We’ve been told about skin types for as long as we can remember. Much like cleansing off our makeup at the end of the day, it’s been drilled into us from an early age by our mums, our favourite mags and adverts on the telly. “First step: identify whether you’re dry, oily or combination. Second step: build a routine to match.” Ask the UK’s leading experts though, and they’re divided on how prudent an approach this strategy actually is to optimal skin health.
The fact is, our skin type is largely determined by our genetics, the environment and the products we put on our face, and while our genetics may not have changed much, our evolving skincare habits and self-diagnosed supercharged formulas are having a sway on the oiliness (of lack of oiliness) in our skin.
It seems the products we’re using are both the cause and the solution. In its 2019 Beauty Report, retailer Net-A-Porter noted the rise in popularity of targeted treatments like masks and serums. “One major change we are seeing is that our women now don’t talk about skin type, but about skin condition,” they say. “And customers are now buying for this, whether their skin is dehydrated after flying, dull from long days at work.” Rather than sticking to the products within our skin ‘type’ category, we’re responding to the changing needs of our skin daily to ensure it has what it needs, when it needs it.
“Many people have a combination of dry patches, ageing, pigment, fine lines or blocked pores – so focusing on prominent skin concerns is the solution. Your skin changes constantly due to lifestyle, environment, hormones, the products you use, diet, climate, etc, so it’s hugely important to change your skincare accordingly,” says A-list facialist, Sarah Chapman.
“For example, your skin might feel dry and dehydrated one week, but oily and prone to blemishes the next. Similarly, the seasons can affect your skin, with pigmentation issues more common in the summer months, while the winter can cause problems with the skin barrier, leading to redness and sensitivity,” she says. “With this in mind, you should be prepared with your skincare to accommodate the subtle changes in your skin from week to week, or customise your products in times of need. For example, you could try mixing my Overnight Exfoliating Booster with your cleanser if your skin is feeling a little congested, while adding in a vitamin C serum can add a brightening boost.”
Top facialist, Teresa Tarmey is also skeptical of skin types. “It’s such an old fashioned way to view the skin,” she says. “Especially from a professional’s point of view. A client’s skin changes from day to day. Maybe they’re in the sun, in the mountains or simply tired and dehydrated.”
But, while it’s beneficial to monitor the daily changes in our complexion, keeping an eye on the overall behaviour of our skin can help hugely, according to consultant dermatologist, Dr Anjali Mahto. “It’s important to look at the overall patterns of your skin over a longer period of time (months),” she says. Otherwise we could fall victim to “instant short term” solutions, without looking at the bigger picture.
“Understanding your base skin type is key for effective management and age prevention,” agrees Sara Waterman, Head Aesthetician at beauty destination, YoungLDN. But, like Chapman and Tarmey, she believes, “the products you use and how you care for your skin can change seasonally, environmentally and depending on any activities or habits you participate in.”
The problem, all of the experts concur, is that without proper guidance, we can misdiagnose and mistreat our skin. “There’s much more education out there,” says Teresa. “Sadly, sometimes it’s the wrong education though. Everyone is overdoing it: over-thinking it and overloading their skin.” It’s an issue they see in their clinics repeatedly. “Over using exfoliating products for acne, for example, can lead to a dry sensitised skin. It’s very important to not only exfoliate the skin, but to ensure the essential moisture is put back into the skin,” says Sara. “Overly stripping oil will only lead to more production to compensate. This is a common mistake when treating acne.” It means, if we’re not careful, we can shift our skin type, making it drier, oilier or more sensitised, by not properly addressing our skin condition.
Bewildering though this advice may seem, the general consensus is that treating our skin condition can be a thoroughly helpful way of achieving healthy skin – if you know what you’re doing. The best approach is to be gentle, introducing subtle skincare additions steadily and sensibly, rather than chopping and changing in high-powered formulas on a whim. It means you’re pretty safe with mellow ingredients like hyaluronic acid if your skin is dry, or vitamin e if it’s a little sensitive. But for mightier ingredients like retinol, vitamin C and exfoliating acids, easy does it. Start slow and build up your tolerance. And, if you’re not sure? “Ask the advice of a trained professional,” says Sara.