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Combination skin is often treated as an afterthought (I’ve been guilty of that myself) but the truth is that it’s probably the most common of all the skin types! This is because skin type categories are not very well set. Skin types actually exist on a spectrum, with oily on one end, dry on the other, and combination skin taking up most of the space in the center.
Because of this, caring for combination skin is not cut and dry, and as a result, it can be hard to find good advice. It’s extra important for me to make this post as comprehensive and accurate as possible because I, myself, have combination skin. It’s time to represent!
To get your combination skin as pampered as can be, I’ve selected the very best skin care products for combination skin, though it just so happens a lot of them will work for other skin types as well. I explain exactly what combination skin is and go over its typical characteristics.
I talk about what causes so many people to have combination skin and clear up the distinction between combination-dry and combination-oily skin. You’re here for solutions, so I’ll explain how to improve the look and feel of your skin with the right ingredients put together into the perfect combination skin care routine.
Combination Skin Care Routine: Contents
- 15 Best Skin Care Products for Combination Skin
- What Is Combination Skin?
- Combination Skin Characteristics
- Combination-Oily vs. Combination-Dry
- How to Improve Combination Skin
- Best Skin Care Ingredients for Combination Skin
- The Ultimate Daytime Combination Skin Care Routine
- The Ultimate Nighttime Combination Skin Care Routine
- Weekly Combination Skin Care Routine
Whether it’s time to cleanse or moisturize your skin or pamper it with that perfect serum, here you have the best combination skin products that really work wonders!
1. COSRX Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser
Cleansing isn’t something you should have to think too hard about when you have combination skin. You need a simple cleanser that’ll take off all the bad stuff and leave on all the good stuff while keeping your skin feeling good. This gel cleanser is it, with a perfectly balanced pH, a touch of yeast extract to keep the skin fortified, lots of hydrators, and even some tea tree oil to prevent breakouts. You can buy it from Ulta.
2. CeraVe PM Face Moisturizer for Nighttime Use
A great moisturizer for combination skin doesn’t have to be ridiculously expensive. This cream is perfectly formulated with some actives that are particularly suited to combination skin. Niacinamide is one of those because it helps control oil production while simultaneously preventing transepidermal water loss. Oh, and it also gives some antioxidant protection! This cream also includes skin-identical ceramides and loads of humectants. It is available at Ulta.
3. Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid
Beta-hydroxy acid, better known as salicylic acid, is my favorite go-to exfoliant, and those with combination skin can benefit from it the most. This chemical exfoliant is normally recommended for oily skin, although it’s actually gentle enough to also work for those with dry skin and anyone in the middle. It removes dead skin build-up to allow moisturizers to penetrate, but it is also especially good for unclogging pores. This toner-like formula also includes green tea extract to protect and calm the skin and butylene glycol to hydrate. Get it at Nordstrom!
4. Peter Thomas Roth Max Complexion Correction Pads
This is another great option for chemical exfoliation for those with combination skin, especially for those who are looking for more targeted age prevention. These pads include both glycolic and salicylic acid, for very thorough exfoliation, along with skin-smoothing vitamin A and a whole collection of soothing extracts. They are wonderful for treating any skin texture issues as well as for reducing the look of fine lines and wrinkles. Buy them from Sephora!
5. Dermalogica Clear Start Breakout Clearing Emergency Spot Fix
Sometimes it seems like those with combination skin are even more prone to acne than those with oily skin, especially on particular parts of the face. Spot treatments are the best way to treat randomly dispersed bouts of acne, and this benzoyl peroxide one from Dermalogica is one of the best. 5% BP annihilates the acne bacteria, licorice root extract prevents any post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation from following the healed breakouts, and green tea helps prevent any irritation. You can buy it from SkinStore.
