The Ultimate Guide to Living with Combination Skin


Putting your best face forward means understanding your skin type and how to treat it. Having a consistently oily T-zone along the central area of the face (which includes the chin, nose and forehead), as well as dryness in other areas of the face, especially the cheeks, means that you have combination skin. So, how do you deal with combination skin? Treat the oily areas or the dry areas? Or could there be a third option?

The good news is that we've put together a comprehensive guide about exactly what it means to have combination skin, and how best to care for it.

Combination skin

Taking care of skin that is either oily or dry is usually pretty straightforward. But when your skin is a little bit of both, a skin care routine can begin to get complicated. Rich moisturizers are too hydrating, while oil-control lotions are drying. But you can get the balance right by empowering yourself with all the information you’ll need to achieve a complexion that is visibly soft, smooth, and radiantly refined.

How to tell if you have combination skin

If you have experienced a number of these conditions, then you officially have combination skin:

  • Not long after cleansing, oiliness appears in certain parts of your face and not in others.
  • Your skin is shiny in at least one area of your face, usually your T-zone.
  • You use a moisturizer for normal skin, and while your cheeks feel soft and moisturized, your T-zone is very oily.
  • The pores on your nose are visibly larger than the pores on your cheeks and jawline.
  • You have experienced dandruff from time to time.
  • Breakouts and dry patches happen at the same time.
  • You often have blackheads and whiteheads.
  • Hot weather tends to make your T-zone oilier.

Keep in mind that if you’re using harsh cleansers or products with drying ingredients like sulfates and alcohol, you could be causing your skin to produce more oil in the T-zone area, which can mimic the symptoms of combination skin. By switching to gentle products, better suited to your skin, you may not in fact have combination skin.

What is Combination Skin?

Although combination skin most often means having oily skin on the T-zone (forehead, nose, and chin) and dry skin on the cheeks, jaw area, and hairline, oiliness and dryness can occur to a greater or lesser extent — which should not be confused with the symptoms of oily skin types or dry skin types.

Combination skin is fairly common, and the reason that the forehead, nose, and chin are often oily is because there are more oil producing glands in the central facial zone. The way to tell the difference between oily skin and combination skin is that those with true oily skin are oily all over their face, even if the T-zone appears oilier than the rest of the face and has a tendency towards acne.

Typically, combination skin responds well to regular exfoliation – by getting rid of the buildup of dead skin cells and bacteria, breakouts and excessive oil can be controlled and large pores minimized. Antioxidant serums and spot-treatments that are free of harsh fragrances and ingredients also help to keep dryness and oiliness in check.

The causes of combination skin

Most often it’s genetics that determine your skin type, but there are a number of factors that can cause or contribute to combination skin.

The T-zone has more sebaceous glands than other areas of the face, and it’s these glands that create and secrete sebum to keep your skin supple and hydrated. If you have combination skin, the glands in this area are more active, secreting excess sebum that creates shine and can cause breakouts. If one of your parents has an oily T-zone, then it’s likely that you’ll have a similar condition.

Hormonal changes can also trigger skin to over-produce oil in parts, and dry others out. For instance, during menopause, skin can create less oil and you'll be left with dry skin only. Stress can also affect the way your skin receives nutrients from the bloodstream.

Certain products and lifestyle habits can also play a role in contributing to combination skin type. In fact, beauty products that contain harsh ingredients can actually trigger an over-production of oil and aggravate breakouts in the T-zone while also drying out other areas of the face. But just as using the wrong products can trigger or worsen combination skin, the right products can balance the skin so your dry areas are softened and hydrated while oily areas are less oily and appear even-toned.

Environmental factors can affect combination skin – in particular, humidity and heat. This increased sebum production can cause a shiny T-zone in the summer while your usually dry cheeks tend to normalize in the heat. The opposite happens in winter – the cold strips the skin of its natural oils, making your oily spots less oily and your cheeks dry, rough, and reddened.

The effects of skin condition on your skin type

Your genetics will largely determine your skin type and this will not change over your lifetime. By contrast, the condition of your skin type can vary dramatically in the course of your life. There are numerous factors, both internal and external, that affect your skin’s condition – environmental pollution, weather and seasonal changes, illness and medication, age, stress, and your skin care choices. Most of the factors that affect your skin condition can be reversed or controlled with the help of a dermatologist or skin care products that contain quality ingredients that suit your skin type.

