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From the Experts

Building Your Makeup Kit: All About Skin Types

Celebrity makeup artist, Nathan Johnson (@nathanwalnut), is QC Makeup Academy’s Executive Makeup Artist and is based in New York City. As winter approaches, Nathan gives his advice on understanding skin types so you can find products that suit every client!

One of the most overlooked and misunderstood aspects of makeup artistry is a strong understanding of skin types and conditions. For a perfect look that lasts all day, the majority of makeup products should be skin type appropriate. Additionally, your clients will always be asking for skincare tips and recommendations!

If you don’t really understand skin types and conditions, you’ll never be able to make any accurate recommendations. Your ability to recognize and work with each individual skin type will display a level of mastery beyond even the most experienced artists. Today we’ll address skin types and conditions, and in a future article, well will discuss some killer products and brands that work well with each one!

Skin Types and How to Recognize Them

Woman with normal skin type

Normal skin

Normal skin is often called well-balanced. There is generally an even balance of sebum (a natural lubricator produced by the body to keep the skin and hair smooth, supple, and shiny), and the skin is not too oily or too dry. The pores are fine and evenly distributed over the mask of the face. The skin has a soft, smooth texture, a fresh color, and no consistent blemishes or sensitivities.

Dry skin

Those with dry skin produce less sebum than those with normal skin – it is present all over the body, including the hands, scalp, and legs. Those with this skin type tend to soak up moisturizers immediately. It can happen in a variety of degrees ranging from mild (which feels tights and itchy) to severe (which can be rough, flakey, and dull). This results in the skin’s inability to retain its natural moisture. This can happen from a variety of causes including:

  • TEWL (trans-epidermal water loss—whereby a person with an impaired barrier layer will lose moisture)
  • Lack of ceramides and fatty acids that keep the barrier layer of the skin healthy
  • Aging
  • Other internal and external factors (poor diet, over exposure to the sun, medical conditions, etc.)

Dry skin can be recognized by a lack of pores, fine lines and wrinkles, and varying degrees of dullness, brittleness, tightness, and flakiness.

Woman with dry skin applying makeup

Oily skin

Those with oily skin have a heightened amount of sebum production. It can be recognized by enlarged and more noticeable pores, a shine over the skin, and often comedones (blackheads and whiteheads). Oily skin is usually a result of hormones and genetics. A proper routine can even out the oil production, but that will not change your skin type.

Combination Skin

Combination Dry

Those with this skin type experience dry skin in some areas and have normal skin in others. This is a result of natural variations in sebum production across the face. The areas with less oil production tend to be across the cheeks, while the mask of the face (or T-zone area) remains normal. Clients will likely have no visible pores on their cheeks (or other areas of the face), which will cause it to feel dry and itchy. The normal areas of the face will often have fine pores and be well-balanced.

Combination Oily

On clients with this skin type, you will notice some areas that are normal and some areas that are oily. As with combination dry skin, this is the result of natural variances in oil production across the face. The oil glands in the T-zone area tend to produce more, making that area oily, while the cheeks produce less, making them normal. Clients with this skin type will notice enlarged pores in their T-zone and finer pores across their cheeks. The skin on the T-zone will feel slick or oily, whereas the skin on the cheeks will feel soft and well balanced.

Acneic skin

Acne can range from mild—with comedones appearing on the face and as well as the neck, shoulders, back, and chest—to severe—with breakouts covering the face and body. In these cases, and those of cystic acne, scarring can be a common side effect without proper care. A few simple questions will help to determine if a client is acneic.

First, ask if their breakouts continued after puberty. Second, ask if the breakouts were also on their chest, neck, and back. If the answer is yes, they are likely acneic and their skin requires gentle care with non-comedogenic ingredients (specially formulated so as not to block pores).

Sensitive skin

True sensitive skin is part of your DNA. It often manifests with persistent redness, flushing, pustules and papules, and overall sensitivity. This skin type can be determined by a medical diagnosis.

Makeup client with sensitive skin

How to tell if a person has sensitive skin:

  1. Do they have Doctor diagnosed rosacea? Do they have psoriasis? If so, they have sensitive skin.
  2. Do they have two of the following three doctor diagnosed conditions: asthma, eczema, or hay fever? If so, they have sensitive skin.

If they do not have a combination of those conditions, or some other auto-immune related medical condition that affects their skin, their skin is sensitized, not sensitive.

Skin Conditions

Skin conditions are commonly confused with skin types. While there are a whole host of skin conditions, I would like to touch on the two most common and often most misunderstood – sensitized skin and dehydration.

Sensitized skin

Sensitized skin is often confused or lumped together with sensitive skin. This is an oversight as the two are very different. As I mentioned above, sensitive skin is your skin type and it is a result of your DNA. Sensitized skin, on the other hand, is a result of your habits, your environment, and other internal and external factors that are under your control.

There are thousands of reasons people may develop sensitized skin, but the most common include pollution, poor diet, alcohol consumption, improper or overuse of certain topical products, harsh cleansing, cigarette smoking, harsh weather conditions, chlorine, etc. In order to improve sensitized skin, the trigger has to be determined and eliminated. This can be as simple as eliminating a product with an ingredient that doesn’t agree with you, properly cleansing and moisturizing after swimming, wearing SPF, using silicone based products to allow the skin’s barrier layer to heal, quitting smoking, drinking more water, etc.

Skincare for winter dryness

Dehydrated skin

Just like sensitive/sensitized, dry skin is often lumped in with dehydrated skin. When a person’s skin feels dry, they naturally assume their skin type is dry or combination-dry, but very often it is simply in need of water. Remember, dry skin is categorized by a lack of oil. Dehydration, on the other hand, is a lack of water.

This can happen from a multitude causes including weather, heaters, makeup, poor diet, and incorrect use of skincare products. Here is the sneaky bit: when skin is dehydrated, it often produces more oil to compensate for the lack of water. This can result in more breakouts, flaky patches, and even irritation. It also results in people thinking their skin is dry and oily—what people often mis-categorize as combination skin. When the issue or issue causing the dehydration is found and addressed, the dehydration, and possible over-production of sebum, will stop with it.

The skin is our largest organ, it is also the last to receive vitamins, nutrients, and water from the body. Even if you drink tons of water, enough may never reach the skin. It is important to hydrate topically to ensure the hydration of your skin.

It is important to understand the differences between skin types (which are programmed by DNA) and skin conditions (which are results of our lifestyle). When you master the ability to identify them, a deeper would of makeup science will unfold before you. I hope you found this guide useful. In the future, we will highlight some amazing products and brands that really benefit each skin type and condition!

Is your skin ready for winter? Follow up with this guide to a glowing complexion all year long!

Nathan Johnson is a film, television, celebrity, and real women’s makeup artist with 18 years experience in the industry. Nathan believes in education and empowerment—his personal mission is to make America more beautiful one woman at a time. He brings product reviews, makeup tips, and personal experience to the QC blog.

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28 responses to “Building Your Makeup Kit: All About Skin Types”

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    Great information Merry Christmas

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  28. Chelsea Amanda says:

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