All You Wanted To Know About Skin Types And Basic Skin Care

    Posted before Dec-31-2007

Our skin is not a single layered structure; it comprises of three layers in the main: the outermost layer is called the epidermis, the middle one is called the dermis, while the innermost or the deepest layer is known as hypodermis. Hypodermis also contains a layer of fat beneath it. All large blood vessels and nerves pass through hypodermis.

Sebaceous glands, hair shafts, smaller blood vessels as well as nerves are found in the dermis. Sebaceous glands produce an oily substance known as sebum, which is then secreted into the hair shafts. Through hair shafts, sebum comes out on the outer layer, that is, the epidermis, and spreads all over it, making a protective layer. A small amount of sebum can effectively protect the skin from external irritants, like allergens. However, excessive secretion of sebum can make the skin oily and may cause acne and pimples.

Epidermis further consists of many sub layers. New cells are born at the innermost layer of epidermis, from where they move to the topmost layer, and fall off the body when they are dead. The process is a continuous one and forms a very important defense mechanism for the skin. Any harmful invading particle or irritant into the skin is taken out by this process and removed from the body.

We learn to walk before we can run. We need to be well-versed with basic mathematical operations before going into advanced mathematics. However, when it comes to skin care, this basic fact is often forgotten. We start using sophisticated skin care programs even before we have learned basic skin care measures. In fact, if you are not familiar with basic skin care measures, your advanced skin care programs are going to be of little use, or even harmful to your skin.

As epidermis is the outermost layer of the skin, most of the basic skin care measures are focused on it, and henceforth, when we refer to skin, we will basically be referring to this layer of skin.

The modalities of a skin care program designed for you will invariably depend on your skin type. However, there are some basic skin care measures that should be undertaken by everybody regardless of their skin type. These are:

  • Cleansing or washing
  • Moisturizing
  • Protecting from sun
  • Exfoliating
  • Toning

Of these, cleansing and moisturizing are most common and frequent. Cleansing and moisturizing twice daily works well for most people. However, if your skin is dry or otherwise sensitive, cleansing once a day and moisturizing twice or thrice, should be enough. Some experts suggest including exfoliation also in daily basic skin care routine. However, exfoliating daily may cause irritation to many people, and doing it once or twice every week is normally enough. Protecting the skin from the sun is a continuous process and requires avoiding moving out in the sun, or using a sun-screen when it can't be avoided. Toning, on the other hand, is an optional skin care measure and would depend on your skin type.

Skin care measures for normal skin

Normal skin is usually soft and has an even tone with a smooth texture. Unlike oily skin, it has no visible pores or greasy patches. Unlike dry skin, it has no flakes falling off. All it has is a blemish less, smooth and supple surface with a fine texture. It radiates with a glow arising out of clear blood circulation and good health in general.

People gifted with normal skin don't usually have acne. However, in some women, due to increased hormonal activity just before menstruation, sebaceous glands may become overactive giving rise to occasional pimples.

Normal skin is ultimate in beauty. However, it still requires care for this beauty to last. Otherwise, it may show early signs of aging, like wrinkles. If you have this type of skin, you need to follow the following skin care routine.

Cleaning and toning
Wash your skin twice daily with a mild soap, preferably baby soap, and water. After every cleaning, apply a mild freshener, like a low alcohol content astringent. This would remove all traces of cleanser still clinging to skin pores. In addition, it would close the pores and keep them tight. Apply a mild natural toner, like rose water, after cleaning and freshening, to tone the skin.
Apply a thin coating of mild, preferably home-made, moisturizer before going to bed. This would maintain normal moisture balance of your skin. Cover your skin with a thin layer of mild, oil-based moisturizer before applying makeup. This would help in retaining surface moisture.
Sun protection
Direct sun has a drying, aging effect on your skin. So, avoid going out in the sun as far as possible. Not just the sun, avoid direct heat of any kind, like that of blow-dryers, on your face. Use a sun-screen, or make up products containing sun-screen when going out.
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Other measures
Use a non-drying mask every two weeks. This would smoothen your face and improve blood circulation in the area. Whenever, you notice your skin becoming oily, or dry, in any area, check it by following skin care measures for these particular types of skin, as given below.

