Everything You Need to Know About Combination Skin (and How to Care for It)

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Podcast version

When buying skincare products, we usually take into consideration our “skin type”. There are four primary skin types and combination is one of them. As you might expect from the name, it means that different areas of the skin have different characteristics.

Let’s take a look at what combination skin is, how you can tell if you have this skin type, and the best way to take care of your skin.

Podcast version
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Combination Skin 101

Commonly, having combination skin means that you have oily skin across your T-zone – which is your chin, nose, and forehead – and normal to dry skin on your cheeks.

However, that’s not to say that this is the only way that combination skin presents. If you have dry skin in certain areas but normal skin everywhere else, you still have a combination skin type.


How to Tell if You Have Combination Skin

The easiest way to determine if you have combination skin is to examine your skin in the mirror before you’ve applied any products to your face. Different skin types will have different appearances, so you’ll quickly be able to tell if certain areas are more oily or dry than others. Keep an eye out for:

Oily skin

Your pores will typically be more apparent, your skin will look glossier, and your skin might feel greasy.

Dry skin

Your skin will look dull, your skin might also be flaking or have cracks, and it will feel rough to the touch.

Normal skin

Your pores won’t be noticeable, there will be minimal blemishes, and your skin will feel velvety and soft.

If you’re already using skincare products, you should also think about how your skin reacts to those products. Having sensitive skin on certain areas of your face but not others is also a hallmark of combination skin, but not everyone with combination skin will be sensitive to certain products or ingredients.

If you’ve got combination skin, you might also notice that your skin changes as your hormones and the weather fluctuate. It’s common that, during warm weather, the oily areas of your skin appear more pronounced, while in colder weather, your skin will become dryer and more prone to irritation. So, you’ll often find that in winter, oily patches become more normal, and normal skin will become dry and/or sensitive. We covered sensitive skin in a previous article, so give that a read if you want to learn more.

Another thing to look out for is where, if at all, you develop acne or experience breakouts. If you have combination skin, breakouts or acne will likely be localised to oilier areas of your skin, like your T-zone, but you won’t have this issue in other areas.

Common Combination Skin Frustrations

A major issue a lot of people have with their combination skin is that it’s hard to find skincare products that work with their particular skin. Given that different areas of your skin will react in different ways to products, people with this skin type often feel that they have little choice but to use a smorgasbord of products.

So, common frustrations include:

    • Moisturisers that work well for dry skin areas causing breakouts for oily skin areas
    • Cleansers that remove excess oil causing dry skin issues
    • Products causing inflammation or redness in some areas, but not others
    • Weather changes causing drastic changes in sensitivity, dryness, or oil production
    • Frequent, localised breakouts


What Causes Combination Skin?

As with all skin types, there’s no single thing that science can pinpoint as the cause.

Genetics is, however, widely considered to be the primary factor in determining skin type. We already know from studies into acne in twins and genetic factors that influence skin ageing that genetics significantly influence how our skin reacts to certain environmental and hormonal stimuli. So, if your parents have combination skin, it’s likely that you will too.

Hormones also significantly influence your skin type and oil production. Your sebaceous glands, which are responsible for producing sebum, have receptors for sex hormones like testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone. These glands are affected the most by the presence of testosterone and other androgens, with studies showing that trans men who begin taking testosterone often experience acne and other skin conditions during their first year of hormone replacement therapy. We won’t go into too much detail here as we’ll cover acne in another article soon.

Studies also show that the rate of sebum production in people with oily skin only increases during the week before and during menstruation. However, the same study also found that in people with normal skin, menstruation didn’t affect sebum production, so scientists are still unclear about how much estrogen affects sebum production.

We also know that environmental factors, as well as the products you use, can significantly influence sebum production, the hydration levels of your skin, and whether you experience breakouts or acne.

Who Has Combination Skin?

Combination skin is the most common skin type, so we know that the frustrations that come with it affect a large proportion of people. However, it’s worth noting that this skin type presents in a variety of ways, some of which are more common than others.

As we talked about earlier, your sebaceous glands have a strong reaction to the presence of androgens like testosterone. So, men and people taking testosterone are more likely to have combination skin that has more oily areas. Men also have a thicker stratum corneum – the outer layer of the epidermis – so their combination skin is less likely to be sensitive than that of women.

Studies have also shown that the colour of your skin can directly influence combination skin and how it presents. For example, melanin-rich skin is often more prone to having issues with dryness as a result of water content in the stratum corneum and often has a higher pore count than paler skin tones. So, if you have a darker skin tone, it’s likely that you may have more extreme differences between different areas of your skin. In comparison, the same study found that paler Asian skin tones had a high water content in their stratum corneum, so they were less likely to have issues with dry skin.

