We asked experts how to find some balance (and achieve skincare chi).

By Hana Hong
July 23, 2020
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Combination skin is one tricky beast to tame. I, like many others, am plagued with this skincare conundrum. And what’s even harder than the symptoms of combination skin—dry patches combined with oily zones—is figuring out how in the world you’re supposed to manage it. I mean, you can’t just smear acne cream all over your face because that would only aggravate the dry patches. And you can’t slather on a thick moisturizing balm all over because that would break you out. What gives?

If it makes you feel any better, your annoyingly capricious skin is not alone. According to dermatologists, how to manage combination skin is one of the most common questions they’re asked. In order to shed some light—and balance—on the situation, we turned to Tiffany Jow Libby, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, and Ranella Hirsch, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Cambridge, Mass. 

1

According to Dr. Libby, a self-professed combination skin sufferer, simplicity is key when it comes to mixed skin. Layering a medley of various products all over your face to try and address the issue will most likely disrupt the balance on your skin, further exacerbating the problem. “A gentle, non-comedogenic cleanser that doesn’t strip your skin of its moisture or excess oils, and a moisturizer that helps maintain your skin’s balance are key to a healthy skin barrier. I would start your routine off with something designed to remove pore-clogging oil and debris without drying it out,” she says. “After cleansing, it’s always important to moisturize skin and build back the protective skin barrier. With age, we begin losing many moisture factors that are naturally made in our skin, and transepidermal water loss also increases, meaning more water is lost through our skin." Her top picks are Cetaphil Pro DermaControl Oil Removing Foam Wash  ($15; ulta.com) and Cetaphil Daily Hydrating Lotion ($18; ulta.com) to add that moisture back.

2

You usually hear the term when talking about plants or cars, but hybrids also refer to a whole (brilliant) category of skincare. These innovative products, usually a mix between two different products, allow you to get multiple benefits in one formulation. “The secret is to find the balance between treating the oily and dry areas,” says Dr. Hirsch. “A hybrid product like gel-cream is great for people who are prone to breakouts but still have patchy dry spots. I always recommend Bioderma Hydrabio Gel-Crème ($25; dermstore.com)—it has BHAs and salicylic acid, which helps soak the oil and prevent breakouts, along with niacinamide and squalane to brighten and hydrate.” 

3

After using a skincare product, you may notice that one area gets worse while another gets better. Sound familiar? Specifically, your T-zone (the central part of your face, including your forehead, nose, and chin) is oilier since your skin’s oil-producing glands are more concentrated there. Dr. Hirsch offers a happy medium to this situation: “Because your skin is partly dry and partly oily, we generally advise that you address the drier parts of your face with your normal regimen (gentle cleanser, moisturizer, and antioxidant), and then address other specifics to the oily parts.”

You’ll also want to add additional nourishing formulations, like a cream or emollient, to drier parts of your face, adds Dr. Libby. “Applying heavier creams are fine for the face. The dry areas on combination skin will tolerate creams well and often need that extra level of moisture to keep skin balanced.” 

4

The oily part of your face might cringe at the thought of applying any moisturizer at all, but avoiding the practice entirely actually might be the cause of your combination skin. “Some people think that you need to “dry out” acne—this is simply not true, and is only because the topicals used for acne treatment can be severely drying on the skin.” Having combination skin is even more reason to keep your skin moisturized, so keep the lotions, creams, and oils coming. You can apply sparingly to your whole face and double up in areas where you need it the most. 

5

When you do moisturize your face, you’re going to want to be careful about what you’re applying. All acne starts with clogged pores (aka, comedones), according to Dr. Libby. To prevent this from happening, keep an eye out for products that are labeled as comedogenic as you’ll want to steer clear from those. You should also be cautious not to overdo it on the retinol or apply any occlusive ointments, which may cause pore-clogging white spots like milia.