Guide to Troubleshooting Your Skin

Contents (click links to jump to a section) 

1st: Know Your Skin Type
2nd: Picking the Right Products for Your Skin
3rd: Weekly Treatments
4th: Health & Exercise

The above chart has some great information, especially the care tips (click to enlarge). Credit: Estelle

1st: Know Your Skin Type

Most people have heard of the five common skin types: normal, dry, combination, oily, and sensitive. Generally, you can characterize a few common traits under each category.  

Normal Skin - your skin is not too dry or oily and requires minimal products to maintain its balance. Normal skin tends to have:
+ None to few blemishes
+ Is not sensitive to most products or potential irritants (e.g. fragrance)
+ None to few visible pores (skin has good elasticity)
+ Even skintone and texture

Combination Skin - your skin experiences patches of dry, normal, oily, or sensitive areas, such as an oily T-zone (forehead, nose, and chin) but dry or normal cheeks.  Your skincare routine typically requires different products for different concerns on your skin.  Some traits found in combination skin types include:
Uneven skintone and texture 
Dilated pores
Oily T-Zone and dry/normal cheeks 
Blemishes (eg. comedones, acne, redness)

Dry Skin - your skin can be especially suspetible to seasonal weather changes and the skin can crack, peel, and become itchy, inflamed, or irritated.  Sometimes dry skin feels rough to the touch and produces flaking when make up is applied.  Dry skin can include: 
Red, rough, or scaly patches
Reduced skin elasticity
Dry wrinkles or lines
Dull and uneven skintone
Little to no visible pores 

Dry skin can be cause by or made worse by the following factors:
Aging or hormonal fluctuations
UV exposure
Excessive indoor heating or cooling (e.g. sitting in an air conditioned office all day)
Long baths and showers
Irritants in cosmetics and soaps
+ Medication

Oily Skin - your skin is shiny and can produce that "slick" feeling throughout the day.  You may be susceptible to weather changes, especially when warmer, more humid seasons start causing you to notice an increase in oil production.  Oily skin typically includes: 
+ Overly dilated pores
+ Uneven skintone that can be dull or shiny
+ Blemishes and clogged pores (e.g. comedomes, acne, large blackheads, etc.)

Oily skin can be caused by a variety of factors, most commonly: 
Puberty or hormonal imbalances (mentrual cycle changes)
Weather changes (e.g. too much heat or humidity)
Heavy persipiration after exercising
Harsh and overly drying cosmetic or skincare products, including potential irritants

Sensitive Skin - your skin may react negatively to products with fragrance, alcohol, or other potentially irritating ingredients.  Sensitive skin can include:   
Uneven skintone

Sensitive skin typically has several chemical and ingredient triggers which can be avoided if you know what your skin reacts to.  However, this can a trial and error process where you won't know what to avoid until you've had a flare up or negative reaction. There are certain groups of ingredients that someone with this skin type may want to avoid in general, such as any products with high alcohol content, limonene, fragrance, or dyes, etc.

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2nd: Picking the Right Products for Your Skin

There are literally thousands of products and brands out there that it is truly impossible to know exactly which ones are right for you.  Sometimes the only way to know is through trial and error and that can get very expensive and also damaging to your skin.  This is why I've prepared a short guide that identifies some of the general rules of thumb that each skin type should follow! :)

Normal Skin: 
You guys are lucky! There aren't a lot of products you require to keep your skin healthy and manageable.  A simple skincare line will suffice as long as you purchase items that are for "normal" skin.  However, just cause you don't require a laundry list of items to keep your skin clear doesn't mean you can't play with a lot of products and be proactive in preventing sun damage or wrinkles!  If you have normal skin, try adding a serum with anti-oxidant, anti-aging properties or a face oil to give your skin an extra oomph! Oh, and don't forget to add a photostable suncreen that is 30 SPF or higher.  Studies have recently shown that anything below 30 SPF does not provide adequate protection against UV rays.  

Dry Skin: 
If you have this skin type, stay far away from products that list alcohol near the top of the ingredient list, or better yet, try using only alcohol-free products.  However, alcohol can be used in products to increase the skin’s ability to absorb active ingredients so sometimes you can’t avoid it even in a very good formulation.

If your current moisturizer isn’t doing it for you, try adding a hydrating essence, toner, or lotion to your routine.  Korean toners would be a good place to start looking since their version of a toner is meant for hydration, rather than a final removal of left over makeup or dirt after cleansing like in a Western skincare routine.  Also, lotions or emulsions (typically used right after a serum) provide an extra boost of moisture for your skin.  But they are not meant to replace your cream moisturizer! Lotions are very thin in consistency and are meant only to provide added moisture and skin softening effects.

Also, adding a sleeping pack with dimethicone (silicone derivative) or other similar ingredients as the last step of your nigh time routine will help create a moisture barrier on your skin, keeping it hydrated throughout the night so you’ll wake up with smoother and softer skin!

Combination Skin
This is probably the hardest skin type to care for and I would know since this is what I have! This skin type requires a variety of different products targeted at solving dissimilar issues.  Some combo skin types have an oily t-zone, but normal or dry cheeks.  Some have small blemishes while others struggle with cystic acne, comedones (black/white heads), clogged pores, and dilated name it.  There is no one-size fits all kind of product for this skin type, but there are a few common and effective ways to target specific issues in combination skin, including:

Acne Treatment: 
Use products with either salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, alpha Hydroxy acids, beta hydroxy acids, or even retinol and its derivatives (Retinoic Acid if prescription strength) to clear stubborn acne;

Oily T-Zone: 
Again, using an acid based cleanser or toner with the above mentioned ingredients can help control oily skin;

Dry Patches:
Avoid using harsh products on areas with dry skin and try to use something with aloe vera or other calming, soothing ingredients.  If necessary, have two different products to treat dry and oily patches; and,

Comedones/Clogged Pores:
Use a gentle exfoliant; avoid using excessively gritty scrubs that can damage, irritate, and inflame your skin and look for products that are non-comedogenic and dermatologist approved.

