the best skincare routine for combination skin

You think dealing with oily or dry skin is bad? Trying dealing with both. At the same time.

Combination skin is a nightmare. I know because I have it.

When I use products for oily skin, I banish the shine only to get drier cheeks. If I opt for richer formulas, my cheeks are happy, but everywhere else it’s breakout galore.

Argh! What’s a girl to do?

After dealing with it for more than a decade now, I figured out some tips and tricks to take good care of combination skin. Here’s how:

Combination Skin: What Are The Symptoms?

First things first. Let’s make sure you really have combination skin. Here are the symptoms:

  • Your t-zone shines brighter than a diamond, but your cheeks dry out and flake like a pie crust.
  • You hope it’ll never happen again, but you know the next breakout is just around the corner.
  • Those pores on your t-zone are getting more and more visible every day.

Related: 3 Science-Backed Ways To Shrink Large Pores (What Really Works)

What Causes Combination Skin?

Oil glands that refuse to cooperate. Seriously.

Those on your t-zone (forehead, nose, and chin) are workhaolics that produce way too much oil than your skin needs. The excess oil clogs up your pores, stretching them out and causing pimples.

Those on your cheeks are lazy. They don’t produce enough sebum (skin’s natural moisturizer). Without it, skin dries out and flakes.

Related: Everything You Need To Know About Sebum And Your Skin

Don’t know which skincare products you can mix and match together and which ones deactivate each other? Download your FREE “How To Layer Actives Like A Pro” cheat sheet to get the most out of your skincare products:

How Do You Treat Combination Skin?

The key to say “bye bye combination skin” is to find a balance. You need to keep oil production under control on your t-zone without drying out drier areas.

Sadly, this often means using two sets of products. Those for oily skin on oily areas, and those for dry skin on dry areas. I know it’s a pain, but it works:

cosrx low ph good morning gel cleanser 02

1. Use A Gentle Cleanser

Don’t be tempted by harsh cleansers. They don’t keep the shine away for long and dry out your drier areas even more.

I like to use a pH-balanced foaming cleanser in the morning to get rid of the little dirt that deposited on my face during the night. They’re usually gentle enough for the entire face.

At night, I opt for cream or oil-based cleansers that melts away makeup in minutes and replenish oil as they strip it away.

Or you can totally go down the two products route and use a foaming cleanser on your oily areas and a cream cleanser on your drier areas.

Best Picks:

Related: Are Foaming Cleansers Bad For Skin?

2. If You Must Use A Toner…

Personally, I’d skip it, but if you really want one for your combination skin, choose a hydrating formula rich in antioxidants to help fight the premature signs of aging.

Whatever you do, stay away from alcohol-laden toners. They only dry out your skin.

Best Picks:

Related: Do You Really Need A Toner?

nip + fab glycolic fix liquid glow extreme 6% review

3. Exfoliate The Right Way

Combination skin is the only skin type that would benefit from more than one exfoliating acid.

I’m a huge fan of salicylic acid (BHA) for those oily areas. It gets inside the pores, removing all the excess oil and dead cells clogging them up. Bye bye pimples and blackheads! Of course, it exfoliates the surface of your skin, too.

On the drier areas, I’d stick to glycolic acid (AHA). It exfoliates the surface of your skin AND boosts hydration.

If you only want to use one, go with salicylic acid. Glycolic won’t do much for your pimples and blackheads. Or, better yet, use an exfoliant that has both. 🙂

Related: AHAs VS BHA: Which One Should You Choose?

4. Use A Hydrating Serum

Hydrating serums are perfect for combination skin. They contain humectants, i.e. moisture magnets that attract moisture from the air into the skin. The most famous members of the family are glycerin and hyaluronic acid.

Humectants are great for combo skin because they hydrate you all over without adding extra oil. You know what that means?

No greasiness. No shine. No breakouts. Just soft, supple skin.

Bonus points if the serum has antioxidants, too.

Best Picks:

Related: What The Heck Are Humectants And Why Should You Use Them?

niod multi-molecular hyaluronic complex

5. Use Two Moisturizers

I know, I know, this sucks. But, I find it really is the best recipe for combination skin.

Dry areas need occlusive formulas that can lock in moisture, but those are usually too heavy for oily skin. Oil-free moisturizers work best there.

Oil-free moisturisers are awesome because they contain emollients that act like oil. They lock in moisture but without adding more oil to the oily areas.

Best Picks:

Related: Oily Skin? Why You Need An Oil-Free Moisturiser

6. Wear Sunscreen

I don’t care what your excuse is, you need sunscreen. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. How else are you going to protect your skin from wrinkles, sun spots, cancer, and all the damage UV rays cause?

Just choose a lightweight one, so you can use it comfortably all over your face, oily t-zone included.

Best Picks:

  • EltaMD UV Pure Broad-Spectrum SPF 47 ($25.00): available at Dermstore and Walmart
  • Shiseido Ultimate Sun Protection SPF 50 Sunscreen + WetForce For Sensitive Skin & Children ($42.00): available at  Nordstrom and Ulta
  • Skinceuticals Physical Fusion UV Defense SPF 50 ($34.00): available at Blue Mercury and Dermstore

Related: 6 Things To Look For When Buying Sunscreen

how bubble masks work

7. Use Clay Masks

But only on oily areas. They absorb excess oil, so it doesn’t get trapped in your pores and give you breakouts. Twice a week is enough.

Again (I can’t stress this enough!), avoid dry cheeks. Removing the little oil there only dries them out more.

Best Picks:

Related:All You Ever Wanted To Know About Bentonite Clay

8. Blot, Blot, Blot

If your t-zone gets shiny throughout the day, use an oil-blotting sheet to blot the oil away. It does the job quickly without ruining your makeup. Phew!

  • Boscia Green Tea Blotting Paper ($10.00): available at Sephora

Related: The Trick To Keep Oily Skin Shine-Free In Summer