Skin School: Skin types, conditions and finding the right skincare

Dry skin, acne, oily skin, hyperpigmentation…with so many skin terms to decipher between, it’s no wonder most of us aren’t using the right skincare. Here’s how to find the right regime for you…

Hands up if you’ve tried countless skincare products to combat a particular skin concern, but nothing seems to have worked? Or you find yourself using a whole bunch of serums and creams, but don’t really understand what they’re for, or if they’re actually doing anything? 

Finding the right skincare isn’t easy. That’s because the skin is the largest organ in the body with so many different jobs to do – there are a large number of different cells, all with different functions and needs, which makes prescribing a regime for yourself a minefield.

We want to share as much advice as we can with you in this guide, but in order to guarantee proper diagnosis and treatment, professional guidance is so important. A skin specialist will be able to prescribe you medical-grade skincare, which contains active ingredients that work on skin health at a cellular level, giving you very targeted and noticeable results.

There are a lot of factors to take into consideration when finding the right regime for your skin. One of the most common mistakes we can make is getting our skin type and skin conditions confused, which results in us misdiagnosing and incorrectly treating what’s happening with our skin. 

So what’s the difference between skin type and skin condition? And how can you use this information to find the right skincare regime for you? Let’s find out…

Skin type vs. skin condition, explained

Skin types and skin conditions are often mixed up, which can lead to us choosing the wrong products for our skin. For example, if your skin is tight and feels dry, you might think, “Oh, I must have a dry skin type” and seek out rich moisturisers, oils and creams, when in actual fact your skin is dehydrated, which is a skin condition and can actually be experienced by all skin types – oily skin, included.

Those rich creams then only serve to make your dehydrated skin worse, as what your skin really needs is to be stimulated in order to kickstart its natural moisturising processes (something that moisturisers and creams suppress – read more about my no-moisturiser stance over here).

What is a skin type?

A skin type is how our skin behaves, which is largely determined by genetics. Your type is based on everything from pore size and sebum (oil) production to lipid levels and whether or not it has heightened skin reactivity. 

Generally speaking, your skin type will stay the same your whole life, although a few factors can alter it such as chemotherapy, taking medication such as roaccutane and during hormonal changes, such as pregnancy and menopause. 

There are four core skin types:

  • Normal: Your skin will have uniform small, yet visible pores across the face and rarely has an oily shine on the centre of the face, even at the end of a long day.
  • Oily: Your skin will have large pores that are visible over most of the face and towards the hairline. The skin tends to be thicker and develops an oily shine in the morning and/or shortly after cleansing. What’s confusing about this skin type is that you may not have any visible shine, and think your skin feels dry, but if you’re experiencing rosacea, acne or seborrheic dermatitis then your skin is, in fact, oily. 
  • Dry: Your skin will have very fine, nearly invisible pores with no oily shine. The skin will be thinner, more delicate and prone to flaking and sensitivity, with a rough texture and fine lines. It’s very unlikely that you would have experienced acne in your teenage years and you will have probably experienced dry skin conditions, such as eczema or dermatitis.
  • Combination: At Kate Kerr London, we don’t view this as a ‘true’ skin type as it’s usually caused by external elements, such as skincare, diet and other lifestyle factors. For example, when normal skin becomes dehydrated, it can over-produce oil, leading to combination skin. Similarly, when oily skin becomes dehydrated, it can cause tightness, so balancing the skin will revert your skin back to its true skin type. We often see clients who come to us assuming they have dry skin and acne, because they have no visible shine, when actually, their skin is just oily and dehydrated.

How to identify your skin type

An easy way to figure out your skin type is to see how it performs from morning to evening on a typical day. If by the end of the day, your face looks and feels oily, you likely have an oily skin type. 

If your T-zone looks oily, but the rest of the face feels tight, looks matte and is possibly flaky, then something may have caused your skin to become a combination skin and we need to explore why that might be. 

If you have no visible oil, breakouts, congestion, flakiness or redness, then all signs point to normal, or if it’s flaky and tight, and you’ve never had acne previously (including as a teenager) then your skin will likely be dry.

Remember, dehydrated skin is not a skin type, but a skin condition – you can have dehydrated skin that’s also oily, combination, or all of the above. It really is very tricky! 

Sometimes there are too many factors at play, and figuring out your skin type might not be so clear-cut. Booking a consultation with a clinical facialist or skin specialist takes the guesswork out of it all and you’ll be given professional advice about products and home care.

What is a skin condition?

Whereas your skin type – for the most part – stays the same, your skin condition is the state of your skin at the present moment and is influenced by everything from the weather, diet and stress, to pollution and how it responds to skincare products. It can even change as you move through different phases of life.  