Skin care measures for oily skin

Oily skin can be easily recognised by enlarged pores and a greasy shine which is the result of overactive sebaceous glands and high levels of sebum. Because of high levels of sebum, dust and dirt particles tend to stick to the skin which often causes acne and pimples.

Sometimes oily skin may be hereditary, but more often it is the result of abnormal hormonal activity. Such abnormal hormonal activity is more common during teenage years, and so, it's mostly teenagers who suffer from oily skin, acne and pimples. With age, the hormonal activity stabilizes and sebum levels decrease, rendering the skin less oily. However, it is not uncommon for oily skin to continue even into adult years.

Some areas on the skin may be more oily than others. For example, the area around the nose is more likely to develop blackheads. This is because there are more sebaceous glands around here.

Oily skin may also result from other causes, like use of some particular type of cosmetics, or even birth control pills.

Cleaning oily skin
The first requirement for those having oily skin is to keep it clean to remove excess oil as well as kill bacteria that cause acne. Use a good exfoliation agent at least once a week to unclog the skin pores. Frequency of exfoliation may be increased depending upon the severity of condition. Gently massage the skin with upward or outward motions while exfoliating. Wash the face at least twice daily with a cleanser, rather than a harsh soap, and warm water. Warm water helps remove excess oil.
Cosmetics for oily skin
If you have an oily skin, make sure that the cosmetics and make up products you use are water based. Oil-based products can aggravate the condition and cause blemishes. Avoid the temptation of using harsh chemical products for removing excess oil. They may dehydrate the skin and lead to 'reactive seborrhea' - a condition in which sebaceous glands are stimulated to produce more sebum to compensate for the loss, and things are back to square one.
However, you can use anti-bacterial cleansing lotions or mild acne medication after cleaning. This will have a drying effect on the skin and help it keep acne-free.
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Treatment for oily skin
Oily skin can't be transformed into normal skin overnight. It requires a holistic treatment that takes into account your overall health. If you are following overall health care measures and adhering to the basic cleaning routine given above, the following treatments will go a long way in curbing the oiliness of your skin and keeping it blemish free:
  • Clay or mud masks are excellent for oily skin. Unlike harsh chemicals, they remove the excess oil of the skin without depriving it of essential oils or making it excessively dry. White and pink clay masks work well on slight to moderately oily skin. Stronger, dark brown clay masks are more effective on very oily skin. Choose a mask according to your needs and apply it twice or thrice a week.
  • Oils used in aromatherapy, like lemon, cedarwood, or rosemary oil, have been found to be effective in removing oiliness of the skin. Mix a few drops of any of these with lanolin and massage your skin with it twice or thrice a week.
  • Ask your dermatologist about topical vitamin derivatives containing tretinoin or isotretinoin. These have been found helpful in treating sensitive oily skin.
  • Your dermatologist may also suggest you Benzoyl Peroxide products to unclog skin pores and remove bacterial infection.
  • Antibiotic lotions or creams, containing erythromycin or clindamycin, can be used to treat blemishes on the skin.

Skin care measures for combination skin

Combination skin, as the name implies, is a combination of both oily and dry skin. Strange though it may appear, it is a commonly found skin type, requiring those who have it to use skin care measures for both the skin types.

Combination skin results due to the fact that sebaceous glands are not evenly distributed on the skin. They are denser in what is called the T-zone, that is, an area comprising the middle part of the forehead, the nose, chin and the cheeks. So, often these areas tend to be more oily and are affected by acne or pimples, while other areas, which are drier, may become flaky.

Combination skin can't be treated as one unified type. The skin care measures, or cosmetic products, that are good for the oily and acne prone areas, will not be appropriate for the drier parts like around the eyes or jaws. If you have this type of skin, you need to use separate set of measures and separate products to take care of different areas on your face. That's the only way to make your whole face truly look and feel good.