Managing combination skin

Environmental factors and some of the lifestyle choices we make have a definite effect on the skin’s production of oil and the amount of water it retains. We’ve put together a list of factors that can help to minimize the extremes of combination skin for a complexion that appears visibly refined and hydrated throughout the year.

  1. Avoid products that may clog your pores. Instead, choose non-comedogenic skin care and makeup products that are formulated not to block pores or cause breakouts while still delivering all the gentle skin care benefits that your skin needs.
  2. Check labels for products that may contain excessive quantities of synthetic fragrance. Having a combination skin type means you have to cope with dry, flaky skin in at least one facial zone. Dry skin can be especially sensitive to products that have chemically created fragrances. Look out for skin care alternatives that are formulated using natural ingredients – this way you will avoid chemical irritants that could worsen breakouts.
  3. Use gentle cleansers only. Products that contain soap, sulfates, or alcohol can strip your skin of its natural oils. This in turn can cause your skin to produce even more oil to compensate for those that have been stripped away.
  4. Exfoliation can benefit combination skin. This helps to clear out clogged pores in an oily T-zone and chest. Exfoliation also allows your moisturizer to be optimally absorbed by the skin in your dry areas by slewing off dead skin cells that can build up in your pores. However it’s important not to over-exfoliate if you have sensitive skin.
  5. When it comes to combination skin, sometimes two different moisturizers are better than one. Try using a heavier, cream-based moisturizer for dry skin on the cheeks and jawline, and a lighter, gel or water-based moisturizer to keep oily skin areas supple without the shine.
  6. Make sunscreen a daily habit. It’s important to apply sunscreen daily, both summer and winter – no matter the season, apply sunscreen whenever you go outdoors. Remember that no product offers 100% protection from the sun, but a quality sunscreen can significantly minimize sun damage over time. Since heat and humidity tend to normalize your dry areas while making your oily zones even oilier, look for a sun product for oily skin if you can’t find sunscreen for combination skin.
  7. Regular exercise that you find enjoyable releases pent up stress and can improve both your mental and physical health. During exercise the body produces endorphins – feel-good peptides and hormones that help the body to relax and contribute to better sleep. Another benefit of exercise is improved circulation. Increased blood flow transports nutrients and oxygen to our skin cells and carries away waste products, including free radicals that can damage the skin.
  8. Give your skin a fighting chance by nourishing it from the inside out. Stock up on essential fatty acids found in foods like walnuts, flaxseed and salmon. You could also take essential fatty acid supplements like Omega oils.
  9. Keep skin hydrated at all times by drinking enough water. If you have combination skin you will notice that when dehydrated, your dry zones get drier while your oily zones turn on the shine. Drinking enough water can prevent this from happening, and results in an all-round healthier you, skin and all.
  10. Try not to touch your face too often. Remember your hands carry invisible dirt and bacteria from all the objects you pick up and the surfaces you touch between hand washes. When you touch your face, this dirt is transferred to your skin and can clog your pores with debris and impurities. Touch is an important part of your beauty routine, but try to avoid touching your face at other times during the day.
  11. Keep oil blotting sheets in your purse. They’re a great way to mop up oil and banish excess shine without ruining your makeup.
  12. Never go to sleep wearing makeup. This will clog your pores and cause over-production of oil on your T-zone and dryness in the cheeks. Make the best skin care practices part of your sleep routine – it’s the best time of the day to treat and heal your skin

Frequently Asked Questions about combination skin

Maintaining a beautiful balance for combination skin is easier than you might think. With the right knowledge at your fingertips there are tips and products to help you achieve visibly soft and beautifully radiant skin without the shine. Let’s start by answering your frequently asked questions about combination skin.

How can I be sure that I have combination skin?

Try this test to see if you really do have combination skin. Wash your face with a gentle cleanser, then pat dry and wait for ten or fifteen minutes without applying other products. If your forehead, nose, and chin look shiny or feel oily to the touch, and your cheeks, temples, jawline and hairline feel dry and tight, then it’s almost certain that you have combination skin.

