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Choosing the Right Products for Your Skin Type

By Dr. Sheila Farhang 

In this article:

Shopping for skincare isn’t about choosing the best product, it’s about choosing the best product for YOUR skin. It is so important for people to understand the various skin types considered in product formulation so that they can choose the products that will help their specific skin concerns. It’s also important to understand that there can be overlap among the different types of skin, and that seasonal changes and even the time of the month can play a role in your dermal issues.

The most important thing is to really tune in to your skin and listen to what it needs. In this article, I’ll be discussing the most common types of skin conditions and giving my product recommendations for each one. 

‌‌‌‌Oily/Acne-Prone Skin

Oily and/or acne is one of the most common skin concerns I see as a dermatologist. Oily skin is essentially an excess in sebum production—which, of course, increases because of puberty, stress, genetic, hormone imbalance, environment, the summer heat, and so on. Acne forms when this excess oil clogs up the pores.

Some recommended ingredients for oily skin include retinoids, which are comprised of vitamin A. While there are over-the-counter (OTC) formulations, such as retinol and adapalene, that help suppress sebum production (and are also anti-aging), stronger prescription strength formulations may be needed if the acne does not improve. Some of my favorite OTCs include those listed below.

  • Benzoyl peroxide: This is a go-to ingredient for those with acne because it works by decreasing the acne-causing bacteria. This has been one of my top recommendations, especially with the rise in acne caused by wearing masks.
  • Beta-hydroxy acids: These acids, such as salicylic acid, are also recommended as they are a chemical exfoliant that works deep in the pores to break up the oil clogging. This is recommended for the mildest acne.
  • Alpha-hydroxy acids: Examples of alpha-hydroxy acids include glycolic acid and lactic acid. They are chemical exfoliants that decrease clogged pores, and are usually not recommended more than one to two times per week due to their impact on the skin barrier.
  • Alcohol-free toners: These can also be used in the T-zone area (forehead, chin, and nose) for very oily skin. Spot treatment with diluted tea tree oil can also be helpful, but remember to not overdo it as it can be very irritating. Toners work to remove excess oil, makeup, and dirt from the skin, but they can be very drying in those who are not oily.

Due to the fact that oily/acne-prone skin may require ingredients that are a little more drying and irritating to the skin, it is essential that certain skincare ingredients and products are included in the regimen to restore the health of the skin and skin barrier. These include daily use of a gentle facial cleanser and moisturizing creams.

Morning Regimen

Evening Regimen

Weekly Regimen

  • AHA/BHA exfoliator
  • Peels

‌‌‌‌Dry/Sensitive Skin

This skin type is also very important to recognize because many of the products used for oily skin can cause dry/sensitive skin to worsen or flare. People with this skin type may have eczema or rosacea. The most important thing here is restoring the skin barrier and using moisturizing products.

It starts in the shower with a gentle liquid body wash—bonus if it includes ceramides, oatmeal, pre/probiotic water. It is important to keep hot showers short as this can cause the skin to dehydrate. Another important step is to apply moisturizer (I prefer creams over lotions) right after the shower as it absorbs better.

People with this skin type have to keep their skincare regiments super-simple, with minimal to no products with fragrance, preservatives, or dyes. A gentle cleanser is a must. Niacinamide, also known as vitamin B3, is a great ingredient that works by improving the skin barrier as well as skin tone and texture. I don’t recommend using a toner with this skin type; instead, I recommend micellar water, which is much gentler at removing residual oil, makeup, and dirt. Micellar water is also my go-to makeup remover.

Many people in this category like to use face oil, which is fine—but make sure it is not coconut oil as coconut oil is comedogenic (aka acne-causing).

Morning Regimen

Evening Regimen

Weekly Regimen

‌‌‌‌Combination Skin

This combination skin type can be a little confusing for some. Usually people with combo skin have an oily T-zone and some acne, but are dry everywhere else. I recommend the products discussed for oily/acne-prone skin as well as dry/sensitive skin. An SPF moisturizer is definitely a must in this category, as they are for all skin types!

Morning Regimen

  • Gentle cleanser
  • Optional toner (or micellar water)
  • Vitamin C antioxidant cream/lotion/serum
  • Sunscreen (with or without moisturizer)

Evening Regimen

  • Gentle cleanser
  • Retinol or retinoid alternative
  • Moisturizer optional

‌‌‌‌Balanced Skin

I rarely see this skin type—mainly people with it don’t need to see a dermatologist! I do feel, though, like we go through seasons with our skin, and some people may have drier skin or break out occasionally, so it’s important to always keep up a maintenance routine 

Morning Regimen

Evening Regimen

  • Gentle cleanser
  • Retinol or retinoid alternative for fine lines
  • Moisturizer with niacinamide
  • Eye cream with retinol

Weekly Regimen

  • AHA/BHA exfoliator

‌‌‌‌Aging Skin

While I do not really consider “aging skin” to be a skin type, I thought it was worth bringing up the term here. First off, for any skin type (and especially for one that is maturing), wearing an SPF is essential—otherwise, there is no point in using the other products! Daily use of sunscreen is very important, even when indoors (as UVA rays still go through glass). I usually recommend a mineral sunscreen formulated with zinc and/or titanium dioxide. These sunscreens are generally safer, better for the environment, and less irritating.


Vitamin C antioxidant is essential in the mornings, and a retinol (or retinol alternative such as bakuchiol) is a must-have at night. Vitamin C works by brightening the skin as well as increasing collagen production. Retinol increases cell turnover, causing a decrease in aging spots and an increase in skin elasticity. 

Hyaluronic acid is a great ingredient to use as well because it is a humectant, pulling in water and plumping up fine lines, especially around the eyes.


A good eye cream is also essential based on what the eye concerns are (e.g., darkness, puffiness, fine lines, and so on). Choosing an eye cream really depends on what the eye concern is. If you have:

  • Dark undereye circles, I recommend a product that brightens, such as one with vitamin C.
  • Puffiness under the eyes, I recommend a product that is cooling as well as one that has caffeine to help depuff. Cool packs and gentle jade rolling help in these areas as well.
  • Fine lines, I recommend products with anti-aging formulations such as ones with retinol. I also recommend a hyaluronic acid-based serum around the eyes as this temporarily helps reduce the appearance of fine lines.

Morning Regimen

  • Gentle cleanser
  • Optional toner (or micellar water)
  • Vitamin C antioxidant cream/lotion/serum
  • Sunscreen

Evening Regimen

  • Gentle cleanser
  • Retinol or retinoid alternative
  • Moisturizer with niacinamide

Weekly Regimen

  • AHA/BHA exfoliator

‌‌‌Final Words

Understanding skin types by breaking them down really helps identify which type of product is best for you. While many people have a sense of what their skin type is, if skin care products are not helping or skin concerns are getting worse, it’s important to see a board-certified dermatologist to get on the right products.

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