6. Clinique Moisture Surge 72-Hour Auto-Replenishing Hydrator
This gel-cream moisturizer from Clinique is a perfect treat for combination skin. It is nourishing and hydrating enough for the dry parts but is not even a little greasy so it won’t cause any trouble for your oily parts. It contains soothing, nourishing urea and green tea extract, hydrating hyaluronic acid and glycerin, and occlusive dimethicone. The formula is anti-aging as well, with peptides and caffeine providing a lifting effect. Find it at Nordstrom!
7. Peach & Lily Matcha Pudding Antioxidant Cream
Don’t let the creamy texture fool you, this is the perfect moisturizer whether your combination skin leans towards dry or oily. It is chock-full of antioxidants that stave off free-radical damage to help keep the skin looking youthful, from some very diverse sources including matcha green tea, adenosine, and niacinamide, which happens to be my favorite ingredient for combination skin. It is sold at Ulta.
8. Biossance Squalane + Micronutrient Fine Mist
This lovely face mist has a few things going for it, like the fact that it contains hyaluronic acid at multiple weights for better penetration, and its essential fatty acid and squalane blend that makes it richer and more moisturizing than your average toner or essence. It is the exact blend of light and nourishing to boost the moisturization of combination skin without weighing it down. Pick it up at Sephora!
9. La Roche-Posay Anthelios Ultra-Light Sunscreen Fluid SPF 60
No matter your skin type, sunscreen is non-negotiable, so I’m happy to say that if you have combination skin you will love this sunscreen as part of your skin care routine. It sinks in quickly, lightly moisturizes, and gives a semi-matte finish to the skin. If your skin is leaning towards oily, you can use it over a hydrating serum or essence, but if its leaning towards dry, layer it on top of your moisturizer. Order it online from Dermstore!
10. Dr. Jart+ Ceramidin Liquid
Almost every skin care routine can benefit from hydrating toners and essences, but for those with combination skin, it can be especially useful since moisturizers alone can’t do the trick without also making the oily parts of the skin greasy. This unique essence loads the skin up with skin-identical ceramides and cholesterol, which you’ll be hard-pressed to find in a non-greasy formula. It also contains betaine and panthenol to hydrate, and a wide range of plant and fruit extracts to give antioxidant protection. It is available at Sephora.
11. DERMAdoctor Kakadu C 20% Vitamin C Serum with Ferulic Acid & Vitamin E
This is a serum I’ll probably never stop recommending because it is one of the best all-around protective, anti-aging, and skin-brightening products. It contains a very stabilized blend of vitamin C, vitamin E, and ferulic acid, along with some hydrating ingredients. It’s one of the most balanced ways for those with combination skin to achieve softer skin and to stave off extrinsic aging. It is available at Dermstore.
12. Oh K! Hyaluronic Acid Hydrogel Sheet Mask
Made with niacinamide and gotu kola (a.k.a. centella asiatica), this mask might be the most perfect sheet mask for those with combination skin. It simultaneously hydrates with hyaluronic acid while also controlling oil production with niacinamide. The centella asiatica adds a wonderfully soothing touch, and the overall effect is healthy, plumped skin that feels as balanced as can be. The mask itself is made of a gel that adheres to the skin with ease. You can get it at Ulta.
13. Philosophy Purity Made Simple One-Step Facial Cleanser
This sulfate-free facial cleanser totally deserves the cult following it has. It removes every last speck of makeup or sunscreen without stripping the skin or leaving behind a residue. It is made with all skin types in mind, so it will be great for every part of your combination skin. Oh, and the biggest bonus? It’s gentle enough for the eye area! Pick it up at Nordstrom!
14. Trilogy Rosehip Oil Antioxidant+
I think this wonderful facial oil blend would actually work for all skin types, but that’s actually why it’ll also be so wonderful for those with combination skin. Its composition is rich and nourishing enough to boost the moisturization of the dry parts of the face, but it is not so heavy as to clog pores or feel greasy over the oilier parts. It contains rosehip seed oil, which is one of the most anti-aging and skin-smoothing botanical oils around, along with antioxidant-rich tomato and cranberry seed oils. Use it alone, or mix it with your moisturizer! Find it at Ulta!