Can exfoliating help my combination skin?

Yes, exfoliating to remove dead skin cells that build up on the skin’s surface is a good idea for combination skin. An additional benefit of exfoliants used on combination skin is that they can promote cell turnover to reveal skin underneath that appears fresh and more balanced. Look out for products that contain BHA salicylic acid, or AHA glycolic acid to effectively clear out pores.

Can a chemical peel or microdermabrasion help combination skin?

You will need to consult your dermatologist about a chemical peel. A chemical solution like salicylic acid is applied to the skin and usually includes several repeat treatments depending on the condition of your skin and the results you’d like to achieve. Keep in mind that chemical peels can result in temporary redness and scaling, but these side effects are unlikely to happen when chemical peels are applied by dermatologists or aestheticians.

Will I always have combination skin?

It is more typical to have combination skin when you are young. This is due mainly to your skin’s tendency to get dryer as you age. For this reason, it’s best to alter your skin care routine as levels of dryness and oiliness lessen over time.

Why is combination skin prone to larger pores?

Without doubt, our skin is affected by the changing seasons. In the case of combination skin, skin can become oilier in the heat, while winter winds can dry out the skin. Take note of how your skin responds to different seasons and change up your skin care products accordingly, or make the appropriate environmental or lifestyle changes to cope with hotter or colder weather. In summer, use a sunscreen that will not make your skin oilier than it already is. In winter, use a moisturizer that gives you the hydration you need while locking in moisture.

How is combination skin affected by summer weather?

Without doubt, our skin is affected by the changing seasons. In the case of combination skin, skin can become oilier in the heat, while winter winds can dry out the skin. Take note of how your skin responds to different seasons and change up your skin care products accordingly, or make the appropriate environmental or lifestyle changes to cope with hotter or colder weather. In summer, use a sunscreen that will not make your skin oilier than it already is. In winter, use a moisturizer that gives you the hydration you need while locking in moisture.

What is the best foundation for combination skin?

Finding the right foundation for combination skin can be a challenge. On the one hand, you need coverage in the oilier areas that stays put and doesn’t block your pores, while in the dryer areas you need a hydrating foundation or your skin might appear powdery or cracked. Choose a foundation that is best for your skin type and will keep your complexion looking visibly balanced and radiant.

If you find foundation is too much of a challenge for your combination skin, you could try a tinted day cream as an alternative to foundation. You’ll have less coverage with a tinted cream but you’ll have the benefits of a day cream as well as a healthy-looking skin tone.

What is the best way to take care of my combination skin?

The best way to treat combination skin is by caring for each oily or dry zone as needed. This could mean using a face wash that cuts down on sebum production and a richer moisturizer on your dry areas.

Try cleansing with a face wash for oily skin — specifically, one that is gentle, has no harsh ingredients and is alcohol-free. Moisturize dry zones using an oil-free moisturizer, but avoid those oily patches, especially in summer. Using an exfoliator once or twice a week will allow your products to work better. For breakouts, use a spot-treatment but apply only to the spots and not the surrounding skin.

Should I consult a dermatologist about my combination skin?

If you are struggling to cope with combination skin, you can consult a dermatologist who will be able to advise you about the appropriate cleansers, moisturizers, exfoliants, toners, and sunscreens for combination skin. A dermatologist can also prescribe and administer topical ointments, oral antibiotics, chemical peels, and laser treatments. You can locate a dermatologist in your area through the American Academy of Dermatology.

What is the best makeup for combination skin?

If your cheek area is particularly dry, use a cream blush in winter and a powder blush in summer when the skin tends to be oilier. Always prepare your skin for makeup with a good quality moisturizer and use the ideal foundation for your skin type. An eyeshadow primer can stop eyeshadow from melting into the eye crease – your foundation could also do the trick. Blotting papers work by soaking up oils in the T-zone, which will help to keep your makeup in place without having to go overboard with the powder, which can result in clogged pores.

I have mature combination skin – what should I do?

