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Skin Types: The Full Story

I fully believe in a ”one size does not fit all” philosophy when it comes to skincare. Cleansers, moisturizers, treatment products and so forth can either create a fantastic result or reek havoc with the delicate biological balance that makes up your skin. But creating the perfect skin type chart has been a long and sometimes befuddling personal battle for me.

When in esthetics school over forty years ago, we learned that there were six major factors

to consider when doing the all important skin analysis portion of the facial. We would dutifully turn on our dermascopes, that circular magnifying glass surrounded by a bright light, and examine the skin. We not only looked at the skin, but we would squeeze, pinch and run our fingers over it's surface to understand it's hydration levels, the amount of oil it produced, sensitivity levels and even resistance to our touch to help determine its biological age as opposed to its chronological age. What we observed would dictate which facial we would recommend for our clients as well as what products they should use.

There were six major steps to consider during skin analysis:


The obvious place to start was to determine how much oil the client was producing. Most major skincare lines base their entire range of skincare products on this one observation alone. Oil secretion is generally an inherited characteristic, although it is often influenced by lifestyle and biological factors. The primary determinants, beside what genes you've inherited are age and hormone levels. When one goes through puberty their hormone levels are a bit erratic. Increased surges of testosterone increase oil production and breakouts. Going through menopause and a sharp decrease in hormone levels means you will start producing less oil and skin will become drier. Stress, climate, diet and the products you use will also affect your skin’s sebaceous glands and their tendency for producing oil. Those who have larger pores also have larger sebaceous glands, or oil producing machinery. So observing pore size along with how much oil you actually see on the skin's surface helps the esthetician make that determination. Be aware that as you age your pores may get larger not from producing more oil, but because the skin has relaxed and the pores appear larger. This can be tricky sometimes. It doesn't hurt to ask your client. The esthetician must also be aware of which products the client is using. When an oily skin client over dries their skin by using products that are too harsh it creates a rebound effect. That means their skin will try to compensate by pumping out more oil. This is a good reason to avoid cleansers that contain detergent. A light weight milk may be just what you need. Oily skins are also more prone to breakouts, although an oily skin treated properly can remain quite clear and beautiful. Alipidic skin or dry skin is also an inherited characteristic. If you have inherited a dry skin, meaning your skin produces little to no oil, you will probably not be able to change that characteristic. You can however treat dry skin with moisturizers that contain lipids to replace the missing oil. You also will benefit from ceramides in a serum to fill in the spaces between cells and protect this type of skin, which tends to be more sensitive, from the environment.


Dehydration is more of a skin condition rather than a skin type. A skin condition is something that can be more easily changed with the right products and lifestyle habits. Most of us have a certain amount of dehydration, which refers to the amount of water in our skin cells. Hydrated cells stay alive longer and look fresher. Hydrated cells can more easily take in essential nutrients and oxygen that are vital for sustaining the life of the cell. Oily skin can also be dehydrated skin. This can be a problem for them because dehydrated skin results in an excessive amount of surface dead cells that can trap in oil and add to clogged pores. There are serums that are oil free but can grab onto moisture and hold it in the skin. They usually contain hyaluronic acid which is a super humectant to relieve dehydration for all skin types. Dry skin is almost always dehydrated as well. Dry skin lacks lipids that hold in water. There are two types of dehydration. Superficial dehydration is skin that is lacking water in the surface cell layers. Superficially dehydrated skin looks dull, is sometime visibly flaky and when the esthetician looks closely under the dermascope and runs her fingers over the skin she sees tiny little breaks between the cells that look very similar to an onion skin’s topography. superficial dehydration requires consistent use of a hydrating moisturizer. Another form of dehydration is deep dehydration. This is when the skin has been dehydrated for a while. Eventually this leads to the absence of water in the lower layers of the skin. Deeply dehydrated skin cannot support collagen, elastin and other components of the dermis. This leads to loss of tone and the formation of wrinkles. Prevention is the best cure for deeply dehydrated skin. Growth factors and peptides incorporated in an anti-aging serum are essential for repair. Then you must fortify your repair serum with a rich emollient cream.


For purposes of skin analysis one’s tone refers to how resistant your skin is to snapping back into place after being pulled. How tight your skin is to the bones and muscles that lie underneath. Tight, firm skin is something that is shared by all younger skins. Loss of tone can be caused by stress, hormones, inactivity, certain bone structures but the biggest culprit is gravity. This is why the esthetician does the pinch test. You can try it yourself by pinching the skin on the back of your hand. Young skin will be difficult to grasp and snaps back instantly. Older skin may be thinner, easily grasped and hesitates in returning to its original position. There are several treatments that can help with skin tone without going to the extreme of getting a face lift. Retinol, Vitamin C and Growth Factors will encourage collagen production and other constituents of the dermis that helps keep skin resistant to the effects of gravity. One esthetician friend of mine hangs her head upside down over the edge of her bed for a few minutes each night to help counteract the the effects of gravity.


