is caused by your genes, meaning that those with oily skin have probably experienced extra shininess and large pores for years. However, changes in your diet, hormone levels, pregnancy, use of unsuitable cosmetics, or stress can bring about changes in your skin that lead to excess oil, acne flare-ups, and clogged pores.

How to care for your oily skin? Even though you might feel like it, it’s important not to by overzealous with washing or scrubbing, since doing so actually trigger oil secretions from hyperactive sebaceous glands.

Ideally, those with oily skin want a face wash that can effectively de-grease without making it too dry. Here are some tips that will help you spot the right kind of cleansers for oily skin from the cosmetic shelf:

  • Look for a cleanser that’s transparent (see through), since they’re generally free of added moisturizers
  • Look for “foaming,” “oil control,” or “for oily skin” on the label
  • If your skin is very oily and acne prone, then look for additional ingredients like benzoyl peroxide, tea-tree oil, or salicylic acid to help fight breakouts.

After cleansing, your face might feel slightly dry. However, the right cleanser should never leave your skin feeling tight or greasy. Finally, you might want to swipe on an alcohol-free toner if your skin gets oily after few hours. However, it’s healthier to restrict washing your face wash to a maximum of three times a day.

Dry Skin

Dry skin creates low levels of sebum and doesn’t maintain oil easily, often feeling tight and appearing flaky. Because it lacks the lipids that it needs to retain moisture and build a protective shield against external influences, this skin type also tends to be more sensitive to the sun, is prone to rashes and eczema, and flushes easily.

If you have dry skin, look for a cleanser that feels like a lotion and acts like one, too.

Also, consider cleansers that don’t require rinsing. Not using water can be better for dry skin types since water can strip the skin of additional moisture. Cream cleansers are ideal for dry skin, because they don't require rinsing—you can just wipe them off with a cotton ball.

Micellar waters are another option for cleaning dry skin—they don’t require rinsing since they include both a low concentration of mild surfactants (called micelles) to remove impurities, while oils act as humectants, drawing moisture to your skin.

Read More: Cleansing Milk & Micellar Water: Are Either of These Facial Tonics a Good Fit for Your Skin?

Normal Skin

It’s easy to misunderstand what’s considered “normal skin,” since the way it’s often described leads you to envision someone with flawless, perfect skin. 

From that perspective, it would mean your skin is neither too oily nor too dry, is naturally moisturized with minimal to no signs of dryness, has a smooth surface and no blemishes, blackheads, or visible pores, and has an even skin tone with no wrinkles or visible sun damage.

The problem with this description of normal skin is that it just doesn't exist in the real world—it’s the rare person who can claim to have that kind of skin with a straight face.

To accurately identify normal skin, you need to understand what truly “normal” skin is. 

  • You wouldn't describe your skin as being oily or dry; it just looks and feels equal (normal) in all areas.
  • The little bit of oiliness or dryness you do experience is rare and easily resolved.
  • Products designed for oily skin are too drying for you, but products designed for dry skin are too rich or greasy.
  • Your pores are not invisible, but they're not enlarged or obvious, either.
  • You rarely or never feel you need to blot your skin to absorb oil or touch up your powder during the day.
  • Your skin doesn't feel tight or dry at the end of the day, nor is it obviously shiny.
  • You have minimal to no lines or wrinkles.
  • Your skin tone is fairly even, with no brown or red spots.

If you can identify with most of the statements above regarding your skin, lucky you! The chances are good that you're dealing with normal skin. 

However, even if you can relate to every single point above, you still can’t skimp on skincare. That’s because everyone accumulates sun damage and wrinkles, has occasional breakouts, develops brown spots, and sees some dryness (especially around the eyes) as time goes on.

The best possible way to care for normal skin is to make sure you're using gentle, effective products whose textures work with your skin type and preferences—and whose formulas are designed to keep your skin acting normally while defending against irritation and factors that lead to signs of aging.

See Also: 19 Cardinal Rules For Wrinkle Prevention

Combination Skin

Combination skin can be hard to identify and even trickier to treat. Generally, those with combination skin tend to break out on their forehead, nose, and chin, while temples, eye area, and cheeks are normal or dry.

You also fall into the combination category if your skin changes according to the climate or season—sometimes it’s completely oily, other times it's sandpaper dry.

Even trickier to diagnose, sometimes combination skin can be caused by the products that you’re using.

For example, if you are using products that contain irritating ingredients, such as alcohol, fragrance, or sulfates) they can stimulate oil production in the T-zone area and at the same time create more dry skin and redness on the rest of the face. You may also be using moisturizers that are too emollient, making your skin feel oilier and clogging up pores. Either way, voila: You have taken your relatively normal skin and made it combination!

