Skincare 101: knowing and understanding your skin type

Knowing and understanding your skin type is one of the very basics when wanting to start a skin care routine.

Your base skin type will depend upon genetics, but it can vary greatly based on climate, environmental factors, age, hormonal factors (puberty, pregnancy, menopause, …), stress, lifestyle, diseases, use of certain medications and more.

Tailoring skin care products to your specific skin type not only will provide you with the best possible results but will also avoid unwanted side effects such as irritation.

What skin type do I have?
Woman photo created by wavebreakmedia_micro –

How to determine your skin type

The most obvious and precise way of determining your skin type is having a professional consultation with a dermatologist. With their knowledge and experience they can precisely understand your skin type, diagnose any skin issue, prescribe any specific treatment you may need and advise on the best possible products for your skin care needs.

The other do-it-yourself way for determining your skin type at home is also known as the bare-faced method. First step is to cleanse your skin using a mild cleanser and then pat it dry. You should not apply any product and wait for about 60 minutes (some doctors say 30 minutes, other up to 2-3 hours). After waiting, it’s time to self-evaluate your skin, by carefully observing in the mirror.

  • Is your face shiny or dull? If shiny, is it so only in the T-zone (forehead, nose, chin)?
  • Is your face tight or does it feel tight when you use your face muscles? (try to smile for example)
  • Do your pores look enlarged or are they barely visible?
  • Do you see redness or red patches? Do you see flaky skin?
  • Do you have frequent pimples or breakouts?

With this information you can then determine what skin type you have and choose the best products for your skin accordingly.

What skin type do I have?

One of the most common classifications, which is often seen on skincare product labels, defines 5 different skin types:

  1. Normal Skin. Normal skin is defined as neither oily nor dry, soft and smooth without imperfections, with a healthy glow and barely visible pores.
  2. Oily Skin. Oily skin is defined as visibly shiny due to increased oil and sebum production, it often has enlarged pores, and has a coarse texture presenting imperfections, with a tendency to develop blackheads and pimples.
  3. Dry Skin. Dry skin is defined as not shining, dull, with redness and is often flaky, pores are not visible, and the skin is overall less elastic.
  4. Combination Skin. Combination skin is defined as oily in some areas while normal or dry in others; it is the most common skin type. The oily areas are generally in the T-Zone (forehead, nose and chin).
  5. Sensitive Skin. Sensitive skin is defined as easily triggered by weather, environmental factors or topical products; it is often red, dry and may feel itchy, burning or stingy.

You should be able to match the findings gathered through the bared-skin method in the previous paragraph, with one of the above descriptions and determine your skin type. No two skins are the same and the 5-baseline skin type classification has only 5 broad categories, so it’s normal to not be 100% one type or the other, just choose the one that feels mostly right for you.

Baumann Skin Type Indicator (BSTI): the skin type quiz

Dr. Baumann’s skin type classification system is a more scientific and accurate way of categorizing different skin types. It is based upon just 4 parameters and the combination of all the possible answers determines 16 different skin types. The 4 parameters are: hydration, inflammation, pigmentation and skin aging risk factors. By answering a 64-item questionnaire divided into 4 section, one for each parameter, the skin type is determined using a 4-letter classification.

  • Oily (O) vs dry (D)
  • Sensitive (S)* vs resistant (R)
  • Pigmented (P)** vs non-pigmented (N)
  • Wrinkle-prone (W) vs non-wrinkle-prone (T, tight)

You could have for example a OSPT skin type, which requires different care from a DSPT skin type.

By consistently using the most appropriate products for your skin type, you may overtime improve it to the most desirable one which is ORNT.

*the sensitive category has four subcategories: S1 (acne type), S2 (rosacea type), S3 (stinging type), S4 (allergic type); they all show inflammation, but each skin type has its own needs.

** the pigmented vs non-pigmented category is not about overall skin tone, but about the tendency to develop pigmentation issues and uneven skin tone.

Fitzpatrick’s Classification of Skin Types: the phototype

Another skin type classification, different from the previous ones, is known as the Fitzpatrick phototype. It comprises 6 categories named using the Latin numbers. Although not critical for the selection of skincare products, it is still related to them.

Lighter skin types have more tendency to develop lines and wrinkles, because they are naturally less protected from sun light. Darker skin types on the other hand have a higher tendency for pigmentation issues, such as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. For this reason, Fitzpatrick’s phenotype influences some of the choices in both prevention and treatment of skin issues, as well as medical procedures such as chemical peels or laser treatments.

The following are the Fitzpatrick’s skin types, categorized according to their natural skin tone and reaction to UV light (sun exposure)

  • Type I – Pale White. Always burns, never tans.
  • Type II – White. Usually burns, tans with difficulty.
  • Type III – Light Brown. Sometimes burns, tans average.
  • Type IV – Moderate Brown. Rarely burns, tans with ease.
  • Type V – Dark Brown. Very rarely burns, tans very easily.
  • Type VI – Black. Does not burn, tans very easily.

I’ll talk about specific skincare products based on different skin types in another blog post.



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