How to Tell If You Have Oily Skin

The best basic care methods and special treatments you can use on your skin

Woman rubbing her face
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So your face turns into an oil slick some days, but others it seems dry. What's up? Here's how to tell if you have oily skin or if you actually have combination skin, the most common skin type.

Oily Skin Characteristics

If you have oily skin, you likely know it. Here are the characteristics:

  • Your skin becomes shiny within the hour after cleansing. You'll notice your T-zone (the entire forehead, down your nose to the chin) is most oily.
  • You get frequent breakouts, especially around your period. (Thank your hormones). 
  • You're prone to enlarged pores, blackheads and what I call, "Greasy Bangs Syndrome" wherein you can't wear bangs because they become grease catchers.

Still not sure if you have oily skin? Try this test: take a paper napkin and press it to your forehead, nose, and chin. When you pull it away, the paper will be translucent with oils.

But Could it be Combination Skin?

If your t-zone is oily, but your cheeks tend to be dry and flaky, then you likely have combination skin. Most women have combination skin at some point in their lives.

The seasons can affect your skin as well. You may have oily skin most of the year, but combination or dry skin in winter.  

The Benefits of Oily Skin

You may hate your oily skin and the way it makes you feel like an oil production facility pretty much constantly, but 60-year-old you will be thankful you had oily skin because it ages better than dry skin.

Oils keep the skin plump allowing fewer wrinkles to form. Many young women have oily skin but as they age, they may find their skin becomes more dry, especially in their late 30s.

I know many, many women whose skin became dry seemingly overnight when they turned 35. In fact, this happened to me. And dry skin comes with its own set of annoyances.

Hello, dandruff of the face!

Causes of Oily Skin

Oily skin is caused by overactive sebaceous (oil) glands. Heat and humidity will increase sebum production, which is why you may suffer more in the summer months.

How to Take Basic Care of Your Skin

The secret to treating oily skin is to not go overboard with products. If you exfoliate too much and swipe on drying toners every night, your skin will react by producing more sebum.

Try a basic skincare routine:

  • Wash with a cleanser formulated for oily skin. I recommend cleansing your skin at night and rinsing off with warm water in the morning so you don't over-cleanse skin, again causing it to go into oil overproduction. See my list of Best Facial Cleansers for Acne-Prone Skin.
  • Most experts recommend even women with oily skin use moisturizers, but others don't. I personally never used moisturizer when I had oily skin (it's now dry thanks to age). If you do choose a moisturizer, find one that has the word "non-comedogenic" on the bottle, which means it won't clog pores. I include many great moisturizers in this list.
  • Exfoliate twice weekly with a gentle scrub. I list some great ones here.
  • If you suffer from breakouts, an astringent may help. You may also use toners, which can be too drying for other skin types. See my article on toners, "Is Toner Really Necessary?"

    Best Makeup for Oily Skin

    Choose powder blush, eyeshadow, and bronzer. Always pick the oil-free foundations and tinted moisturizers.

    Carry blotting papers with you when you leave the house. These will soak up your oils without messing up your makeup and they help you avoid powdering your face too often which can clog pores.

    Don't Shy Away From Oils

    Who knew that face cleansers with oils were actually good for oily skin?

    Dr. Ava Shamban, author of Heal Your Skin: The Breakthrough Plan for Renewal, tells MSN's Glo Website that cleansers with natural oils such as olive, jojoba, maracuja or babassu work great as face washes -- even on oily skin -- because oils dissolve oils. This means an oil wash will cleanse your skin of sebum, dirt, and bacteria. This is better than creamy washes that sit on the skin and can clog pores.

    Special Intensive Treatments You Can Try

    I love clay masks, which help discourage the formation of blackheads. Facial steams are also lovely. Try Janine's Teapot Facial.

    A Word on Your Skin Type

    The cosmetics industry likes to put us in little boxes so we'll be more apt to buy their products and one of the ways they do this is to box us into skin type categories. According to the skin care industry, we all fit into one of these categories: normal, dry, combination or oily skin.

    The truth is our skin changes quite a lot. A New Yorker may have dry skin in the winter because of furnace heat and oily skin in the summer because of the heat. A dry skin sufferer can travel to Seattle, where the air is thick with cool humidity, and may find her dry skin has become normal all of a sudden (this happens to me). If you live in dry, arid Arizona, central California or New Mexico, your oily skin may turn combination.