Products that are formulated with hydrating antioxidants and skin-brightening botanicals are an excellent way to care for aging combination skin. Balancing Elderberry, Vitamin C, and Hyaluronic Acid can help to reveal skin that appears radiant and dewy clear, with fewer visible lines and wrinkles. Resist the urge to apply increasing amounts of moisturizer to your skin. Instead, use products specially formulated for mature skin that will keep your complexion expertly hydrated without loading the skin with too much oil.

What you need to know about caring for combination skin

It can be tricky to know which skincare products to use for combination skin, but it’s really all about finding a balance between products that moisturize your dry zones while keeping the oily areas in check. But fear not! There are some great products out there that are designed to do most of the work for you. All you need to get started are a few facts about the best way to care for combination skin that appears radiant, balanced, and healthy.

The best cleanser for combination skin

Of course you’d love to avoid overdoing the moisture (which will make the skin shiny and oilier) or under-doing hydration (which will result in skin that appears dry, red, and flaky). The best way to do this is to avoid including too many products in your skin care routine. Keep it as simple as possible with products that are formulated for your combination skin type.

Never use products on your skin that have harsh or skin-aggravating ingredients. It’s best to avoid bar soaps or bar cleansers with ingredients that can dry out or irritate your skin, and clog your pores. This is especially true when picking the best cleanser for combination skin. The condition and severity of your skin’s oiliness and dryness will determine the face wash that works best for your skin. So, if your oily zone is very oily, you could use a cleanser for oily skin – but remember to always choose a product that is gentle, with as few synthetic fragrances and harsh ingredients as possible. On the other hand, if the oiliness is mild and your dry skin areas become rough, red, and flaky, you could use a cleanser for combination or normal skin.

If your combination skin is particularly acne prone, you could benefit from a product that contains beta hydroxy acid (BHA) like salicylic acid, or alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) like glycolic acid in gel or liquid form.

The best cleanser for combination skin is typically a gel or has a liquid texture with concentrated amounts of ingredients that are beneficial to your skin. Your goal is to begin your skin care routine by removing makeup and impurities without leaving you skin feeling dry or greasy.

The best toner for combination skin

Gone are the days when the only reason to include toner in your skin care routine was to get rid of the last traces of oil and makeup. Today, well-formulated toners have taken their rightful place in skin care routines as products that are water-based and have anti-inflammatory agents and antioxidants that nourish and balance the skin. However, many toners are still packed with alcohol, which will dry out your cheeks and jawline while sending your sebaceous glands into overdrive. Whether you choose a toner for combination skin or oily skin, make sure it contains no alcohol or other ingredients that irritate the skin like menthol, citrus-based oils, or unnatural fragrances.

The best exfoliator for combination skin

Again, your mantra for exfoliating combination skin is – gentle, gentle, gentle! A particularly effective way to exfoliate is using a leave-on BHA exfoliant, which allows your skin to shed dead skin cells without the abrasive effects of scrubs and stiff cleansing brushes. Avoid over-exfoliating by making this part of your routine no more than once or twice a week.

The best serum for combination skin

There is no miracle serum for combination skin that will stabilize the oily areas and perfectly hydrate the dry ones. But the good news is that a serum can benefit your skin when it is included as part of a skin care routine for combination skin. Serums are based on highly concentrated, high-performance ingredients that can treat specific skin issues. This means a light serum can, for example, help to unclog pores, give your skin a hydration boost and visibly even out skin tone. So you could use one serum in winter for extra moisture, another in summer to clear out pores, and a different serum to nourish and calm the skin if you tend to break out under stress. The best serums for combination skin are a great way to optimize your daily skin care routine to achieve a healthy, balanced skin.

The benefits of treatment oil for combination skin

The best face oil for combination skin can actually help to reduce the amount of oil produced by your skin, acting as an astringent and helping the skin to regulate sebaceous gland excretions which result in an oily T-zone. It’s best to use face oil at night as the final step in your routine because it tends to stop other products from being easily absorbed by the skin.

Face oils that pack a punch for combination skin include Jojoba Oil for lightweight moisture, and Grape Seed Oil, which is a natural astringent for skin that appears soft and matte.