Skin conditions include:

  • Acne: You will notice blackheads, whiteheads, papules (red, raised bumps), pustules (red spots with a pustular head) and sometimes nodules (solid, painful lumps) and cysts (large bumps that contain pus). Acne is always an oily skin condition, even if the skin appears tight and has no visible oil. It is characterised by an overproduction of oil, irregular cell turnover, acne bacteria and inflammation. 
  • Hyperpigmentation: Your skin will have irregular discolouration, which occurs when your skin produces too much melanin (the pigment that gives skin its colour). This excess melanin is then distributed unevenly into the surrounding cells, which shows up as brown patches, ephiledes (freckles), melasma and sun damage.
  • Hypopigmentation: Much like hyperpigmentation, hypopigmentation causes the skin to have irregular discolouration. With this skin condition, the skin’s melanocytes – the cells responsible for distributing pigment to the skin – don’t produce any colour at all, leading to white patches. 
  • Sensitivity: Sensitive skin is caused by an impaired barrier function, which triggers an inflammatory response. You’ll notice redness, burning and irritation, particularly when applying a product that contains active ingredients due to the nerves within the skin being on high alert.  
  • Rosacea: A common skin condition characterised by redness, broken capillaries, flushing, papules, tissue distortion and dry, bloodshot, gritty eyes. It usually presents as a butterfly pattern on the face across the cheeks, forehead and chin, and is often exacerbated by triggers. 
  • Ageing: The skin’s cells have decreased activity due to DNA damage and the organelles – or the structures – within the cells becoming impaired. Your skin is producing less collagen, elastin and hyaluronic acid and this deficit causes fine lines, wrinkles, a loss of elasticity, dryness and a thinner skin. The skin’s melanocytes (the cells responsible for distributing melanin) also become damaged and behave irregularly, leading to skin discolouration. 
  • Dehydration: Your skin is lacking water, which can cause tightness, itchiness, dullness, darker under-eye circles, sunken eyes, shadows around the face, surface crepiness, fine lines and wrinkles. This can occur because your skin is unable to effectively draw moisture from the air, or from within the body, causing dehydration.

Building the right skincare regime

The first step in finding the right skincare regime is distinguishing between your skin type and what skin conditions you have. Then you can find products that work with your skin to target key concerns. Any regime will include your core four base products: a cleanser, an exfoliant, a hydrating serum and SPF. These will be tailored to your skin type and work towards maintenance. 

To treat and prevent skin conditions, as well as slow the rate of skin ageing, you’ll want to use one or two targeted products, such as toners, active serums or masks. These will help to keep your skin balanced. 

The oily skin regime

Focus on oil control and maintaining an efficient cell turnover to prevent congestion and breakouts. 

  • Opt for a cleanser that contains Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs) such as salicylic acid 
  • Exfoliate every day with a scrub – you can begin by alternating the days and then slowly increase to daily use
  • Use a water-based antioxidant serum in the morning, ideally containing one or more antioxidant ingredients
  • Use benzoyl peroxide if you’re dealing with excessive oil production or moderate breakouts
  • Apply a lightweight fluid SP50 every day
  • Use a retinol in the evening to control oil, stabilise melanocytes to prevent hyperpigmentation, regulate cell turnover and prevent/treat skin ageing and scarring
  • Use a clay-based mask 2-3 times per week

If you’re suffering with acne…

The above regime will help to control oil, increase cell turnover, create an unfavourable environment for the acne bacteria and minimise inflammation, which in turn, helps to keep breakouts at bay. A clay mask, in particular, can be a great additional product to add into your basic regime – use it for a few nights in a row to help calm the skin when needed, or use it as an overnight spot treatment. 

If you’re struggling with breakouts and significant oil production, we recommend ZO Skin Health Acne Control, which helps to control oil, neutralise acne bacteria and prevent future breakouts. We also recommend ZO Skin Health Oil Control Pads to remove oil, normalise pore size, help smooth the skin’s surface and reduce irritation.

Extraction by a professional is key in order to achieve and maintain clear skin – at Kate Kerr London, we provide extractions within all of our facials, with extensive extraction used in our Clinical Clarifying Facial. It’s important that you don’t try to perform extraction at home as this can cause further inflammation and scarring.

If your acne is moderate to severe, causing scarring, or is psychologically affecting your life, seeing a dermatologist is important. We have a plethora of experience treating the skin, alongside the medical treatment of skin conditions, and can support you on this journey. 

If you’re suffering with rosacea…

We treat rosacea in an active way. There are millions of products out there designed to soothe and calm the skin, but at Kate Kerr London, we believe in treating the root cause. We recommend products containing active ingredients that are designed to strengthen the skin, improve resilience, minimise the skin’s reaction to triggers and prevent the progression of rosacea. This type of skin condition is best treated by the experts as treatment needs to be very targeted and incorrect treatment can make the condition worse.

