Combination Skin: The Secret You Need To Know

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So you think you have combination skin? Let me guess: you’ve taken at least a dozen quizzes online or from your favorite magazine and you’ve determined that you are the poster child for that obnoxious combination of oily and dry skin, but now what? Nothing fixes it, right? When you use products to clear your blemishes you get dry skin, yet the oil never goes away— in fact, it gets worse and you break out even more! It can be incredibly frustrating, you’ve probably tried everything, and you may feel ready to just give up and accept your skin fate. But, before you throw your hands up and wave the white flag to the Skin Gods, let me let you in on a big secret:

You don’t have combination skin.

Instead, you’ve got a skin condition that any skin type can experience— dehydration.  Oil isn’t the problem, lack of water is. When skin becomes dehydrated, it still needs to lubricate itself.  Unfortunately, your skin can’t make water to hydrate itself, but it can produce oil. So, when you are dehydrated, your skin will produce more oil to make up for the lack of water— because that’s all it can do to solve the dehydration problem. The dehydration gives the skin a tight dry feeling and the over production of oil leads to an oily t-zone, black heads, and small bumps causing a rough texture, usually on the forehead. This is the skin condition that is often referred to as “combination skin”.

The solution: water.  Seriously.

There are three main reasons skin gets dehydrated:

  1. Not consuming enough water.  Ideally, you want to try to drink 1 oz of water for every 2 pounds of body weight, per day (If you weigh 100 pounds, your target is 50 ozs of water every day).  In addition, if you routinely drink caffeine, carbonated beverages, or alcohol, you’ll need to drink extra water to make up for the dehydration those beverages cause. Doing this will ensure that your body has enough water on hand for all of your organs, including your skin.
  2. Stress. Stress dehydrates skin. Most of us have probably noticed that we have more skin problems when we are under stress.  This happens because the human body developed its stress management systems back when our stressors were things like being eaten by saber toothed tigers or trampled by wooly mammoths.  Unfortunately, your body can’t tell the difference between a deadline at work or whether you’re about to become dinner for Tigger, but it does know you’re stressed so it assumes your life is being threatened.  When this happens, your body helps you out by going into a “vital organ protection mode,” which means it chooses to re-route hydration and nutrients from some less critical organs to the organs that will keep you alive.  The first organ that gets cut off is your skin. It makes sense; it’s your largest organ, takes up a lot of resources, and unfortunately beautiful glowing skin isn’t on the list of things that keep you breathing. I know, I know, you might THINK having good skin is a life or death requirement, particularly when you’re stressing about that date next Friday, but your body doesn’t.  So take a deep breath, and relax.  Namaste.
  3. Self-Sabotage.  Using products that strip the skin of oil, which is common in most acne treatment products, will take away the excess oil your skin is producing to make up for the original lack of water.  Unfortunately, these products double the problem because they don’t just remove oil from your skin, but take water out of your skin, as well.  You can see how your body will quickly go into oil production overload— you’re already dehydrated, so your body is producing excess oil.  Now, you use a product that removes the oil, and also removes more water!  Your body simply has no other choice but to up the oil production as a consequence. Over-exfoliation is another common act of self-sabotage that exacerbates the issue.  When you exfoliate, you strip off dead skin cells, but you also remove some oil and water from your skin.  I always tell my clients that they should exfoliate once or twice a week at most. Any more than that, and you could be adding to your dehydration problem.

In addition to encouraging my new clients to drink more water, I always go over their current product usage to ensure that they are not over-exfoliating or using harmful products that will strip away your skin’s natural hydration.  Alcohol is a common ingredient in many beauty products, particularly astringent toners, but alcohol removes oil from your skin, which exacerbates your problems.

Instead of an astringent toner, I usually recommend a hydrating toner to give your skin a hand.  Hydrating toners are different from astringents— they do not contain alcohol, and instead of taking oil away, they put water in.  When you add water, your skin doesn’t have the need to produce as much oil and your face is happier!  Astringent toners can have their place in a beauty regimen, but theses uses are very specialized.  In general, I see far too many people using astringent toners who don’t realize they are worsening their problems!

My approach when treating any new client is to make note of the symptoms, but to focus on the underlying cause of a skin problem.  When dealing with combination skin problems, it’s critical to recognize that the underlying cause is a lack of water hydration— and treat that.  Treating oil production when you have a combination skin problem will only make your problems worse.  So, make sure you’re getting plenty of water, managing your stress, pick up a hydrating toner, and say hello to happier, healthier skin!

Check back every Sunday for a new topic and feel free to email me your questions or suggest a topic you’d like to see tackled!

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10 comments

  1. Very informative article! As a person who has combination skin, it gets tricky to learn how manage it, but as you mentioned, it’s important to treat the underlying cause. Hyaluronic acid or glycerin are my favorite ingredients to hydrate my face without making it breakout.

    1. Depends on your skin. In general I always ask 3 things to be true when selecting a cleanser: 1. No bars of soap 2. No exfoliating every day 3. It should never leave your skin feeling tight, dry, or squeaky clean. For better guidance on how to figure out what cleanser is best for you, check out the article on surfactant. Best, Meg

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