In general, skin types are hereditary, and are the result of oil gland function. One type is dry, another oily, and others are a combination of the two. Things can get a little tricky when an oily skin type has flaky, rough, seemingly dry skin. But that’s what we would call a skin condition.
Skin conditions are generally not hereditary and can be influenced by a number of factors. They develop and manifest differently in different skin types, leading to many combinations that make everyone’s skin unique. Let’s look at these concepts in more detail, beginning with the predominant skin types.
We believe “normal” is a poor descriptive term, best left for use on washing machines. But since the word seems to have become an industry standard we will go ahead with it. “Normal” skin looks soft, moist, plump, and has a healthy glow and color. The surface layer, otherwise known as the corneum layer, shows a fine texture, without easily detectable wrinkles, fine lines, or open pores. The best example of normal skin is that of children, however some people are blessed with having this desirable skin type all the way into adulthood.
Some people’s skin type can change as they age. For example, someone who had oily skin during their youth may end up with normal skin as they grow into adulthood due to the slowing of oil gland function. While that might make things easier, normal skin still needs proper care. Maintaining normal skin requires adequate hydration, good blood circulation, and a balanced cell turnover rate. Proper cleansing is also critical, as over-drying normal skin can turn it into a red, blotchy mess. A good moisturizer is the perfect safeguard and no cleanse is complete without it. Occasional exfoliation can help keep normal skin looking fresh and radiant (once or twice a week is good for most with this skin type).
Oily skin is the blessing and curse of those with overactive sebaceous glands. The oil production of the skin is controlled by hormones called androgens, which we all know are especially active in teenagers. Oily skin is shiny, thick and generally prone to breakouts. Pores usually look enlarged (due to oil trapped within), and tend to be very susceptible to dehydration due to overprocessing. The upside is that oily skin has the potential to look fantastic as we age. If properly cared for, it will retain its plumpness and moistness exceptionally well.
Cleansing and exfoliating are key components to dealing with oily skin. Alpha hydroxyacids, salicylic acid, enzymes and fine scrubs help to balance oily skin by reducing hyperkeratosis (build up of dead skin cells). Clay masks are useful with oily skin types because they draw out impurities from the pores and “tighten” them. Essential oils are also great for oily skin types, as they typically have potent antibacterial properties, which help prevent infections. Cleansing oily skin is a must, but one must be careful not to over do it. Stripping all the oil from the skin sends a message to oil glands that they need to produce more oil! Gel moisturizers or serums during the day and a gel moisturizer or a balancing facial oil at night is ideal for balancing oily skin. Yes, you heard me right: oil on oily skin. If it is a high quality oil, it will regulate oil gland activity, making your skin less prone to overactive sebum production, and therefore less oily, and less inflammed. Look for facial oils with antiseptic essential oils mixed in. The combination keeps bacteria at bay while regulating oil activity.
Dry skin is a result of underactive sebaceous gland activity. As we age, our oil glands start to produce less oil, so one’s skin type could very well go from oily to dry over the course of their life. However most people who have dry skin are generally born with it. These skin types are generally fair skinned and fair haired with very little oil to coat the surface of their skin.
Dry skin is very prone to dehydration and tends to be sensitive due to the lack of “glue” that holds the top layer of the skin together. Dry skin can be characterized as very fine, thin, with invisible pores. Dry skin is also very prone to aging. The skin tends to wrinkle easily and may often be found to have superficial lines and creases. Dry skin needs a lot of hydration (think high performace serums and facial oils), occlusive moisturizers (to hold moisture in), very light exfoliation, and daily antioxidant and sun protection.
All skin conditions develop over time and are a result of environmental factors (air quality, water purity, product composition, stress levels, nutrition or lack of, hormone levels, etc). It is important to treat skin according to skin type as well as the condition of the skin at the current time. We will touch upon the most common skin conditions here but this can be tricky, and each person’s skin is unique. Unless you’ve got experience and a solid knowledge base, it is worth seeking out an esthetician you can trust for some expert guidance.
It is important to note the difference between dry and dehydrated skin. Dry skin means there is a lack of oil, while dehydrated skin means there is a lack of water. Dehydrated skin is one of the most common skin conditions, regardless of skin type. Dehydrated skin will usually appear visibly dry, scaly, flaky, and will be rough or uneven to the touch. A dehydrated skin condition can be caused by excessive perspiration, lack of sufficient sebum (oil), poor metabolism, and/or insufficient water intake. It can be further aggravated by too much exposure to sun or wind, using inappropriate skin care products, washing with harsh soaps, drinking too much tea/coffee/alcohol/soda, or using diuretics (substances that cause you to urinate more frequently).
As noted earlier, dehydrated skin can develop in all skin types. Dry skin is particularly vulnerable because thin/dry skin has difficulty retaining inner moisture in general. Oily skin can become dehydrated through the use of harsh soaps and excessive application of astringents in efforts to dry the skin out. Unfortunately, when oily skin becomes dehydrated, the surface cells harden up and block oil from escaping the pores. The result is an entrapment of oils under the skin, i.e. blackheads. When blackheads become infected, they become pustules, often red and inflamed.
When caring for dehydrated skin, hydration serums and protective moisturizers combined with a healthy water intake is the best approach. Sometimes dehydrated skin needs a thorough exfoliation to slough off dead skin, clearing the way for your facial creams to do what they are supposed to do. Serums, with their smaller molecular composition, should be applied first after cleansing or exfoliating because they will then penetrate deeper into the skin. A protective moisturizer has ingredients that are able to form a thin layer of film on the skin’s surface, greatly reducing the loss of inner moisture, and should therefore be applied after serums.