15. OleHenriksen Hygge HydraClay Detox Mask
The average clay mask will be too drying for the dry parts of your face if you have combination skin. Thankfully, this is no average clay mask! The Detox Mask combines the pore-cleansing effects of kaolin clay with the moisturizing benefits of 5 different botanical oils as well as hydrating glycerin. This mask leaves the skin feeling clean, glowing and as soft as can be. Keep in mind that it doesn’t always work for those with sensitive skin. It is available at Sephora.
Combination skin refers to a skin type that sits somewhere on the spectrum between dry and oily. Some parts of the face are oilier, while others are a little drier. In most cases the oiliest part of the face is the T-zone, which encompasses the forehead, nose, chin, and sometimes the parts of the cheeks closer to the nose, while the driest parts of the face are the cheeks, jawbone, and the area around the eyes. Of course, exceptions do occur, but they are quite rare.
Those with oily skin tend to be extra oily in the T-zone, while those with dry skin tend to be extra dry in the cheeks, so in a way combination skin types just sit in between dry skin and oily skin. Skin types are like a spectrum, and combination skin takes up the most space on it, while the other two skin types sit on the two ends.
Some people find that their combination skin leans towards drier, while others find it leans more towards oily. For many, this change can come with the seasons, as they feel oilier in summer and drier in winter.
What are the main symptoms of combination skin? Watch out for the following!
• Uneven Oil Production over the Face
Sebum production is the main (and maybe only) factor by which skin types are determined, so combination skin means that the skin produces neither too much nor too little oil as a whole, although certain parts of the face (usually the T-zone) will be oilier than other parts (usually the cheeks). To determine if you have combination skin, wash it with a mild cleanser and then wait an hour or two – if some parts of your skin feel oily while others feel a little tight then you probably have combination skin.
• Varying Pore Size
Though oil production is the most concrete determining factor of skin type, looking at pore size can be easier. If you have nearly invisible pores in some parts of your face (usually the cheeks) and medium to larger parts in others (T-zone), then you probably have combination skin.
• Occasional Breakouts and Clogged Pores, Usually on Oily Parts of the Face
No skin type is immune from acne, with dry skin included. However, in general, those with combination skin will not break out as much as those with oily skin, and the breakouts tend to be localized to the oilier parts of the face.
Combination Skin Causes
As with any skin type, combination skin shows up mostly because of genetics, so the only people you can really blame it on are your parents.
The determining factor of every skin type is oil (or rather, sebum) production. Facial oil is produced by the sebaceous glands, which are located in the dermis where they are attached to our hair follicles. In almost all humans the central part of the face is usually home to more sebaceous glands than the outer parts, which explains the oily-dry division that exists in those with combination skin.
One thing worth noting about combination skin is that extreme polarization is fairly rare. It is very unusual for someone to have an extremely oily T-zone and an extremely dry cheek area. When it does occur, it is almost always a result of a compromised skin barrier and serious dehydration, which can make dry skin feel drier and oily skin to misbehave and become problematic.
Otherwise, combination skin has two directions it can lean in, which is where the terms combination-oily skin and combination-dry skin come from. Simply put, some people with combination skin find that the oily parts of their face give them more trouble, while others find that the dry parts of their face are the ones that require the most attention.
The best way to take care of combination skin is to use balanced, gentle products. When it comes to choosing skin care, it’s all about finding textures that are not going to be too heavy for your oily parts that are also not going to be too light for your dry parts.
Focusing on hydration is always a good idea. Dehydration makes all skin types look bad, while increased hydration can improve the functioning of both the dry and oily parts of the skin.
A good combination skin care routine that keeps the skin clean, hydrated, exfoliated, and protected from the sun is all it takes to keep things balanced and healthy. When I sat down to write this article I decided that I didn’t want to make too many suggestions that would involve putting certain products only on certain parts of the face.