Once this fact is accepted, and the basic skin care routine adjusted accordingly, care of combination skin is not difficult. The keyword here is 'balance', balance in both the types of skin on the same face, which can be achieved by taking measures appropriate for oily skin where it is oily and dry skin where it is dry. The skin care products must also be chosen and used accordingly.

Thus, the skin care measures for combination skin are also a combination of skin care measures for all skin types. However, keep in mind the keyword 'balance' and don't go overboard with any one set of measures. For example, using overly harsh or abrasive products even on oilier parts will worsen the dual nature of combination skin by rendering dry areas even drier and giving a rough, reddish look to oily areas. Remember, as described above, harsh treatments do not correct oiliness or improve it in any way.

Basic combination skin care routine
  • Wash the face twice daily with a mild, water-soluble or gel-based cleanser. Avoid products that leave the face feeling taut or dry.
  • Don't be tempted to use bar soaps or cleansers even if they claim to be gentle or residue free. The ingredients used in a bar soap or cleanser to keep it in bar form may clog skin pores. Even the cleansing ingredients in these products are much harsher than those of gel-based or water soluble cleansers.
  • A toner can be used all over the face if it is not oil based, or does not have ingredients that would increase the oiliness of the oily areas. Water or glycerine based toners would be ideal. It would be even better if they have antioxidants, water binding agents, and cell communicating ingredients in plentiful quantity.
  • Use a sunscreen every day, round the year, because it is not possible for anyone to avoid going out in the sun completely. For best results, choose a sunscreen with zinc oxide, or titanium oxide, or avobenzone as the UVA protecting agent. If you want to use a cosmetic product containing sunscreen, choose a foundation or pressed powder rather than a moisturizer, as a moisturizer would worsen the condition of oily areas on the face.
  • Exfoliate the skin regularly, at least once a week. Choose an exfoliation product with beta hydroxyl acid or salicylic acid. These ingredients exfoliate not only the outer skin but also work inside the pores and improve overall texture and appearance of the skin.
  • Use a moisturizer containing plenty of antioxidants and water binding ingredients over the drier areas, including the area below the eyes. With regular use of these products, you can get rid of dryness over these areas. Pay special attention to the packaging of these products and choose only those that come in airtight and opaque containers to prevent antioxidant loss. Jars are an absolute no-no in this regard.
  • If your work routine involves over exposure to sun, in addition to using sun-screen you can also consider using a tretinoin product in your night time skin care routine. Avita, Renova or Retin-A are some such tretinoin products that act as cell communicating agents and help generate new, normal skin cells. They are available in different bases like gel, cream or lotion. However, you need your dermatologist's prescription to buy these products.
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Skin care measures for dry skin

Dry skin is characterized by low sebum levels and is often sensitive to external influences, like allergens. It is unable to retain moisture and, as a result, has a parched look. It usually gives a tight and uncomfortable feeling after a wash, and use of a moisturizer or skin cream becomes necessary. Extremely dry and dehydrated skin is prone to flaking, chapping or cracking that may be painful.

Condition of dry skin is worsened by wind, air conditioning, or temperature extremes. All of these may cause it to feel tight, or to become flaky, chapped or cracked. Dry skin is tightly stretched over the bones and looks dull, particularly around the eyes and on the cheeks. These spots, and the corners of the mouth, often acquire tiny expression lines, called crow's feet, that do not look good.