How does the skin feel to the touch. Skin should feel smooth, even and level. Pores should have consistent size openings. Although it's normal to have larger pores on the nose and tiny little pores on the forehead. Even if you have oily skin, which often means it has an orange peel texture, you can smooth it out with regular exfoliation. If the client has clogged pores with little white bumps (milia) that should also be noted. If the skin is dry or dehydrated the texture can be rough. Smooth skin is the desire of every client and a goal for the esthetician. Retinol is one of the best ingredients for reorganizing cells to give them a more even structure and a smooth, even and more youthful texture.


Not every esthetician pays enough attention to circulation. Circulation is a critical characteristic that affects the health and longevity of your skin. If your skin is under-circulated that means you are not getting enough blood flow to the skin. Under-circulated skin tends to be pale and dull, feels cold to the touch and wrinkles more easily because the skin is not getting the proper nutrients it needs. Under-circulated skin needs a little extra nudge to increase circulation. This can come from herbs like ginseng or energy boosters like CoQ10, niacinamide and ergothionine. These ingredients are the star players for an effective anti-aging program and are particularly important for under-circulated skin. Besides choosing cell boosting ingredients try doing a little bit of home massage every time you cleanse your face. Thirty seconds of little circles over your skin can increase the delivery of nutrients and oxygen via increased blood flow. Over-circulated skin tends gets too much blood flow to the skin. More blood flow may sound great but more blood flow is often caused by inflammation. Inflamed skin tends to be more reactive, more sensitive to products and the environment, more likely to develop rashes, irritations, red papular acne and be far more rosacea prone. Constantly inflamed skin leads to a chain reaction of free radical damage that can greatly hassen aging for over-circulated or sensitive skin. Over-circulated skin must be calmed and needs a certain type of antioxidant called polyphenols. Polyphenols can be found in calming skincare products but are also found in diets that are rich in fruits and veggies that are brightly pigmented (think berries). Polyphenols are also found in nuts, green tea and even in dark chocolate. Over and under circulated skin can both lead to premature aging. The key to getting the right amount of blood flow to the skin is all about balance. This is where the right choice of skin care products is a necessity.


Pigmentation not only refers to how much melanin (pigment) you are producing but how evenly the pigmentation in your skin is distributed. Sun damage is a primary cause of uneven pigmentation and sun spots. Uneven pigmentation is also affected by, you guessed it... hormones. Clients with melasma have the skin type where hormones distribute pigmentation deeper into the dermis. This problem is particularly hard to correct. Some treatments, like laser and hydroquinone can be effective but can also cause a backlash effect that can worsen the condition. Uneven pigmentation accumulates over time after repeated DNA damage happens to skin cells. After menopause, age spots and uneven pigmentation can suddenly show up on the skin. This is because estrogen, which previously suppressed pigmentation, has dropped and the damage that happened possibly decades ago may suddenly appear. Acne clients also have to deal with pigmentation spots. These red or brown spots are called PIH. Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation are spots that are left over from old blemishes. PIH gets good results from salicylic acid combined with calming ingredients. The esthetician can offer ways to reduce PIH but patience and sun avoidants is imperative. This is when sunscreen is particularly important to wear every day.

So, now you understand why the simple skin types of normal, dry and oily just don't cut it. Here is my conundrum. The skin types I have just outlined for you are a general overview of the different characteristics that make up a particular Skin Type. And, I bet you just thought you were going in for a facial just to relax and get away from it all. Most estheticians do not verbally address all these issues but a good esthetician is constantly thinking about them as they go through the facial process. Maybe I over thought it but I have anguished over creating an all encompassing skin typing system that could be easily followed by my clients and presented by my staff. The problem of course is given the six major categories and all of the variations within each category, there are hundreds of Skin Types that could be documented. One time I created sixty four documented skin types in a chart that I kept in my spa for my estheticians to reference. I think I was driving them crazy so I managed to whittle it down down to thirty four, then sixteen. The sixteen skin types I had printed up along with skin tips that matched their type. We gave them to clients in my spa. These were very helpful for first time clients, but what happened when the season changed and so did their skin? I considered shorter skin type charts but was alway plagued by the "what ifs".

In my wise old age I've finally settled on twelve Skin Types that I feel reasonably confident will guide you to your most effective skin care choices. With the current Skin Types I include the big three. Secretion, Circulation (which considers sensitivity and hydration) and Age (which considers skin turgor, hormone levels and pigmentation). This Longevity Skin Type Chart works surprisingly well at providing you with great recommendations for which products will bring about the best results for your skin type. I will try not to ruminate over the “what if’s” concerning special circumstances that a client might have. Use this system confidently, but if you encounter problems or questions about your skin type or special concerns it is best to book a Virtual Skin Consultation and I will personally help you hone in on solutions that address your unique skin type and how you can take advantage of longevity skincare.

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