Finally, if you have moderate to severe acne, especially along the chin and jawline, you may benefit from speaking with a doctor on obtaining prescription strength topical gels like Tretinoin (Retonoic Acid cream or gel) or Stievamycin (antibiotic gel with Tretinoin included).  Your acne may also be hormonal, so speak with a medical professional about hormone therapy (e.g. birth control) that can control excessive oil production and acne.

Oily Skin:
Cleansers or toners that contain salicylic acid, AHA/BHAs, benzoyl peroxide, and other similar ingredients can help control oil production in skin.  It is important though that you do not dry out your skin by “over cleaning” it with irritating chemicals.  Oily skin can get worse if you use harsh and abrasive cleansers or exfoliators since irritation of your skin can cause the sebaceous glands to go into hyperdrive and produce even more oil!! This is not what you want! What you want, inevitably, is to maintain a balance between oily and dry. Remember, oil is not bad for your skin! Your body produces oil to keep your skin healthy, it’s only when there is excessive sebum or oil production that you will run into problems.

You will probably need different products in your skincare line up for different seasons of the year since oily skin can change with the weather.  For instance, go for a lighter, oil-free gel moisturizer during summer months.  You should also avoid products containing silicones or mineral oil, instead look for ones labelled “oil-free”. This is particularly important when you choose make up since oily skin can get shiny fast under foundation or powder.  If your skin still gets shiny throughout the day, try adding an oil control primer underneath your make up or use an oil-control powder instead of heavy liquid foundations.

Sensitive Skin:
If you have this skin type, it’s best to avoid using products with irritating chemicals or heavy fragrances, such as menthol, citrus, peppermint, or alcohol.  Everyone has different triggers, but in general, it may be wise to avoid the following ingredients:
+Thick Emollients
+Pore-Clogging Waxes
+Fragrance (even those derived from essential oils)
+Abrasive Scrubbing Agents
+Harsh/Drying Cleansing Agents
+Irritants (organic & synthetic)

Try to incorporate soothing and calming products into your skincare line up.  Products with ingredients like aloe vera or chamomile extracts are fantastic for sensitive skin.  Green tea and liquorice extracts are also great for sensitive skin, and they also provide anti-oxidant and lightening effects.
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3rd: Weekly Treatments 

Weekly treatments are an integral part of any skincare regimen, especially if you have some specific skincare concerns you want to actively treat.

There are a lot of different weekly treatments out there and they all focus on varying objectives: moisturization, exfoliation, collagen boosting, refining, pore treatments (including black and whitehead removal), brightening, etc. There are lots of treatments out there!

Some of the popular modes of treatment include: sheet (face) masks, overnight sleeping packs, face peel pads (e.g. Dr. Dennis Gross alpha-hydroxy peel pads), hydrogel masks, exfoliating scrubs, and more.

When picking what's right for your skin type, think about what you want to address first.

Is your skin dry? Then try to add in a 1-2 weekly moisturizing sleeping pack or a weekly hydrating sheet mask.  You can also add a face oil  to your weekly treatments if it isn't something you want to use on a daily basis.

Do you have excessively oily skin and/or blemishes and break outs? Try adding an acid-based peel that comes either in a peel pad or gel/serum format once to twice weekly, depending on how sensitive your skin is to chemical exfoliants.

Is your skin irritated or very sensitive? You can incorporate sheet masks with aloe vera, snail mucin, lavender, chamomile, or other soothing ingredients into your weekly skincare regimen.  But make sure you steer clear from products that contain alcohol, because this can exacerbate sensitive skin issues.  However, if it's listed lower down the ingredient list, there probably isn't enough to irritate your skin so don't disregard a good product just cause of this rule!

Do you have anti-wrinkle and anti-aging concerns? Try sleeping packs, sheet masks, or cream masks that contain snail mucin, collagen, and hyaluronic acid in the ingredient lists.  Also, anti-oxidants such as green tea extracts can help combat free-radical stress and restore your skin to a more youthful appearance. You can also add a face oil high in anti-oxidants to your weekly treatments if it isn't something you want to use on a daily basis.

Are you concerned with acne scars or hyperpigmentation? Look for weekly treatments that contain vitamin C, AHA/BHA, retinol, arbutin, mulberry extracts, licorice extracts, or tranexamic acid.  These ingredients, when used effectively with a low pH skin care regimen, can help to reduce dark spots on your skin as well as help brighten its overall tone.

Last, but not least, do you struggle with clogged pores (i.e. black/white heads)? I know I do, and the best way to combat these would be pore strips or a three step pore pack like the one offered by Skinmiso.  There are other clay masks that can help to "absorb" excess oil and dirt out of pores, but they do very little in actually removing existing black/white heads that are stuck in your skin.  Those will need either manual removal with a black/white head pick (the skincare esthetician tool with the needle on one end and the metal hoop on the other) or pore strips.

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4th: Health and Exercise

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Anonymous said...

Is this one application for men:)?

Skin & Beauty Story said...

Hi Anonymous,
Yes this guide also applies for men as well. Skincare is universal, after all :)

Tina Ting-Wei Chang said...

Thanks Alice for all the information! I really like your blog :)

Anonymous said...


I would like to inform you that the table at the beginning of the article was created by myself and that you are using it without my permission and crediting the source. Here is the link to the original article I wrote in 2014 where I’ve used the table.

Please, either add in the source of the table with a link to the original article or delete it from your article.

Many thanks,


Alice said...


Will link to your article and provide credit!


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