Like trying to decide between hot or iced coffee when I get to the front of the line at my neighborhood cafe, my skin also can't make up it's mind whether it's oily or dry.
While my t-zone tends to be extremely shiny and greasy by noon every day, my cheeks are always dehydrated. As the name suggests, treating my combination skin can be a struggle because certain parts of my face need different ingredients than others in order to stay balanced.
What's more confusing is that experiencing some extra moisture on the T-zone doesn't automatically mean you have combination skin. So I checked in with Dr. DiAnne Davis, Dallas-based cosmetic dermatologist for an expert's definition on this skin type.
"People with combination skin types have various regions of the skin that exhibit the traits of different skin types," Dr. Davis says. "For example, their cheeks may have all the traits of dry skin which can feel tight and have some flakiness while their forehead is oily or shiny in appearance. This often occurs when one area of the skin overproduces natural oils while other areas under-produce."
According to Dr. Davis, people with combination skin will notice that some areas of their face feel tight and dry, while others are oily, shiny, and greasy (like my T-zone, for example).
It's also possible that your skin can shift from combination to dry or oily based on the weather. Something I experienced firsthand in the spring, when my skin tends to be more dry before getting oiler again in the summer.
As for what products to use, combination skin might need to cocktail their routines.
"People with combination skin may need to treat each region differently depending on their needs," says Dr. Davis. "Individuals may need a cleanser that provides a balance between being gentle on dry patches while being powerful enough to address shiny, oily spots. A non-foaming gel cleanser with natural exfoliating ingredients is ideal." It's also best to avoid cleansing formulas with harsh beads or granules, along with products that contain too much alcohol.
Speaking of exfoliation, Dr. Davis recommends combination skin types not mix physical and chemical exfoliation. "Combination skin types should never mix both exfoliation types in the same day. Instead, specific days of the week should be designated as mechanical or chemical, often with a rest day between," she says. "They will also need to use a high-quality moisturizer or moisturizing cream if the skin feels too dry after exfoliating."
After a ton of trial and error, I've landed on the ingredients and formulations that are efficacious for my combination skin, but gentle enough not to cause irritation. Ahead, 10 products I rely on to cleanse, hydrate, and prevent breakouts and signs of aging.
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Cleanser: Good Light Cosmic Dew Water Cleanser
I'll be honest: I look forward to getting out of bed in the morning, because I start the day off by washing my face with this Good Light gel cleanser. While it does have foam in its name, it turns into a more of a milky lather that doesn't strip for the dry parts of my face. The combination of glycerin, hydrating seaweed, prebiotics from sugar cane, and hyaluronic acid moisturizes, calms, helps strengthen the skin barrier, and leaves me with a fresh-faced glow.
To shop: $18; goodlight.world
Vitamin C Serum: Skinceuticals C E Ferulic
There are vitamin C serums, and then there is SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic. The award-winning is beloved by beauty editors and dermatologists because of its clinically-backed formula, which targets dark spots, minimizes signs of aging, and offers antioxidant protection. While the rumors are true: it does smell like hot dog water, the texture and results are worth it. With continued use, I've seen improvement in my skin's texture and hyperpigmentation, and I love that it layers well under my moisturizer, SPF, and makeup.
To shop: $166; dermstore.com
Moisturizer: BeautyStat Universal Pro-Bio Moisture Boost Cream
This gel-cream hybrid deeply nourishes my skin, leaving my face looking plump and dewy. While many gel formulas tend not to be hydrating enough for my combination skin, BeautyStat's moisturizer is packed with ingredients like ceramides, pomegranate sterols, and probiotic for long-lasting hydration.
To shop: $50; amazon.com
Sunscreen: Saie Sunvisor Broad Spectrum SPF 35 Sheer Moisturizer
Wearing sunscreen is the one skincare step I never skip over. This moisturizing mineral formula by Saie has quickly become my go-to facial SPF because it has a silky-smooth texture that blends seamlessly and feels weightless on my skin. While it leaves skin extra dewy on its own, it also wears well under makeup and doesn't pill.
To shop: $34; sephora.com
Cleanser: Holifrog Kissimmee Vitamin F Therapy Balmy Wash
At night, I'm a fan of double cleansing because I want to be sure I get all of the makeup, sunscreen, oil, and grime off my face. Before reaching for a water-based cleanser, I start off with a nourishing cleansing balm. This Holifrog tube is one of my favorites because it's infused with antioxidants and hydrating ingredients to prevent dryness. And despite that fact that I've washed my hands more than ever in the past year, I like that this balm isn't in a jar I have to stick my fingers in.
To shop: $42; dermstore.com
Serum: Consonant Skin+Care Vitamin B3 + Zinc Serum
Like the rest of the internet, I stan niacinamide, also known as vitamin B3. Since my overly oily T-zone can lead to clogged pores and breakouts, I use a niacinamide and zinc serum to prevent pimples and help with sebum control. While 4% niacinamide will deliver results, this Consonant Skin+Care formula contains a 10% concentration with vitamin B5 for extra hydration and to help buffer any potential irritation.
To shop: $49; consonantskincare.com
Retinol: Shani Darden Retinol Reform
This cult-favorite retinol serum is one of the few I've tried that hasn't given me the retinol uglies. The formula features encapsulated retinol, which can help mitigate some of the known side effects, lactic acid for exfoliation, and apple fruit extract for antioxidant protection and additional anti-aging benefits.
To shop: $88; sephora.com
Rich Moisturizer: Augustinus Bader The Rich Cream
On nights where my skin is a little more dry (aka peak winter and summer), I swap out my regular moisturizer for an extra thick cream. Augustinus Bader's The Rich Cream offers deep hydration and anti-aging benefits, thanks to it's patented TFC8 technology, but it doesn't clog pores or leave skin feeling greasy.
To shop: $265; nordstrom.com
Eye Cream: Shani Darden Intensive Eye Renewal Cream
With a blend of peptides, silk tree extract, ceramides, Shani Darden's eye cream works to minimize the look of common concerns around the eye area, including crow's feet, dark circles, and wrinkles. I'm picky about eye creams because many feel too heavy, this one is an exception.
To shop: $68; sephora.com
Exfoliating Mask: CosMedix Pure Enzymes
This exfoliating mask was introduced to me by celebrity esthetician Melanie Grant and I've been hooked ever since. The formula is powered by fruit enzymes to lift away dead skin cells, excess sebum, and any gunk clogging your pores. Expect to feel a slight tingle when the red goop is marinating on your face, but after rinsing it off, you'll be left with a clear, dewy glow. I use it once every week or so for extra exfoliation.
To shop: $52; dermstore.com