The best moisturizer for combination skin

The best way for combination skin to get the hydration it needs, without clogging pores or making the T-zone oilier, is by using a nutrient-rich, light moisturizer with antioxidants that replenish and restore the skin’s balance.

A tip when trying to decide on a moisturizer for combination skin is to look out for products that can multitask – this could be a moisturizer with SPF or a product that is not only hydrating but also has barrier-repair abilities or anti-inflammatory properties.

If you haven’t managed to get the balance just right, then use a lightweight serum or nourishing treatment oil to minimize shine and maximize hydration where you need it most. Botanical based moisturizers are a great way to keep your skin from drying out. It may seem strange to put oil on oily skin, but keep in mind that your skin is made up of oils, so a quality skin oil can be just the way to balance your skin’s oil production. Make sure to use non-comedogenic products if your skin is sensitive.

The best sun protection for combination skin

It isn’t only dry or mature skin that needs protection from the sun. All skin types are equally damaged by the sun’s UVA and UVB rays. Spending time in the sun without sun protection will result in signs of aging over time – typically fine lines, wrinkles, and age spots.

If you have combination skin, you’ll want to be especially careful about the sun protection product that you pick – some sunscreens can irritate the skin or cause breakouts. Sunscreen for combination skin should be non-comedogenic and hypoallergenic. Look out for products that contain antioxidants and other ingredients that calm and help to repair while also protecting your skin from the sun, like zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, avobenzone, and octyl methoxycinnamate

The best sunscreen for combination skin should be broad-spectrum and lightweight with a soft matte finish. In winter you can use a moisturizer with SPF so you don’t have to apply moisturizer and sunscreen separately.

The best face mask for combination skin

Ideally, use a face mask for combination skin once a week — or, if you can’t make up your mind about which to choose, you could multi-mask by applying different face masks to the different zones of the face and address each area’s specific needs.

The best eye cream for combination skin

You’re getting to grips with your dry areas and oily zones, but don’t forget to care for your eyes! When it comes to eye creams, use a formula that has been specially designed to target your under-eye issues.

The best eye cream for combination skin contains ingredients that help to protect and rejuvenate the delicate eye area. Look out for products formulated with antioxidants to protect your skin from environmental damage and emollients and humectants that moisturize and visibly plump the skin.

The best spot treatment for combination skin

You’ll already know that combination skin has a tendency to break out in spots or develop blackheads or whiteheads. Since many acne spot treatments can be drying to the skin, keep their application to the affected areas only to avoid drying out your skin.

If you are using benzyl peroxide to treat acne, it’s recommended that you include a light vitamin E cream in your routine. Studies show that benzyl peroxide reduces vitamin E (a natural antioxidant) in the skin.

The best primers for combination skin

Makeup primers can be especially useful when applying makeup to combination skin. Quality face primers can create an effective base for makeup, locking in your foundation so it stays slide-free all day. When choosing the best primer for combination skin, make sure it’s a lightweight formula that sits well under foundation as well as a tinted moisturizer. The goal is skin that is visibly dewy but never oily in appearance.

The best daily routine for combination skin

  1. Cleanse gently to remove dirt, oils, and impurities.
  2. Balance combination skin with a nourishing toner free from alcohol and harsh or irritating ingredients.
  3. Heal and treat the skin with a nutrient-rich serum or face oil to give you extra help where you need it most. Face serums and oils are fabulous problem-solvers that help skin to fight back against aging and environmental stressors.
  4. Moisturize with a cream that gives your skin all the hydration it needs without clogging the pores.
  5. Apply a spot treatment to infected areas only to avoid drying out the skin in non-oily areas.
  6. Protect skin from the harsh effects of the sun with a lightweight, quality sunscreen that will ward off wrinkles and sun spots caused by exposure to the sun.
  7. Include exfoliation once or twice a week in your daily skin care routine. Opt for a gentle exfoliator that cleans and opens up the pores in oily areas and slews off dead skin cells and allows moisturizers to be properly absorbed in dry areas. Never scrub – gently does it!
  8. Give your face a spa day once a week with a mask for combination skin or try two masks – one for your oily T-zone and another for dry cheeks and jawline. Don’t forget your neck and décolleté.
  9. When applying makeup, keep it light and skin type specific.