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27 Aug 2020

What’s your type?

How labeling your skin might be affecting the way you care for it

“What’s your skin type?” You’ve probably been asked this question when purchasing products for your skin or even seen it written when perusing various articles online. This question can honestly feel quite confusing to answer. One week, you may feel like you have oily skin, and the next week you may feel like you have dry skin. Trust us, we get it. So, does labeling your skin as oily, dry, sensitive, or acne-prone actually make it easier to find the products that work best for you? Or, is it just an unnecessary extra step in the sometimes-mystical world of skincare?

The truth is that skin often behaves differently at different stages of the month, the year, and your life. Even if you are genetically, ethnically, or environmentally prone to one skin behavior over another, it is best to stay open-minded to formulations that you might have shied away from because you didn’t think they were your “type”. This is especially true for people whose skin tended to be on the oily side in their teens and twenties but developed dry or dehydrated tendencies in their thirties and forties. Individuals who have always thought of their skin as “sensitive” may find they are only sensitive to certain ingredients. And here’s a news flash: acne can come with any stage and any phase. (Oh, joy!)

Let’s take a closer look at some of the factors that can affect how your skin behaves.

Genetics

This is the biggest contributor to your skin’s behavior and the one you are least able to overcome. Mostly because it’s quite literally in your DNA! If you are looking for someone who can sympathize with your current skin issues and predict your future ones, call your parents. You may be thinking, you’re asking me to call my parents for skincare insight? The answer is, yes, yes we are.

The degree and type of damage your DNA is predisposed to, as well as the natural adeptness of your cells to repair themselves, is largely determined by your genetic makeup. One specific subset of your genetics and a powerful predictor of how your skin might behave is ethnicity. Researchers have identified ethnic differences in skin’s tendency toward hyperpigmentation, wrinkling, sagging, and sebaceous secretions. A call to your parents along with some googling and you’re on your way.

Climate

It’s no secret that drier climates lead to drier skin. After all, skin absorbs moisture from the air. Cold, dry climates can cause dry, itchy, flaky skin and may exacerbate conditions such as eczema and psoriasis (that’s you Colorado). Hot, humid air increases perspiration, leaving skin susceptible to acne-causing bacteria (we’re looking you Florida). Those living close to the equator see more sun damage, urban dwellers battle more pollution-driven free radicals (hey there New York City), and high-altitude areas offer less oxygen for skin’s repair processes.

Hormones

Hormones fluctuate – constantly. We know this. They shift and change from week to week, month to month, and year to year. Your particular hormone roller coaster may have manageable rises and falls, or it may have maniacal climbs, dips, twists, and turns. Naturally, this affects the behavior of your skin. Estrogen has been tied to elasticity, cortisol to collagen, and either too much testosterone or too little progesterone can lead to acne. Hormones can also affect the pH levels of skin, making it more prone to certain skin conditions. Puberty can bring breakouts, pregnancy can bring melasma, and menopause changes can cause dryness, sagging and increased wrinkle production. Some women even develop teenage-type acne with the decline in hormone levels. If your hormones are haywire and it’s showing in your skin, consult your gynecologist, endocrinologist, or naturopathic doctor.

Diet

Are dairy products linked to acne in some people? Do we get enough antioxidants from our food? Do Omega 3 fatty acids decrease inflammation? Does Omega 6 increase it? These are just a few of the questions that researchers are studying on an ongoing basis. The answers are as complex as the underlying health composition that is likely to show on your skin. If you have concerns, consult a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN). But if you are just looking to bump up your glow, remember these easy dietary skin tips: protein aids repair, hydration is critical, and it’s hard to go wrong with a diet that provides healthy variety, avoids refined sugar and processed foods, and includes plenty of vegetables.

Skincare

Skin adapts to both its internal and external environment. Sure, this means climate, diet, and hormones, but it also means products. If your self-care efforts are backfiring, dig a little deeper into your skin’s more subtle reactions. Could you be stimulating oil production by using products designed to eliminate oil? Harsh manual exfoliants or detergent-based cleansers can send your sebaceous glands into overdrive as they work to replenish what is lost. A lotion or oil-based cleanser might be more beneficial in some cases. Dry skin is not the same thing as dehydrated skin, so slathering on thick creams will not hydrate if the problem is on the inside. Most importantly, remember that your skin’s needs are likely to change over time, so try to avoid typecasting it. Instead, try to really listen to what your skin is telling you! If you always expect it to play the same role – to behave in the same way – you might be missing some important clues as to what it really needs.

Much like an actor in a movie or play, your skin can take on many roles. Sometimes, it is the heroine of your appearance; sometimes the villain. But for most of us, and for most of our lives, it is the typical temptress – complex, multifaceted, sometimes moody, and perhaps a little high maintenance. But, for better or for worse, it’s yours and we love it for that.