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Guide to your skin type

Written by
Chloë James

Wonderful though the world of skincare is, the same rules don’t apply to everyone. If you’ve ever tried a product or treatment your friend or favourite skinfluencer swears changed their life, only for it to do nothing – or even make your skin worse – odds are there’s a simple explanation: it wasn’t right for your skin type.

There are four generally accepted types of skin and defining yours can be lifechanging. Whether it’s oily, dry, combination, or normal, skin has different needs and limitations. Take oily skin as an example – the ingredients found in a product formulated for dry skin can tip it over the edge, but oily skin might also be able to withstand treatments that are just too much for dry skin types to bear.

But how do you find the right definition for your skin? Figure out your skin type – and learn which treatments are right for you – in our guide.

Find a clinic or practitioner near you and enjoy a risk-free booking process thanks to free in-clinic consultations and the option to pay in-clinic. Also, you can now split the cost of your treatment into four equal, interest-free instalments using Tabby.

Oily skin

Oily skin is exactly what it sounds like. Caused by an overabundance of sebum (the oily substance naturally produced by the body to moisturise and protect your skin), it’s easy to identify by a stubborn shine you just can’t seem to shift.

Aside from this permanent dewiness, other signs of oily skin include recurrent breakouts or blackheads thanks to that build-up of oil clogging your pores. Speaking of pores, these also tend to be more obvious – especially around the T-zone area of the nose, chin, and forehead.

The ultimate test for oily skin is to see how it fares after cleansing. If 30 minutes go by and your skin is already starting to look shiny, that’s a good sign your skin type is oily.

Treating oily skin

Ignore the temptation to dry out oily skin. While it seems like the obvious solution to strip skin of its natural oils, this can make the glands in your skin produce even more. Instead, focus on keeping skin lightly hydrated, and decongest pores with occasional exfoliation using AHAs and BHAs such as salicylic acid.

If you’re still struggling to regulate sebum production and its side-effects, there are a few treatments suited to oily skin.

Botox – Beyond its reputation for fighting fine lines and wrinkles, Botox has a few happy side-effects that benefit oily skin. By injecting small amounts into oil glands, it can limit the amount of oil they produce and minimise the appearance of large pores.

Phototherapy ­– Whether you undergo phototherapy at a clinic or with the help of an at-home mask, regular exposure to LED lights can have a huge impact. Blue light therapy in particular is beneficial to oily skin. As it cuts the activity of oil glands, you may find yourself experiencing fewer breakouts – not to mention less shine.

Laser skin resurfacing – Yet another treatment that targets excess oil, this time by heating up the glands and reducing their function. It also speeds up cell turnover and collagen production, which helps skin recover quicker from acne caused by any previous build-up.

Dry skin

Oily skin types suffer from an overproduction of natural oils; dry skin types suffer from the complete opposite. Left untreated, this lack of oil can make skin tight, rough, or flaky, as well as accentuating the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

Anyone can have dry skin, but the odds do become higher with age. Our bodies have to juggle decreased cell renewal, a lifetime of sun damage, and a thinning of the top layer of skin (the epidermis) that helps it retain moisture.

Cleansing is again a good way to test whether your skin type is dry. The wrong cleanser can sometimes make any skin type feel tight, but if you’re still experiencing this after 30 minutes, your skin is probably dry.

Treating dry skin

Unsurprisingly, moisture is key. A good moisturiser can go a long way, but serums containing humectants like hyaluronic acid and glycerine make a huge difference to your skin’s ability to stay hydrated. Exfoliating isn’t completely off the table – just be aware that too much can damage the skin barrier, which helps skin retain moisture. To minimise this risk, try chemical over physical exfoliation.

There are plenty of ways to tackle dry skin at home. For maximum moisture, there are also several treatment options.

Mesotherapy – Your skin naturally produces everything it needs to stay healthy and hydrated, but sometimes it needs a top-up. Conveniently, that’s what mesotherapy does best. Several small injections of vitamins and minerals can rejuvenate dry, dull skin, with four to six sessions delivering results that last for around a year.

Fillers – Nothing helps skin hold onto moisture better than hyaluronic acid. Fillers are best known for using it to enhance areas such as the lips, chin, or jaw, but can also restore volume and elasticity, especially to dry skin brought on by ageing. Duration of results varies from person to person – and often depends on your metabolism – but one year is the average.

Profhilo – Another method of using hyaluronic acid to combat dryness is Profhilo. Inserting a highly concentrated dose just beneath the top layer of skin, it again helps skin retain moisture. Like fillers, its ability to restore volume and elasticity make it a popular choice for those with mature skin. After two sessions, these results should last between six months to a year.

Combination skin

If some patches of your face are oily and others are dry, you probably have umbrella of combination skin. This looks slightly different on everyone, but generally means you have oiliness concentrated in the areas with more sebaceous glands (like the T-zone) while dryness is limited to spots like the cheeks and jawline.

There’s rarely an even balance between the two, and things like the weather and hormones can make one seem worse than the other. As a result, a lot of people misdiagnose themselves as having oily or dry skin. However, combination skin is actually the most common skin type.

To find out if you’re one of the many people who falls under this category, it’s time to try the cleansing test again. If 30 minutes pass and some parts are oily, some parts dry, that’s a pretty good sign.

Treating combination skin

Frustratingly, the regularity of combination skin doesn’t make it any easier to treat. Products targeting dryness can irritate oily areas, and vice versa. Finding the right balance is tricky, but not impossible. A non-comedogenic, oil-free moisturiser can hydrate dry patches without clogging pores, while gentle exfoliation helps with excess oil.

To go one step further, the following treatments also have a proven track record for bringing balance to your skin.

Botox – We’ve already discussed Botox’s use for oily skin types, but it’s also a good candidate for combination skin. Unlike some treatments that are indiscriminate with the areas they treat, Botox can be specifically injected into the glands responsible for oiliness without the risk of stripping more moisture from dry patches.

Microdermabrasion – From exfoliating dry patches, to refining pores, the many benefits of microdermabrasion are perfect for combination skin. Over the course of 30 to 60 minutes, a small machine uses crystals to buff away dead skin cells. Results are immediate and can last for six to eight weeks with regular top-up sessions.

Chemical peels – All sorts of common combination skin woes can be tackled with a chemical peel. With a thin layer of acid, it removes the top layer of dead and damaged skin cells, dirt, and bacteria to ease dryness, slow down oil production, and make pores less noticeable.

What about normal skin?

Normal skin is a bit of an enigma. Technically, all skin is ‘normal’ because every skin type is totally natural, but the generally recognised definition equals skin that’s not too oily, and not too dry. People with normal skin don’t suffer from sensitivity, rarely experience breakouts, and have well-balanced hydration levels.

If it sounds too good to be true, that’s because it kind of is. Very few people fall under this category, and some dermatologists don’t even recognise it as a skin type. Instead, they see it as a guideline for what the average person hopes to achieve with the right lifestyle and skincare routine.

Can I change my skin type?

In short – no. While your skin type might evolve over the years, there’s no way to purposely change it, and attempting to can end up dehydrating your skin. Roughly knowing what your skin does (and doesn’t) need can set you on the right path for treating any concerns that crop up over time. It’s not about ‘fixing’ your skin but keeping it as comfortable as possible.

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