Living With Combination Skin

Given that combination skin can be influenced by your genetics, some people are born with this skin type, while others develop it due to a wide range of other factors. The good news is that if you’re frustrated with your combination skin, there’s never been a better time to find skincare products that will help you to alleviate your frustrations, or even solve them all together.

However, the issue is that finding skincare products that work for your combination skin type is a complicated process. As we mentioned earlier, you might find that moisturisers help your dry skin, but leave your nose feeling like it’s been slathered in olive oil or cleansers that irritate some parts of your skin, but not others. Not to mention that when you’re looking for plastic-free skincare or sustainable skincare, finding products that work for you becomes even harder.

At Whitfords, our botanical skincare products have been specifically formulated to be sensitive skin friendly, making it great for combination skin types and frustrations. So, here are our top tips for looking after your combination skin.


UV rays are one of the most damaging external factors that can affect your skin, and when you’re already dealing with dry and/or sensitive skin, it can make things worse. That’s why we always recommend you use SPF on your skin daily, even if it’s cold or rainy.

Use a Gentle Face Wash or Cleanser Daily

Removing the daily dirt and grime from your face is important in reducing the chance of infections, breakouts, and other skin conditions. When your skin feels oily, your instinctive reaction might be to reach for any cleansing product you can find. However, over-washing your skin can actually encourage it to produce more oil instead of less so just stick to morning and evening.

Make sure the cleanser you use doesn’t contain irritating ingredients like alcohol, certain sulphates, or soap.

We’re in the process of formulating a Whitfords cleanser that is friendly for sensitive skin, but also great to add to your daily combination skin skincare routine. Watch this space!

Avoid Toners with Alcohol

We only just mentioned why you need to avoid alcohol, but it’s so important that it’s worth mentioning twice. Toners are great if you have oily areas but, as with cleansers, you need to make sure the toner you’re using doesn’t use alcohol to strip the oils from your skin entirely.

Choose the Right Moisturiser

Finally, if you have slightly oily skin as part of your combination skin, you need to avoid very heavy products and make sure you regulate the amount you put on those oily areas.

Our Hemp and Algae Face Cream is formulated with ingredients that are quick to absorb and has a matte finish, so it’s great for hydrating normal skin areas without adding any slickness to your slightly oily skin areas. It can also be uses on dry skin areas, you just need to adjust the amount you apply.

For very dry skin areas, we recommend our Papaya & Bakuchiol Gel Serum.

We’ve replaced the animal-derived lanolin and the unsustainable petrolatum with plant-based ingredients, such as Cupuaçu Butter which penetrates the skin quickly and acts as a skin hydrator and plumper because it draws water from the environment helping retain moisture.

It also contains natural, non-irritant oils such as Jojoba and Marula, with a chemical structure very similar to human sebum (biomimetic), making them excellent matches for the wax/oil secreted by human skin.

We’re proud to say that our customers with combination skin report fantastic results with this product, so why not give it a try?

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Sources and further reading:

The Influence of Genetics and Environmental Factors in the Pathogenesis of Acne: A Twin Study of Acne in Women, Journal of Investigative Dermatology

Makrantonaki E, Bekou V, Zouboulis CC. Genetics and skin aging. Dermatoendocrinol. 2012;4(3):280-284. doi:10.4161/derm.22372

George R, Clarke S, Thiboutot D. Hormonal therapy for acne. Semin Cutan Med Surg. 2008 Sep;27(3):188-96. doi: 10.1016/j.sder.2008.06.002. PMID: 18786497

Wierckx K, Van de Peer F, Verhaeghe E, Dedecker D, Van Caenegem E, Toye K, Kaufman JM, T’Sjoen G. Short- and long-term clinical skin effects of testosterone treatment in trans men. J Sex Med. 2014 Jan;11(1):222-9. doi: 10.1111/jsm.12366. Epub 2013 Oct 31. PMID: 24344810

Piérard-Franchimont C, Piérard GE, Kligman AM. Rhythm of sebum excretion during the menstrual cycle. Dermatologica. 1991;182(4):211-3. doi: 10.1159/000247796. PMID: 1884855

Youn SW, Na JI, Choi SY, Huh CH, Park KC. Regional and seasonal variations in facial sebum secretions: a proposal for the definition of combination skin type. Skin Res Technol. 2005 Aug;11(3):189-95. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0846.2005.00119.x. PMID: 15998330

Rahrovan S, Fanian F, Mehryan P, Humbert P, Firooz A. Male versus female skin: What dermatologists and cosmeticians should know. Int J Womens Dermatol. 2018;4(3):122-130. Published 2018 Jun 22. doi:10.1016/j.ijwd.2018.03.002

Rawlings, A.V. (2006), Ethnic skin types: are there differences in skin structure and function?. International Journal of Cosmetic Science, 28: 79-93. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-2494.2006.00302.x

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