Those with combination skin are probably very used to the suggestion that they use a heavier moisturizer on their dry parts and a lighter moisturizer for oily parts, but as far as skin care suggestions go I don’t think this one is really practical. You’re not going to have a totally different skin care routine for each part of your face.
Perhaps you’ll find that you can apply a hydrating serum all over your face and then only put moisturizer on the dry parts, but going too much beyond that isn’t practical for 90% of us.
So if you have the combination skin type, there are certain ingredients you should look for in the skin care you choose.
Humectants like glycerin, hyaluronic acid, panthenol, and butylene glycol are the key ingredients that will keep your combination skin hydrated, by pulling moisture in from the atmosphere and into the top layers of skin.
Hydration is very important for both oily and dry skin types, so it only follows that it will also be critical for combination skin. Hydrated skin looks healthier, plumper, and more luminous. Both fine lines and pores appear smaller, and the overall texture is smoother and softer.
Beyond that, when the skin is fortified with water and water-binding humectants, it is more resistant to infiltration from irritants and bacteria, so this helps stave off both irritation and breakouts. Essences, serums, moisturizers, and masks are the best sources for these hydrating ingredients.
Exfoliation is a very important part of a good combination skin care routine. As always, I prefer chemical exfoliants since they are able to remove dead skin in a gentle and thorough manner.
Salicylic acid is the preferred exfoliant for those with combination skin because it can get through the oils and exfoliate within the pore, but is gentle enough not to dry out or irritate the dry parts of the skin. You can also experiment with combinations of glycolic acid and gentler exfoliants like mandelic or lactic acid. If your skin is hearty, then you can throw glycolic acid into the mix as well.
• Emollients and Occlusives
Comprehensive moisturization has three parts: humectancts, which I’ve already mentioned, as well as emollients and occlusive, which come in the form of botanical oils, ceramides, cholesterol, silicones, petrolatum, and fatty acids. These are very common ingredients in moisturizers, although they are used more sparingly in essences and serums.
The sebum our skin produces is actually very effective as an emollient (something that fills in the gaps between the dead skin cells to make the stratum corneum stronger, softer to the touch and suppler) and as an occlusive (something that blocks moisture from escaping from the skin), so those who have combination skin that leans towards oily may not require creams rich in these ingredients.
They are indispensable, however, for those whose combination skin leans towards dry. If your skin is very polarized then you may choose to only apply creams rich in emollients and occlusives to the dry parts of your face.
Sun protection is another one of those things that are critical no matter the skin type. A moisturizer or sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 will do wonders for keeping your skin healthy in the long term.
Sun exposure is responsible for many surface elements of skin aging like fine lines and wrinkles, but even worse than that, it can lead to skin cancer down the line. Those with combination skin should choose lightweight sunscreens, and can even use them instead of a moisturizer in the daytime.
Antioxidants can come from botanical oils and plant extracts, or they can be synthesized and put straight into a skin care formula. Antioxidants are phenomenal for helping stave off premature aging caused by sun exposure and pollution, since they stop free radical damage at its tracks.
A lot of antioxidants have multiple benefits beyond preventing premature aging. Niacinamide, for example, can also help with preventing transepidermal water loss, brightening the skin, and controlling oil production. Vitamin C is great for supporting collagen production and for fading hyperpigmentation. Green tea extract, in addition to containing a lot of different antioxidant compounds, is also great for soothing sensitive skin.
• Deep Cleaners
Kaolin clay is probably the best mask ingredient to look for if you would like to apply it all over the skin, since it is not too drying and is not likely to irritate or dehydrate your dry areas. Other clay masks might not be suitable for applying all over the face, and should only be applied in the oily areas.
While a skin type cannot change, skin concerns absolutely can with the use of the right skin care products. Those with combination skin can have all kinds of skin concerns, so it’s hard to pinpoint literally every ingredient that might be beneficial.