If you’re suffering with hyperpigmentation…

On top of your skin type regime, for hyperpigmentation, we recommend the use of skincare containing tyrosinase-inhibiting ingredients. Tyrosinase is an enzyme within the melanocytes (the skin cells responsible for distributing pigment) that catalyses the production of melanin – the pigment that gives our skin its colour. We also recommend the use of a retinol, such as ZO Skin Health Skin Brightener 1.0% to stabilise the melanocytes so that they distribute melanin more evenly. 

If you’re suffering with hyperpigmentation, the use of SPF and all-round sun protection is key. Exposing your skin to the sun for even five minutes can cause symptoms to reoccur and undo all of your hard work. You’ll need to wear a high factor SPF every day, even if you’re staying indoors and re-apply every two hours when out in the sun. If you are outside in the sun, be sure to wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses and try to seek shade or avoid the sun during the time of day when it’s strongest (typically between 10am and 4pm).

If you’re suffering with seborrheic dermatitis or perioral dermatitis…

Treating these skin conditions is about controlling oil. We recommend ZO Skin Health’s Complexion Clearing Mask, which is sulphur-based and is extremely effective in achieving clarity, minimising redness and calming inflammation.

The dry skin regime

Focus on increasing hydration and replacing lost lipids (the compounds made up of oils and water, which dry skin is usually lacking in).

  • Use a gentle cleanser in the form of a cream, lotion or gel – those containing lactic acid can be great for gently exfoliating away flaking skin, as well as enhancing hydration. It also prepares the skin to receive moisturisers. Dry skin types are the only skin types that require a moisturiser, but it needs to have the perfect ratio of lipids, proteins and water to ensure the skin’s protective barrier stays intact
  • Gently exfoliate the skin two to three times per week
  • In the mornings, apply an antioxidant serum, followed by a moisturiser to replace lost lipids, then SPF
  • Start slowly with retinol and build up to find your skin’s tolerance. This is key for preventing premature ageing, and also helps to stimulate glycosaminoglycan (GAG) production to increase hydration
  • Use a hydrating sheet mask two to three times per week

If you’re suffering with eczema or atopic dermatitis… 

In addition to following the regime above, for those suffering with eczema, we recommend the use of gentle body washes and lipid rich moisturisers. La Roche Posay’s body products are a great option – look for the products that contain an ‘AP’ in the title as these have anti-itch benefits.

If you’re suffering with premature ageing…

Those with a dry skin type can experience accelerated ageing. We recommend the use of a retinol with growth factors, such as ZO Skin Health’s Wrinkle and Texture Repair as it improves skin function and the skin’s ability to retain hydration, as well as helping to slow the ageing process, plump fine lines and wrinkles and improve discolouration. 

For those who prefer not to use a retinol due to the initial irritation that occurs when starting out, we recommend ZO Skin Health’s Growth Factor Serum, which helps to restore hydration, reinforce the skin’s protective barrier and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. 

The normal skin regime

Focus on maintaining cellular function and protecting the skin from damage, hyperpigmentation, premature ageing and dehydration.

  • Use a gel-based cleanser containing lactic, glycolic or salicylic acid
  • Exfoliate daily to regulate skin cell turnover
  • Apply a water-based antioxidant serum in the mornings followed by SPF50 in fluid form
  • Use a retinol in the evening to prevent premature ageing

If you find yourself suffering with hyperpigmentation, check out our tips in the oily skin section above as these will be relevant to normal skin types, too. If you have an onset of eczema, follow the advice outlined in the dry skin section. Or, if you find that your skin suddenly becomes dehydrated, using a sheet mask like the Medik8 Ultimate Recovery Bio-Cellulose Mask can help to increase hydration.

The combination skin regime

If your skin is actually normal, but has become imbalanced and oily, follow the normal skin regime –increasing the skin’s hydration by activating the skin’s natural moisturising processes will help to minimise oil production. Using a sheet mask like the Medik8 Ultimate Recovery Bio-Cellulose Mask can increase hydration significantly.

If your skin is oily, but has become imbalanced and dry in areas, follow the oily skin regime. Controlling oil production will minimise inflammation and improve the skin barrier, which helps to maintain moisture and increase hydration.

Getting professional support

If you’ve read this far, you can probably see just how complex treating the skin is and how there are a myriad of factors that can influence what products you should be using and when. We all invest a lot in our skincare products, so we want to make sure they are going to work. 

At Kate Kerr London, we thoroughly analyse our clients’ skin to design a bespoke skincare regime, along with personalised facials and advanced treatments, in order to target your key concerns and actually transform your skin health. A healthy skin is one that is functioning optimally, ages well and doesn’t suffer with any skin conditions. If you’d like to find out more about what your skin needs to be healthy, strong and resilient, get in touch.

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