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  • Your dermatology provider prescribes your formula

  • Apply nightly for happy, healthy skin

How to treat combination skin, according to experts

Take the struggle out of treating a shiny T-zone and dry, flaky cheeks with a simple skincare routine.

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Curology Team
Nov 29, 2022 · 6 min read

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We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.
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  3. > How to treat combination skin, according to experts

People with combination skin often experience a shiny and bright forehead and nose (aka T-zone) and dry, flaky cheeks. It’s a skincare conundrum that can seem tricky to treat—an oil-reducing face wash can cause dry and inflamed cheeks, and a moisture-rich cream may leave you feeling oily. But there’s no need to worry! It’s entirely possible to treat combination skin with a simple skincare routine. 

Here we’ll explain how to treat combination skin, its characteristics, and what differentiates it from other skin types. We’ll also share tips for caring for the oilier and drier areas of your face with a simple and effective skincare regimen. 

What is combination skin?

The four main skin types are: normal, oily, dry, and combination. “Most people have combination skin,” says Donna McIntyre, a nurse practitioner at Curology. “This typically means you may have ​​an oily forehead, nose, and chin but normal-to-dry skin everywhere else.” If you notice two or more textures on your face, chances are you have combination skin. 

Is combination skin genetically predetermined?

Your lifestyle doesn’t cause skin type—it’s something you’re born with. But it can and does change with the seasons and hormonal fluctuations like puberty, pregnancy, oral contraceptives, and hormone therapy. And the older you get, the drier your skin naturally becomes.¹

It’s important to know that skin types and skin conditions are different things. For example, dry skin is a skin type, while dehydrated skin is a skin condition. 

How to treat combination skin with acne

A simple, consistent skincare routine is one of the best ways to tackle combination skin. Step one, cleanse. Step two, moisturize. Step three, protect with SPF in the morning or apply treatment (if you use one) in the evenings: 

1. Wash your face morning and night using a gentle cleanser, like the cleanser by Curology. Wet your face with lukewarm water, apply a pea-sized amount of face wash to your fingertips, and gently massage it into your skin—no harsh scrubbing. Rinse with lukewarm water and pat your face dry with a soft cloth. Avoid using hot water, as it can be too drying on your skin, especially for your cheeks. 

Follow up with a toner—but only if you’d like. This step is totally optional! If you do use a toner, choose one that’s formulated to hydrate your skin while minimizing oil. Here’s a quick guide to toners to use after you cleanse but before you moisturize.

2. Moisturize daily. Just because some parts of your face are oily and other parts are dry doesn’t mean you should skip the moisturizer. Choose an oil-free, non-comedogenic combination skin moisturizer, like Curology’s gel moisturizer, and apply a small amount after washing your face. Gently work the lotion or cream into your skin.

One thing to note - we often recommend moisturizing after treating in the evening. So, in the evening, moisturizing would be the third step in your routine.

3. Protect or treat your skin. Apply sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher before heading outside in the morning. Use broad-spectrum sunscreen to protect against UVA and UVB rays, and don’t forget to reapply every two hours. At night, use topical medication to treat conditions like acne or signs of aging. Since many of those can leave your skin sensitive to sun exposure, use topical treatments as part of your evening routine.

It’s important to never skip those essential three steps. Here’s the 411 on other products that may help combination skin (again, these are all optional): 

  • Exfoliants. Exfoliating removes dead skin cells to help keep your pores clear. Physical exfoliants include scrubs and konjac sponges. We typically recommend using a konjac sponge if needed, because it’s gentle enough to use every day, even on dry areas of your face. Chemical exfoliants include ingredients like salicylic acid, lactic acid, and glycolic acid. 

  • Hydrating serums. These can be used morning or night after cleansing or after toner if you use one. Look for a serum with hyaluronic acid, a humectant that attracts moisture to help dry combination skin.

  • Blotting paper. A quick fix for shiny skin, blotting paper is small enough to carry with you to blot away excess oil before jumping on a Zoom call or meeting up with friends. Blotting paper temporarily absorbs oil, and the best part, blotting paper won’t smudge your makeup.