If your main concerns are fading existing signs of aging like fine lines, opt for strong skin rejuvenators like retinoids or peptides. If your concerns have to do with hyperpigmentation, then your best bet is vitamin C, licorice root extract, or alpha-arbutin.
For acne, the best overall treatment would be regular chemical exfoliation (especially with salicylic acid). Retinoids are also quite useful, as are spot treatments with benzoyl peroxide, azelaic acid, or tea tree oil.
Early in the morning, start your combination skin routine following these practical and effective steps:
• Cleansing Is Optional
Unless you happened to wake up with extra oily skin on a particular morning, it is generally better to skip cleansing in the mornings altogether. Wiping your face with a cotton pad saturated in toner or just a damp face cloth is usually enough for most people with combination skin.
If you do have to cleanse, opt for a gentle cleanser, and don’t let it be in contact with your face for longer than 15 seconds – this isn’t the evening when you have to remove a day’s worth of sunscreen, makeup, and grime.
• Toner/ Essence
In the morning, a toner or essence can act as an additional hydrating step that will give relief to both the dry and oily parts of your combination skin. Essences are usually composed of a mixture of pore-tightening anti-inflammatories and hydrating humectants, and they are almost never going to make your skin feel greasy.
Unless you’re also using this step as a way to remove minor impurities from the skin (in which case you should wipe them on with a cotton pad, as I previously described), it is actually better to apply them directly to the skin either by misting them on or by dispensing a bit into your hands and then pressing it into the skin.
• Serum or Moisturizer
For those with combination skin, especially if it leans a little towards oily, it is generally best to use either a serum or a moisturizer in the daytime, but not both – particularly if you’re using a separate sunscreen for SPF protection. Serums are often just occlusive enough to be excellent daytime moisturizers for those with combination skin.
In general, when choosing a serum or moisturizer, opt for one that contains lots of hydrating ingredients, some occlusive ones, and antioxidants to help stabilize your sunscreen and to stave off photoaging.
Unless your skin is sensitive, dispense a pea-sized amount of serum or moisturizer and then massage it into your skin in circular, upward motions. If this tugs too much on your skin, then utilize a gentle pressing method instead.
The final step of your morning skin care routine should always be sun protection! Opt for a sunscreen that is neither overly mattifying nor greasy. Lighter sunscreens are great because they are easier to spread over the skin but they also sink in quickly so they won’t make your T-zone shiny.
It’s important to use a full ¼ teaspoon of sunscreen to totally cover the average human face and to give the full SPF protection listed on the bottle. Apply a sunscreen exactly as you would a moisturizer. If you find that your sunscreen takes too long to sink in, you can split it up into two applications of a ⅛ teaspoon.
After the hard working day or one spent in the sun just lounging, you shouldn’t forget about your skin routine.
The best cleansers would be light foam or gel cleansers that are sulfate-free and with a low pH so that they can remove just the right amount of oil and debris without stripping the skin or drying it out. If your skin feels tight or dry after you’ve cleaned it, then your cleanser is too harsh.
If you wear a lot of makeup, you might find that double cleansing will work better. Without adding any water, massage a balm or oil cleanser into your skin first to break down your makeup and sunscreen. Add a bit of water to emulsify the cleanser, and then rinse it away with water or wipe it off with a damp face cloth.
Then you can do a second cleanse with your gel or foam cleanser to eliminate the oil residue. Dampen either your face or your hands, and then dispense a small amount of cleanser. Massage it into your skin for 10-15 seconds (you can massage for up to a full minute if you’re only doing a single cleanse), and then rinse away with water or wipe off with a damp face cloth.
The evening is the best time to exfoliate the skin, and as always, it is better to use a chemical exfoliant like salicylic acid than to use a physical scrub. Salicylic acid is usually the best exfoliator for combination skin types because it is gentle enough not to irritate the dry areas but it is also able to get past facial oils and exfoliate within the pore. Chemical exfoliants come in all forms, so apply your chemical exfoliant as directed on the package.