Couperose is temporary or chronic redness appearing on the face. It appears as small, bright red blood vessels around the nose, chin and cheeks, and is the result of poor elasticity in the capillary walls. If the capillary wall is not sufficiently elastic it will expand but fail to contract back to its original size. If you have this skin condition it is important to refrain from excessive rubbing and extreme temperatures. Products with soothing, vasoconstriction properties are best for this condition, working optimally when paired with increased water intake. Couperose skin is usually categorized as sensitive, however, there are some sensitive skin conditions that do not include broken or visible capillaries.
Sensitivity can occur in any skin type and is often difficult to diagnose. Some people have a sensitivity reaction to a product and then conclude that they have categorically sensitive skin. While this could be the case, it’s important to understand that everyone’s skin is unique. The skin demonstrates sensitivity when the stratum corneum (topmost layer) is damaged and products penetrate directly into the deeper layers of the skin. The skin’s own chemical components, bacterial flora, and pH may interact with a product’s chemical components and cause an undesirable reaction. When observing a sensitizing reaction to something, we should only conclude that the chemical makeup of the individual’s skin was not compatible with the chemical makeup of the product. However, if a pattern of sensitivity is seen over time, and to multiple stimuli or products, then we can classify someone’s skin as truly “sensitive”.
Sensitive skin is characterized by redness, itching, burning, and in some cases, fluid filled pustules. Factors that can aggravate or induce sensitivity include synthetic fragrances, preservatives, parabens, mineral oils, some chemical sunscreens, prolonged steaming or heat, and medicated ingredients added to products. People with sensitive skin should use gentle and delicate cosmetic products with little to no added preservatives or fragrances. Look for anti-inflammatory products with aloe vera, arnica, chamomile and oatmeal.
The epidermis, our surface skin, has multiple layers with specific functions. Pigment cells, or melanocytes, are found in the lowest layer of the epidermis where they are produced and generated whenever skin needs extra protection from trauma, sun exposure, or hormonal imbalances. Usually, melanocytes are distributed evenly with short term sun exposure as a way of protecting the skin from harm. Pigmentation becomes problematic whenever there is an uneven distribution of melanin produced due to prolonged sun exposure, or damage to the deeper layers of the skin. The rate of melanin production varies from person to person and from race to race, greater in darker skinned people. Asian skin and fairer skin types are particularly susceptible to increased melanin production as a mechanism to protect the skin from internal cellular damage.
Treating pigmentation is very difficult and usually requires lots of patience. Bleaching agents such as hydroquinone are often used and are known to be the best topical treatment for hyperpigmentation. However, use of this treatment creates an even greater need to wear sun protection during the day as it can make your skin extremely sensitive to the sun! Hydroquinone is also criticized for being a potential carcinogen, so take caution and do some research if you decide to go this route. More natural ingredients to look for in anti-pigmentation products are kojic acid, licorice root, vitamin C, seaweed or laminaria, essential oils, and azelaic acid.
Aging skin is recognized by its poor elasticity, lack of firmness, sagging from loosening of fibroblasts in the dermis, dryness, dehydration, fine lines, and age spots. Skin aging is a complex, biological process affecting multiple layers of the skin; most significantly the dermis, where collagen and elastin live. We also see evidence of epidermal aging as cell turnover cycles dramatically slow down after the age of 30. The aging process of the skin is typically accelerated by nutritional deficiencies within the different tissues, cellular destruction through excessive sun exposure, free radical damage (caused by UV radiation, poor nutrition, and as a natural by-product of cellular repair), cellular DNA damage, and a decrease in cellular proliferation. The result is a loss of elasticity, reduced ability of the skin to retain water and cellular moisture, and a less efficient replication and renewal process.
Prophylactic skin care is the best way to fight aging skin, as it is much easier to prevent damage than to correct damage. A healthy diet full of antioxidants, omega fatty acids, and healthy fats is the best way to prevent premature aging of the skin. Adequate fluid intake is equally important as it keeps our lymphatic and circulatory system free from toxic wastes that buildup in cells, which ultimately damages the capillary-filled dermal layer. Appropriate sun protection, vitamin A, alpha hydroxyl acids, glycolic acids, vitamin C, and other advanced cosmetic ingredients are powerful tools for retaining a youthful glow. While there is no way to fully prevent the aging process of the skin, a personalized skin care regime, which includes a healthy diet along with top quality skin care products, can slow aging dramatically.
Acne appears as red or white pustules and papules on the skin. In most cases, acneic skin comes from an oily skin type with excessive proliferation of sebum and with an accumulation of blackheads and clogged pores. Acne is usually the result of active androgen hormones (that produce sebum), oil production from sebaceous glands, and the presence of a particular skin bacteria known as Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes). Acne seen in dry skin types is usually a result of poor pH balance on the skin. Some of the many factors known to aggravate acne include improper skin cleansing and inappropriate selection of products, hormonal imbalances, stress, food allergies, lack of nutrients in the diet, and insufficient acidity in the skin (a high skin pH is associated with a lack of resistance to bacterial infections). Those with acne should practice a good cleansing routine at home and should refrain from over drying the skin. The most effective products are those with ingredients that regulate oil gland secretion, hydrate, balance pH, and reduce inflammation.