  • Facial masks. These are also completely optional, but they can be fun to try. Multi-masking lets you mix and match, applying an oil-busting mask where your skin is oily and a hydrating mask where it’s dry. Even if you’re using two different masks, you may want to try products that contain ingredients that nourish your skin like ceramides and antioxidants like vitamin C.

Facial sheet mask on brown background

Ingredients to avoid with combination skin

There are skincare products you’ll typically want to avoid when you have combination skin. Those include harsh soaps, anything with added fragrance or alcohol, and products that contain comedogenic (pore-clogging) ingredients. Especially keep an eye out for denatured alcohol (aka denat. alcohol and SD alcohol) as it may have a drying effect on the skin.

Get to know the signs of combination skin

Because combination skin is both oily and dry, it has a few different characteristics. These can also change with the weather, seasons, or lifestyle factors like stress. Here are a few somewhat flexible things to distinguish oily and dry skin types—remember, these are skin types, not conditions:

Oily skin characteristics

  • Shiny skin that can be blotted away with tissue or blotting paper. 

  • Acne appears in all skin types but is often seen with oily skin where there’s an overproduction of oil (sebum). 

  • Larger-looking pores are often a characteristic of oily skin.

Dry skin characteristics 

  • Fine lines can appear more visible in dry skin. 

  • Flaky or peeling skin is common.

  • Cracked “riverbed” appearance in the cheeks.

Note that redness, tightness, roughness, and itching (pruritus) are not necessarily signs of dry skin type but rather reactions to products, the weather, or sun exposure. These symptoms can appear on all skin types. Dry skin type results from underproduction or lack of sebum, and oily skin type results from a higher production of sebum.

Curology Products - How to treat combination skin, according to experts

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Caring for combination skin can seem challenging, especially if you’re new to skincare, and the truth is it takes time and patience to figure out what works for your unique skin. Curology is here to take the guesswork out of your skincare routine—licensed dermatology providers work with you to examine your skin, assess your skincare goals, and provide custom treatment options.

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

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Curology’s licensed dermatology providers work with common skin concerns like acne, hyperpigmentation, and rosacea, helping many patients work toward achieving their skin goals. And we’re here to answer your questions about your skincare routine or products for your entire skincare journey.

Sign up for a free 30-day trial, and a licensed dermatology provider will personalize a prescription formula for your skin type and skincare goals.* You’ll also receive provider-recommended products to try, like our cleanser, moisturizer, and acne body wash.

FAQs

What is combination skin?

People with combination skin often experience a shiny and bright forehead and nose (aka T-zone) and dry, flaky cheeks. If you notice two or more textures on your face, chances are you have combination skin. 

What causes combination skin?

It’s important to know that skin types and skin conditions are different things. For example, dry skin is a skin type, while dehydrated skin is a skin condition. 

Your lifestyle doesn’t cause skin type—it’s something you’re born with. But it can and does change with the seasons and hormonal fluctuations like puberty, pregnancy, oral contraceptives, and hormone therapy.

What are the signs of combination skin?

Because combination skin is both oily and dry, it has a few different characteristics. These can also change with the weather, seasons, or lifestyle factors like stress.

  • Shiny skin

  • Acne

  • Larger-looking pores

  • Fine lines

  • Flaky or peeling skin

  • Cracked “riverbed” appearance in the cheeks.

What ingredients should be avoided for combination skin?

Skincare products you’ll typically want to avoid when you have combination skin include harsh soaps, anything with added fragrance or alcohol, and products that contain comedogenic (pore-clogging) ingredients. Especially keep an eye out for denatured alcohol (aka denat. alcohol and SD alcohol).

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1.  Shanbhag S, et al. Anti-aging and Sunscreens: Paradigm Shift in Cosmetics. Adv Pharm Bull. (2019 Aug 1).

* Subject to consultation. Subscription is required. Results may vary. 

Nicole Hangsterfer is a licensed physician assistant at Curology. She obtained her masters in physician assistant studies at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern in Chicago, IL.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Nicole Hangsterfer Avatar

Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C

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