That’s why one of the most effective ways to cleanse and care for combination skin is by taking the steps to treat each area—or type—separately.

In some cases, that can mean using different products on different parts of your face. For example, you may need lighter-weight gels, liquids, or oil-absorbing products for your T-zone and lotions or creams for the drier parts of your face. Or it could mean using an acne treatment over areas where you breakout and moisturizers only over drier areas, including around the eyes.

What guidelines should you use when shopping for a combination skin-cleanser?

  • If you have oily and dry combination skin, look for a gel-based or mild foaming cleanser will be perfect.
  • If you have dry skin and rosacea with sun damage, a lightweight lotion cleanser is ideal.
  • Regardless of the texture, it must be fragrance-free and marked as gentle to keep combination skin from becoming irritated.

You might find that your combination skin becomes more balanced when you stop using products that are either wrong for your skin type (too emollient for the T-zone or too absorbent for the dry areas) or irritating problem ingredients that are causing their skin more harm than good. 

Sensitive Skin

While there is no dermatological definition for “sensitive skin,” the term is used to describe skin that easily breaks out in rashes, gets blotchy, itchy, or even stings in response to products.

The majority of people who have sensitive skin don’t have a serious medical problem. Instead, very often, sensitive skin trouble is the result of allergies, too-harsh products, or overzealously applied treatments.

Anti-aging care can also be to blame: Sometimes in the quest to uncover our younger-looking selves, we use too many microdermabrasions, chemical peels, and retinoids that strip the skin of its protective barrier.

If your skin type has changed to sensitive, consider that you’re subjecting it to problem ingredients—find out what those products or ingredients are and stop using them. Sometimes that’s simple to do: If you started using a new concealer and within a few hours that area became red, itchy, and swollen, it’s clear that the concealer is the problem.

Unfortunately, it isn't always that easy.

What makes this process potentially difficult is that many skin reactions don't happen quickly. It may be several weeks or even months or years after you've been using a product before your skin has a negative reaction to it. Not to mention that women tend to use so many different cosmetic products that pinning down what’s causing the problem can be a challenge.

Why should you take extra care to avoid irritation?

  • Chronic, daily irritation steadily breaks down substances (such as collagen) your skin needs to stay smooth, firm, and healthy.
  • Irritation impairs skin's ability to heal and hold on to vital substances it needs to look and act younger.
  • For those with oily skin, using irritating ingredients stimulates nerve endings at the base of the pore that, you guessed it, trigger more oil production.

If you’re really struggling with sensitive skin, there are other potential causes: Rosacea, a skin disorder with facial flushing and red blotches, can make skin sensitive; so can eczema. If you’re experiencing either of these symptoms, see a dermatologist for a professional diagnosis.

How to cleanse your sensitive skin?

Play it safe with your face! Skip products containing the following: alcohol, beta hydroxy acids, and retinoids. Also pass on animal byproducts such as lanolin, an ingredient used in many moisturizing washes to soften skin, since it can cause allergic reactions.

Finally, keep an eye out for common preservatives used to extend a product’s shelf life, such as parabens and quaternium-15—many have been reported to cause irritation.

Advice For Every Skin Type

As you can see from info on combination skin, sometimes the wrong products can make a healthy complexion go haywire.

While what irritates your skin can vary, one of those products that should generally be avoided from the neck up are bar soaps.

Related: Does Body Wash Really Moisturize Better Than Bar Soap?

Sure, these handy-dandy handfuls are a great and cost-effective way to clean shoulders, knees, and toes. However, the ingredients that put bar cleansers in their bar form can clog pores and are always too drying and irritating for any skin type.

Another important tip across the board?

For the overall health of your skin, anything you can do to treat it gently is a very good thing. Treating skin gently encourages normal collagen production, maintains a smooth and radiant surface, helps skin protect itself from environmental damage, reduces oil production, and makes pores smaller. Depending on how harshly you scrub, you can potentially experience dramatic improvements to your skin simply by avoiding irritating products and learning to have a more gentle touch.

Everyone’s skin is different, and the combination of each skin type and particular skin concern presents a unique set of characteristics. Now that you have a good idea of what normal skin really is, how to identify it, and—most important—how to care for it, you'll be able to make the best decisions about which products to buy to keep your skin in top shape.

Autumn Yates

Autumn draws from a reporting background and years of experience working remotely, while living abroad, to focus on topics in travel, beauty, and online safety.

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