• Essences, Ampoules, and Serums
After applying a chemical exfoliant, a great optional step for those with combination skin is to apply either an essence, a serum, an ampoule, or all of the above. Any one of these products can load your skin up with a little bit of extra hydration, which is especially great at times when your combination skin leans a little bit towards drier.
This step is also great for applying specific skin treatments, like a serum with retinol to help fade fine lines and improve skin texture, or a vitamin C and licorice root extract serum to help brighten the skin. If you don’t have any specific concerns, you could benefit from a general hydrating, antioxidant-laden serum.
Apply your essences and serums as was described in the morning routine – splash or mist on your essence, and apply serums with either a gentle patting motion or a more invigorating massage.
• Spot Treatments
Not everyone with combination skin will require an acne spot treatment, but if you happen to be one of the unlucky few who break out, then a good spot treatment is a godsend, especially if your chemical exfoliant isn’t doing a good enough job on its own.
Some spot treatments are better applied before serums and essences, but I highly recommend spot treatments with benzoyl peroxide or tea tree oil, which are better applied afterwards to avoid irritation. The amount of spot treatment you will need depends on how much you break out.
Simply dispense a bit, and press it over the areas where your active breakouts are. Give it a few moments to sink in a bit and then move on to the final step.
Your nighttime moisturizer will probably be the richest and heaviest product in your combination skin care routine. You don’t want to use something so heavy in the daytime, as it’ll make your skin look shiny, but at night you can really benefit from the potentially greasy occlusive ingredients.
I’ve mostly recommended cream-based moisturizers, but if your skin is combination leaning towards oily, you might prefer a lotion or gel-based moisturizer instead.
Since this is your final skin care step, take the chance to really enjoy it by giving your skin an uplifting massage. Utilize a circular motion, working your way upwards and outwards, as this will also help to improve blood flow to the skin and to relax the facial muscles.
Weekly skin masking is a lovely ritual that allows you nourish both your skin and soul. With combination skin, you may find that your specific concerns change from week to week, so masking is a great way of addressing specific issues that come and go.
One week you might want to use a more hydrating mask, while the following week you might want a declogging clay mask. You can also experiment with multi-masking if you’d like to treat the different parts of your skin in different ways. As always, it’s important to never veer too strongly in any direction but to stick to gentle products.
It’s important to thoroughly cleanse your skin before applying a mask. You can opt for a double cleanse as I recommend for a typical evening routine, or, if you are masking in the morning, just do a quick cleanse with a gentle cleanser.
• Toner or Essence
Some masks (especially hydrating sheet masks) can help your skin absorb any essences or toners applied below it. For clay-based masks (especially for ones that are very heavy on oils and low on hydrating ingredients), a hydrating essence can act as a buffer that prevents the mask from drying out your skin too much. You can definitely experiment with splashing some non-exfoliating toner or essence on your skin before masking!
How you put on your mask will depend on the kind of mask you have. Creamy masks can be applied with the hands, like a moisturizer, while clay-based masks are easier to apply with a clean mask brush (a brush that is suspiciously similar to a flat foundation brush), in upward, overlapping strokes.
Sheet masks, which are great for hydrating the skin, are the most difficult to apply since they must be smoothed on carefully without any air bubbles.
Once your mask is on, leave it on per the instructions on the container. 10-15 minutes is usually good for clay masks, 15-30 minutes for creamy masks, and up to an hour for sheet masks.
Once enough time has passed remove your mask by rinsing your face with water, and maybe even wiping it down with a damp face cloth. Sheet masks can simply be removed, with the rest of the product massaged into the skin and with no need to rinse.
• Rest of the Routine
Once you’ve removed your mask, finish off your combination skin care routine based on whether it is daytime or evening.
Photos via @elle_ferguson, @candidlyangie, @glowingwell_