Oily vs. Combination Skin: How to Tell Which One You Have

When they both involve unwanted grease, it’s hard to tell the difference sometimes.
BY Sarah Lim
| Last updated Apr, 2023
Oily vs. Combination Skin

Your forehead constantly needs oil-blotting papers and mattifying moisturizer, and your cheeks seem fine. But it’s also dry and hot where you live, and maybe that’s what’s dehydrating you below the eye zone. So, should you consider your skin oily or combo? If you’re wondering what the distinction between oily vs. combination skin is, you’ve come to the right place.

These two skin types are often confused with one another because they share a few common characteristics. People with both skin types can have oily skin at times and drier skin at other times.

When you’re wondering if you have oily or combination skin, a few telltale signs can help you see the difference and know what you’re dealing with. Here’s how to tell which skin type you have when it comes to these two!

Oily Skin: Your Skin Is Almost Always Oily

Skin Is Almost Always Oily

You probably have oily skin if you’re one of those who can’t go a day without washing their hair.

Your skin may look greasy or oily almost all the time, except right after washing it (and if you’re using a harsh cleanser, your oily skin may even look dry or flaky for a short time after cleansing). Skin can also feel oily and have a rougher appearance than dry skin.

People with oily skin produce an excess of sebum, the skin’s natural oil, which results in oily or shiny skin. If you have oily skin, you may also have enlarged pores. This can make your skin look more bumpy or rough than dry or normal skin.

Oily skin types are also more prone to acne thanks to excessive sebum production. Individuals with oily skin are more susceptible to blackheads, whiteheads, and acne outbreaks.

Fortunately, by keeping skin moisturized and balanced, you can help reduce oil production, the greasy appearance of the skin, and large pores

Combination Skin: Your Skin Is Both Dry and Oily

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When it comes to oily vs. combination skin, one of the most significant differences is that combination skin types often experience dry areas of skin in addition to oily areas. While you may think you have oily skin, you may actually have combination skin if you also consistently see dryness.

If you’re wondering if you have oily or combination skin, one of the easiest ways to tell is to notice if you have an oily T-zone, which includes your forehead, nose, and chin, but have dry cheeks. If so, you’re most likely a combination skin type. However, if your entire face is oily and you have large pores and are prone to acne, you probably have classic oily skin.

Combination skin types also tend to see more changes in their skin with seasonal or hormonal changes. For example, combination skin types may mimic oily skin types in the summer, when humidity tends to be high and dry skin is less common. People with combination skin may have more oily-like or dry skin during hormonal changes such as menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause

Combination skin types have both oily and dry skin, whereas oily skin types always have oily skin. This is the easiest way to tell the difference between combination and oily skin types. If you regularly see dry areas of skin along with oily areas, you’re probably a combination skin type.

Combination skin types can benefit from moisturizing, toning, and gentle cleansers to help prevent too much excess oil while also caring for dry areas of skin. 

What Causes These Two Skin Types?

What Causes These Two Skin Types

If you’re wondering whether you have oily or combination skin, you may wonder what causes these two skin types and their differences.

Your genes determine your skin type, just like they determine many things about you. However, they aren’t the only thing that can cause either oily or combination skin. Hormones can cause more oily skin, as can humid climates. If these two environmental factors cause more oily skin, you most likely have combination skin rather than traditional oily skin.

If you have truly oily skin, it will generally stay oily no matter what, while combination skin types may see more oily skin in the summer and drier skin in the winter, especially in their T-zone areas. You likely have combination skin, if your skin type is more prone to fluctuating.

Although skin types don’t typically change, your skin will change as part of the natural aging process, and you may see drier, thinner skin in general as you get older. So, your oily skin may not necessarily feel oily forever.

Skin Care for Oily vs. Combination Skin

Skin Care for Oily vs. Combination Skin

Truth is that trying to dry out skin will only make oily skin and oily areas of combination skin worse. It is certainly tempting to want to get rid of oily skin by using harsh cleansers and skipping moisturizers. The dryness will trigger your skin to produce even more oil, which causes the opposite effect.

You can use a gentle cleanser designed for your skin type that won’t overly moisturize but won’t strip the skin of its natural protective oils. Combination skin types will need an even gentler cleanser to help protect dry areas of skin.

Even if you have oily skin, you should always moisturize. Oily skin types tend to benefit from a lighter moisturizer year-round. In contrast, combination skin types may need a more lightweight moisturizer in the summer and a heavier one in the winter. Combination skin types may also need to use two different moisturizers for different areas of their skin.

Daily cleansing, moisturizing, and toning can help balance these skin types. Products with salicylic acid may also help oily skin types that struggle with acne or frequent breakouts. Use sunscreen to protect your skin from premature aging regardless of whether you have oily or combination skin.

Don’t Forget to Take Our Free Quiz

Finding out YOUR skin type can be similar to an “aha!” moment, especially when you realize all the signs point to a specific skin type. If you don’t know if you have oily vs. combination skin, don’t forget to take our free skin type quiz while you’re here to find out!

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