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What is combination skin?

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Combination skin is characterised by an oily T-zone. This is the section which spreads across the forehead and down the centre of the face. The cheeks tend to be less oily or sometimes dry. It is essentially a combination of two skin types, where people experience dry skin on the cheeks and excess oil production across the forehead and down the centre of the face. In this article, find out what causes combination skin, if you have it and how to treat it.

What causes combination skin?

Sebaceous glands across the face secrete an oily substance called sebum. These glands are more common across the chin, nose and forehead, which is why people with combination skin experience an oily T-zone. Combination skin stems from an imbalance in sebum production, where the skin can produce extra oil in an attempt to protect the skin's barrier.

  • Weather: Weather can play a large part in this skin response. Different climates, like cold or humid air, can make it easier or harder for your skin to stay hydrated, triggering a response from your oil glands to keep the skin balanced and protected. Changes in these climates can add to the confusion.
  • Stress: Lack of sleep or stress can also make combination skin more problematic since our stress hormone cortisol stimulates extra oil production.
  • Harsh Skincare: Picking the right skincare for your skin is important. A lot of skincare products on the market contain stripping ingredients that may show results in the short term, but can break down your skin's moisture barrier in the long term. This will make your skin have to work even harder to keep the skin in equilibrium.

Though it may seem like the answer is to clean away the excess oil production, it is actually your skin's response to thinking it’s too dry.

Cleaning away the natural oil will in turn cause higher oil production as a protective response.

People with combination skin want to care for their dry skin whilst managing their oily skin. For this reason look for gentle ingredients which support the skin barrier. 

Do I have combination skin?

headshot of female with T-zone illustrated to indicate oily areas for combination skin
An oily T-zone is characteristic of combination skin

A telltale sign that you might have combination skin is if you notice different skin textures across your face. People with dry skin generally won’t have oily parts and people with oily skin won’t find dry patches. 

If you are unsure of your skin type, a simple trick is to wash your face and wait. See how your skin behaves without the interference of any products. Analyse where any oily or dry parts appear. Then you can determine where you are on the dry-combination-oily scale.

To identify dry and oily zones you can lookout for a few key characteristics:

  • Oily areas will usually appear across the T-zone but can appear in less common areas of the face. You will notice shininess, larger pores and may find you are more prone to acne in these areas. 
  • Dry skin will appear flaky, rough and sometimes be characterised by redness. 

How to treat combination skin

In some cases, combination skin can be due to external factors and therefore it is possible to achieve ‘normal’ skin. Using suitable products for your skin type and avoiding external stressors can help reduce the oiliness whilst keeping the dry patches hydrated. 

There is however a hereditary aspect which means in many cases you can only manage combination skin without reversing it.

Avoid harsh ingredients

white product on a purple background
Harsh ingredients can do more harm than good to combination skin

Stripping ingredients will often cause skin to overcompensate by secreting extra oil. This is why gentle and protective ingredients are always the way to go. Look for scientifically supported skincare products that don’t add lots of unnecessary ingredients, like the Eucerin DermatoClean range. Fragrances can make the product smell nice but aren't necessarily the best thing for your skin's long term health.

Opt for non-comedogenic

Comedogenic ingredients can clog pores which lead to blemishes. This might not be an issue if you have dry skin, however those with combination or oily skin may find issues with these ingredients. When looking for a nourishing moisturiser, check if it is non-comedogenic, that way the oils can lock in moisture without clogging pores. The Eucerin DermoPurifyer range has been specially formulated for those with oily skin.

Attend to the dry parts first

Though it may feel overwhelming to be caring for two skin-types at once, you should focus on supporting the dry sections first as these are more vulnerable. Once you’ve found what works from these you may notice improvement to the oily parts. It can also be helpful to use your oily skin products only on your T-zone. 


Dehydration can trigger excessive oil production as an attempt to return the skin to equilibrium. Therefore adding hydration can help the oily parts at the same time as soothing the dry parts. Don’t be afraid to add moisture to oily skin.

Skin barrier supporting

Look out for ingredients that repair the skin barrier as this is your skin's natural defence system against skin imbalances. Niacinamide is great for this and also helps to reduce the visibility of enlarged pores.

Combination skin types

There are variations within the combination skin type. Though the oily sections tend to fall along the T-zone, this zone can vary in size. 

As well as variations between where different peoples' oilier zones spread, combination skin also changes with the season. Summer months are associated with oilier skin and some people with combination skin will find they are more or less vulnerable to this change in seasons.

Acne-prone combination skin

close up photograph of forehead acne
Blemishes on the forehead can be common in those with combination skin

Acne prone combination skin describes those who experience breakouts in addition to combination skin characteristics. The acne can be a result of clogged pores leading to breakouts or blemishes.

Extreme combination skin

People with extreme combination skin experience a wider difference between the oily and dry parts of their skin. Their problem areas are more extreme so require more specific attention.

What should combination skin types avoid?

Whilst there are many options to help support combination skin, there are also stressors which can exasperate it. Making sure you treat your skin in the most gentle way will help stop it from drying or overproducing oil as a protective response.

Avoid touching your face

Though it can be tempting to fuss over your problem areas, this can increase the risk of clogged pores and blemishes. The best thing you can do between skincare applications is leave it alone.

Avoid using physical exfoliators

Physical exfoliants may feel like they are more effective but in reality can be much too harsh on all skin types. Chemical exfoliants gently break down dirt, debris and dead skin cells without physically disrupting them. Learn more about how to exfoliate safely.

Avoid hot showers

Woman leaving hot shower
Hot showers can affect sensitive skin

Hot showers can strip the skin and compromise the skin barrier. What might feel too cold on your body could be the right temperature for the delicate skin on your face, making it hard to judge the right shower temperature. Keep your showers cool, particularly when washing your face, or wash your face separately at the sink.

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