Skin care routine for dry skin
Dry skin also needs thorough cleaning even though people with such skin tend to avoid it because of the tight feeling it gives. However, dry skin requires some extra care during and after cleaning. A regular care routine, taking into account the following, can help restore glow and suppleness of dry skin:
  • Don't use soaps or any detergent based cleansers for dry skin. Instead, use non-detergent based, ph-neutral products, specially made for this skin type.
  • Avoid using tap water for washing dry skin. The deposits it leaves have a further drying effect on the skin. Instead use mineral water for washing, or just for freshening it up. For example, you can spray your face with mineral water in the morning, using a plant sprayer (not that which has been used to spray insecticides).
  • Don't rub your skin dry with a washcloth, the rough texture may irritate and cause more dryness. Instead lightly pat it dry with a soft cloth.
  • Always use cold water to wash dry skin, never hot water as it may deprive the skin of essential oils.
  • You can double cleanse your face using a cream and leave a thin, light trace of it after the second cleaning.
  • Always touch dry skin gently while cleaning it; never rub it vigorously.
  • Dry skin requires generous quantities of moisture and oil after a wash. Use a good moisturizer and stimulate the blood circulation with a massage. This will increase the moisture content of the outer skin layers and give it a soft, supple look.
  • Apply some baby oil after every bath or shower.
  • Massage the face with a generous application of moisturizer or nourishing cream, preferably homemade, before going to bed. Be especially liberal with the cream over the areas affected by expression lines and crow's feet.
  • Avoid bringing any alkaline product or drying ingredient, like detergents or washing sodas, into contact with dry skin.
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Skin care measures for sensitive skin

Sensitive skin is often unable to tolerate some environmental conditions like heat or wind, or some products containing particular chemicals. Exposure to these often results in reddening or blotching of skin with irritation. We may say that sensitive skin is not a particular type of skin; it is only allergic to certain things. It is mostly dry skin that is prone to sensitivity, and so basic skin care measures for dry skin remain applicable to sensitive skin also. However sensitive skin requires an overall approach for proper care which would include avoiding exposure to the things that trigger sensitive reaction.

Skin sensitivity may differ in degree from people to people. Some people may show very severe reaction to some environmental conditions or products, others may have a less severe, mild reaction or no reaction at all.

A sensitive skin can be very uncomfortable. Sudden eruption of red, itching blotches can affect our work and may even lead to embarrassment. Avoiding everything that causes such a skin to react so violently may be really annoying.

Skin care for sensitive skin is a particularly tricky affair as many chemicals used in cleansing products or cosmetics can cause it to flare up. Therefore, natural skin care measures are the safest and most effective way of caring for sensitive skin as natural skin care products are much less likely to trigger the sensitive reaction. Here are some natural measures that will effectively take care of such a skin:

Pay attention to your diet, it can play a big role in controlling sensitive reactions. A diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables can increase the tolerance level of the skin apart from giving it a glow that comes from good health.

On the other hand, there may be some particular foods that may trigger sensitive reaction. Pay careful attention to your diet to find out if this is the case, and avoid these foods. It is usually hot and spicy foods that cause such reactions.

Drinking adequate water is an essential step in general health care, and particularly useful to people with sensitive skin. Well hydrated skin is healthier and more capable of fighting off skin irritants.

Avoid using chemical cosmetics if you have sensitive skin. Instead use herbs or herbal products. There are so many herbal products that can provide the complete range of skin care without causing undesirable reactions which are often triggered by chemicals. Try some of these remedies if you have sensitive skin:

  • Almond or jojoba oil is a good cleanser for sensitive skin
  • Comfrey soaked in water is a good toner for such skin
  • Grapefruit mixed with oatmeal can be a very good exfoliate
  • Fruit pulps, like papaya pulp, can be used as very good masks
  • Cucumber and yoghurt can make general purpose cleansers, toners as well as masks
  • Licorice is very good for sensitive skin. Use products that contain it.
  • Use green tea as your favorite beverage. Its anti-inflammatory properties can reduce the severity of sensitive reactions.
  • When a reaction breaks out, apply aloe vera juice or pulp. It will not only soothe red, irritated skin but also increase its tolerance level.

However, even natural products may not be hundred percent safe for people with sensitive skin. Therefore, check any new product you intend to use on a small area of the skin, and don't use it if it appears to be triggering the sensitive reaction symptoms.

Essential oils
  • Angelica
  • Chamomile or yarrow
  • Neroli
  • Jasmine
  • Rose
  • Rosewood
  • Roman and German chamomile


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