Combination Skin Guide: Oily T-Zone, Dry Cheeks

Although combination skin the most common skin type, it’s also the most complicated. In most cases, with combo skin, some parts of your face are as oily as an oil slick, while other parts are as dry as the Sahara.

Read on to find out more about combination skin and how to deal with it.

What is Combination Skin?

Defining combination skin isn’t as cut-and-dry as defining other skin types. Especially since there aren’t any medical/scientific parallels for it—like how oily skin is largely equivalent to seborrhea and dry skin is largely equivalent to xerosis.

That being said, there are generally three different definitions that are floating around the interwebs.

Combination skin is:

  1. When different areas of your face belong to different skin types. For example, a lot of the time, individuals with combination skin have an oily T-zone (forehead, nose, chin) and a dry U-zone (cheeks). But then again, you can qualify for combo skin in other ways—like by having a dry chin + normal cheeks, oily cheeks + a dry forehead, etc.
  2. When your skin type (permanent) is accompanied by a skin condition (temporary). In this case, let’s say you have oily skin (skin type) AND dehydrated skin (skin condition). So once you treat your dehydration, your skin will bounce back to its original state (oily).
  3. When your skin type changes with the changing seasons. The thing is, your skin reacts to its environment. Dry winters often lend themselves to dry skin, while hot, humid summers often lend themselves to oily skin. Likewise, you might find that your skin is dry and oily depending on the time of the year.

Moving forward, this article will mainly cover the first definition—it’s the most prevalent one out there.

Side note: In the early 1900s, cosmetic overlord, Helena Rubinstein, made skincare history by introducing a classification system for skin types. Although this system is pretty simplistic (consisting of only 4 skin types—oily, dry, sensitive, and combination) , it’s still widely regarded in the skincare world, especially when it comes to skincare marketing.

Do You Have Combination Skin: A Questionnaire

Diagnosing your skin type (objectively) isn’t easy. After all, many of us are hard on ourselves. So we magnify our flaws and minimize our strengths, especially when it comes to our skin.

The list below is meant to give you some insight into your skin type. Just make sure you’re not looking into a 10x mirror while you’re examining yourself.

  1. Do you have an oily t-zone (forehead, nose, chin), but are dry everywhere else? Or vice versa?
  2. Are the pores on your nose larger than they are on the rest of your face?
  3. When the weather changes, does your skin type change?
  4. Do you have an oily scalp but dry hair?

Answering yes to the questions above could very well indicate that you have some form combination skin.

Side note: If you think you have a serious skin issue, please go see a dermatologist. It’s the only way to get a proper diagnosis—seriously.

Cause #1: Genetics

Skin types are handed-down through genetics. And having combination skin is no different.

So if your parents have oily T-zones and dry cheeks, the chances that you’ll have an oily T-zone and dry cheeks is pretty high.

Side note: Even though genetics play a huge part in your skin type, age can also play a role. According to Pochi et al., sebaceous gland activity (aka the thing that secretes sebum/oil) peaks at puberty, stabilizes during late adolescence, and decreases during menopause for women or in your 80s for men. So your oily nose might not be so oily after you retire.

Cause #2: Seasonal Changes

If you’ve ever moved across the country and into a different climate zone, you’ve probably noticed your skin changed.

In 2005, Youn et al. embarked on a year-long study to see if skin types change seasonally. They found that skin became drastically oilier in the summertime, especially when it came to the T-zone. On this tune, it wasn’t uncommon to see dry skin types become combination skin types in the summer months.

The finding suggests that skin types aren’t fixed. Instead, they change to suit their environment.

Cause #3: A Harsh Skincare Routine

It’s easy to overdo it when it comes to scrubbing, chemical exfoliation, and/or any other enticing at-home treatment that’s available to you. The trouble with this is that, by doing these things frequently, you’re bound to compromise your skin’s outermost layer, making your oily areas even oilier and your dry areas even drier.

Tip #1: Use Gentle Products

Since your skin consists of more than one skin type, choosing gentle/neutral products can help you cope with the disparity.

Now, I know it’s tempting to use harsh products, especially when you’re trying to soften a super-oily T-zone. But by doing this, you’re skin won’t respond kindly. Often enough, you’re skin will kick its oil production into overdrive to compensate for the lack of oil.

Your best bet is to stay away from things that’ll make your skin too dry—like alcohol denat (in high quantities), surfactants, and astringents—-and things that’ll make your skin too oily—like heavy oils and occlusives.

That being said, not everyone reads skincare ingredients. That’s okay. You’ll know you’re dealing with a harsh product if it makes you feel tight or greasy on application.

Of course, everyone’s skin is different. Finding the right skincare products requires a lot of trial-and-error. A product that someone else considers “harsh” could be perfect for you.

Tip #2: Use Different Products In Different Areas

You might have heard about multi-masking from your Instagram feed—it’s the new “it” thing in skincare. The idea behind this is to use different masks on different parts of your face, depending on the skin type/skin concern.

So if you’re oily and dry, you can use a clay mask on your T-zone to tackle the oil and a hydrating mask on your U-zone to lock-in moisture.

But multi-masking isn’t the only thing that you can do.

Sure, sometimes you can get on just fine with a gel moisturizer (like Neutrogena’s Hydroboost Gel-Cream). Other times, you need more than one moisturizer—a mattifying one for your T-zone and a hydrating one for your U-zone.

Tip #3: Change Your Skincare Products Seasonally

Since winters are usually dry, your skin will need more moisture. At this time, you can usually tolerate heavier creams.

But since summers are usually hot and humid, your sebaceous glands produce more oil to cool you down. In this case, you might need to switch to a gel-based moisturizer, or at least something that’s light-weight, oil-free, and noncomedogenic—anything that doesn’t make you oilier.  

Final Thoughts

Most people have some form of combination skin. But that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with. Choosing the right techniques to balance out the different areas of your skin takes work. And once you think you’ve got everything under control, the season changes and you’re back to square one.

In dealing with combo skin, it might be helpful to learn about oily skin (here’s my oily skin guide) and dry skin (here’s my dry skin guide).