T-zone troubles: what it means to have combination skin and how to treat it

Combination skin is the most common type, but can be tricky to care for. We ask the experts for their advice

When it comes to skincare products, there is often a mismatch between what the companies claim and how people interpret those claims.
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Many factors can affect the appearance of our skin: genes, diet, hormones, the environment, stress … the list goes on. Just when we think we’ve identified our skin type, it can change overnight. One day, you could be suffering with dry, flaky patches, the next dealing with an oil-induced breakout. Then there are those people who experience both at the same time.

Combination skin, as it is known among dermatologists, can be tricky to take care of. Usually, people with combination skin will experience dryness in some areas, ­typically around the cheeks and the eyes, and oiliness in others.

Oiliness usually occurs in the T-zone – across the forehead and down the nose to the chin – and can often lead to breakouts in these areas.

In the UAE, symptoms of combination skin, such as clogged pores, are common due to factors such as dust and humidity

“Genetics have a significant determining factor when it comes to skin type,” explains Rebecca Treston, founder of Rebecca Treston Aesthetics in Dubai. “However, there are environmental factors that come into play, and those with combination skin will experience a fluctuation in the condition of the skin between seasons.”

Combination skin tends to be drier in the winter and oilier in the summer, although living in a hot country such as the UAE can take a further toll. "UV light from the Sun, and other factors such as stress, climate, air pollution, lifestyle, changes, diet and hormones can all contribute to the health and well-being of your skin," says Aislinn Koehein, beautician at Pastels Beauty Salon in Jumeirah, Dubai.

In the UAE, symptoms of combination skin, such as clogged pores, are common due to factors such as dust and humidity, while regular exposure to air conditioning can dry the skin out.

The reason combination skin is so tricky to care for is down to the two skin types each needing different things. The dry patches require moisture, but too much can lead to excess oil in your T-zone, resulting in an outbreak of white or blackheads.

Debunking skincare jargon is not easy. With hundreds of products all claiming to work wonders for combination skin, knowing which ones to buy can be a minefield. But there are a few things to look out. Firstly, it's important to make sure that any product contains beneficial ingredients that will help your skin. Look out for tea tree oil, glycolic acid, salicylic acid, clay and charcoal, which can all remove dirt and unclog pores. Treston adds that the best place to start when it comes to skincare is to ensure twice-­daily cleansing to get rid of grime and pollutants, ideally choosing a mattifying cleanser that will treat the oil in the T-zone without drying out the cheeks.

"My recommendation is to only use products that have strong actives such as AHA [alpha hydroxy acid] or salicylic acid in the evening after you have been out all day and your skin has been exposed," she says. "People who use AHA morning and evening are at risk of drying their skin out, making it a bit tight and tired-looking. Night-time is best for stronger cleansers, while in the mornings use something light, gentle and refreshing, nothing too strong or too astringent. You should also be sure to use an oil-free moisturiser, so you don't add any additional slick to your already oily T-zone area."

The best way to treat combination skin, Koehein says, is by getting a regular monthly facial on top of your everyday skincare routine. “Facials with enzymes and acids are super for exfoliation and removing dirt and oil, and can show quick results,” she says.

Skincare expert Rebecca Treston of Rebecca Treston Aesthetics Dubai. 

Treston adds: "Treatments such as microdermabrasion are important as they will rid the top layer of the skin of dead skin cells and regulate your sebum levels. It also stimulates blood circulation and polishes your skin. For those who have a prevalence of clogged pores, getting a deep cleansing treatment is recommended as this will help your skin get rid of any dirt and bacteria, and minimise breakouts."

Both Treston and Koehein recommend avoiding products that contain perfumes, alcohol and unnatural colouring. In addition, witch hazel, menthol and citrus oil are not good options for those with combination skin. Treston also advises avoiding soap or cleansing bars, as they can often block the pores and cause irritation.

Understanding different skin types

If you are not sure of your skin type, here is a quick guide for you. Combination skin is the most common type, and the majority of other people will have skin that falls into one of the following three categories.

Normal skin

Characteristics include an even skin tone, fine, barely visible pores, little to no irritation, and largely free from breakouts.

How to treat: While people with normal skin may have few problems, they should still follow a regular skincare routine with a minimum of moisturising and daily cleansing.

Dry skin

Characteristics include rough or tight skin texture, blotchy complexion, itchy or flakey areas, redness and barely visible pores.

How to treat: People with dry skin should avoid products with drying ingredients and be careful to avoid too much sun exposure. Daily moisturising is essential, ensuring products are specially design for people with dry and irritable skin.

Oily skin

Characteristics include large visible pores, skin that appears shiny or greasy, prone to blemishes or acne, and skin that looks plump, even younger.

How to treat: It is important for people with oily skin to use light and gentle products, and ensure they regularly wash their face.

Debunking skin myths

Regardless of your skin type, navigating the world of skincare can be daunting. So, we asked our experts to debunk some of the most common skin myths.

'The higher the SPF, the better the protection'

Treston says: "There are three kinds of ultraviolet rays: UVA, UVB and UVC. UVA rays penetrate the skin fairly deeply, altering your pigmentation to produce a tan. UVB rays are the primary sunburn rays. These rays also damage your skin's DNA and cause photoaging, pigment changes and cancerous tumours. UVC rays are absorbed by the atmosphere and don't make it to the ground.

Rear view of woman on folding chair outdoors applying sunblock

“SPF refers to the amount of protection offered from UVB rays, not UVA rays, so to ensure you get protection from both UV light types, choose a broad-range sunscreen.”

'Skincare products will do the job'

Koehein says: "A lot of people believe that one ingredient can do all the work when it comes to skincare. The skin is the body's largest organ and needs a combination of beneficial ingredients. But in order to look its best, it also needs a healthy diet and lifestyle. Skincare starts from within."

'Drinking water is enough to hydrate the skin'

Celebrity facialist Linda Meredith, who has worked with the likes of Madonna, says: “When we drink water, it works first and foremost inside the body. It flushes out toxins, regulates body temperature and keeps our organs functioning, before finally reaching the surface. This is why using the right products on the outside is as, if not more, important.”

'Your skin needs to breathe'

Newby Hands, beauty director for Net-a-Porter, says: "Skin doesn't breathe, to start with. The truth is, there's so much pollution in major cities, spreading microparticles that are so difficult to remove.

"I see having something on my skin, even if it's only a tinted moisturiser, as having a barrier against that. Letting your skin breathe in a major city is a lovely idea, but it's not quite the reality."