Is Your Skin Both Dry AND Oily? The Problem Is Your Products, Not Your Skin


Updated 12/1/17. I’m here to set the story straight—you can’t have both dry and oily skin. You can have dehydrated and oily skin, but not oily and dry skin.

What is dry skin?

Skin that produces little to no oil with smaller pores causing the skin to get dry and flaky—especially with age. (Dry skin is a genetic condition. Some people are born with fewer oils glands than others.)

What is oily skin?

Skin that produces oil and will have visibly larger pores causing the skin to get greasy and have a shine. (Oily skin is a genetic condition and will be prone to breakouts and clogged pores.)

What is dehydrated skin?

A skin condition often found in oily, combination or normal skin that is lacking water causing the skin to feel tight. (Watch this quick video to see what dehydrated skin looks like.) Learn more about the differences between dry and dehydrated skin, as well as how to best care for it.

I generally hear from people with oily skin who are prone to clogged pores that their skin is feeling dry, but they still breakout and aren’t sure how to care for it. To remedy what feels like dry and oily skin, they might start using a dry skin moisturizer to provide relief but soon find that it’s not compatible with their skin and causes clogged pores, bumps and increase breakouts. Sound familiar? Sometimes they think it’s because they don’t drink enough water, but hydration levels in the skin have very little to do with drinking water internally, despite what you’ve always been told. It runs through the intestines, gets absorbed into your bloodstream, and then is filtered out by the kidneys. At this point, it will hydrate the cells inside the body. Hydration levels in the skin have very little to do with drinking water internally, but rather how you treat your skin on the surface.

The truth is, if your skin is naturally oily but acting dry, the underlying issue is probably something within your skin care routine that is too strong for your skin making it feel dry.

How to treat dry and oily skin

As an esthetician with 30 years of skincare experience, I have had many clients complain about what they think is dry and oily skin. The problem is typically their products causing dehydration, not dryness. These are some of my expert tips to get your skin healthy and balanced and alleviate the tight feeling caused by skin dehydration.

Choose your cleansers carefully.

Many foaming and gel cleansers made today are still formulated with ingredients called Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Laureth Sulfate or Ammonium Laureth Sulfate. These are known as surfactants which are cleansing agents that cut oil from the skin. While oily skin types do need the oil and shine to be broken down and removed from a cleanser, these ingredients are not in alignment with your skin’s natural pH and will strip water out of the skin after every washing, dehydrating it. It’s important to understand that what you wash with is the MOST important part of your skincare routine. Why? Because if you wash with a foaming cleanser or soap that is too strong and drying, it pulls all the water out of the skin and creates surface dead skin cell buildup. Then you have to quickly run and put your moisturizer on to put back in what you just took out. It makes no sense. When buying a cleanser, look for the words ‘sulfate-free’ on the bottle as this will imply that it’s a safe formula. You can get your skin properly cleaned while keeping the water in your skin where it belongs. (Skin cells are like fish and need water to live.) Every good skincare routine should begin with a gentle cleanser. Here are my cleanser recommendations.

Do you use soap to wash your face? These are also very drying to the skin. Read why you should never use bar soap.

Never leave your skin bare after washing.

After cleansing, you should quickly use an alcohol-free toner and moisturizer. If you leave your skin bare for more than 60 seconds, it will start to dehydrate. After cleansing, it’s best to apply an alcohol-free toner and always leave it damp on the skin so your serum or moisturizer that follows will lock in the hydrating benefits found in a toner. Read five reasons why you need to use a toner.

Never skip using moisturizer at night thinking that your skin needs to “breathe.”

People with acne-prone skin are often worried about using moisturizer. They believe that it will clog their pores and not let the skin “breathe”. There are a few problems with this type of thinking. First, wearing moisturizer does not directly cause breakouts. Acne occurs when the cells that line the inner pores fail to fall off properly and the pore becomes clogged. This process happens whether you moisturize or not.

Second, respiration doesn’t happen in the skin. The concept of your skin breathing is false.

Those with oily, blemish-prone skin must use moisturizer no matter what. Your skin needs sufficient water to keep it healthy and balanced. Skipping moisturizer disrupts the skin’s proper water levels, and this dehydration process stimulates more oil production, causing that oily and dry feeling we are talking about. This potentially causes more breakouts, as it encourages the formation of bacteria and the build-up of dead cells within the pores. The key here is to choose a moisturizer that is suitable for your skin type. Dry skin types need moisturizers that deliver oil into the skin while oily skin types require a moisturizer that gives water.

Use a humidifier during the winter months.

If the air is moist, then the moisture in your skin will likely stay put rather than evaporating into the dry winter air.

Use a skin serum underneath your moisturizer.

By applying a few drops of a lightweight skin serum underneath a moisturizer, you’ll get much-needed hydration to alleviate a tight feeling. I’ll suggest that my clients with oily skin use Skin Drink Concentrate. Here are five types to hydrate oily, acne-prone skin without causing breakouts.

In summary, if you feel like you have dry, oily skin and your skin is feeling tight but you know you have underlying oil, you simply need to use a skincare routine that does a better job at balancing your skin to get it in a healthy state. It’s an easy fix!

Which skin care products are best for you? See our nine skin types or take the Skin Type Quiz and get products recommended.

Need expert advice from a licensed esthetician? Schedule a virtual consultation to get customized advice in person, over the phone or online via Skype or FaceTime.

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Renée Rouleau

Celebrity Esthetician & Skincare Expert
As an esthetician trained in cosmetic chemistry, Renée Rouleau has spent 30 years researching skin, educating her audience, and building an award-winning line of products. Trusted by celebrities, editors, bloggers, and skincare obsessives around the globe, her vast real-world knowledge and constant research are why Marie Claire calls her “the most passionate skin practitioner we know.”