Lori Anderson is known as one of the top facialists in San Francisco, and she's a card-carrying member of the combination-skinned club.
Is your skin a double agent? If so, you’re not alone—most of us have combination skin, with certain areas of our complexion serenely balanced while other areas struggle mightily with either too much oil or not enough. And, just to keep things interesting, combination skin (or any skin type, really) can shift from oilier to drier, only to shift back again just when you think you’ve figured out what’s going on.
What to do about all of this drama? For a sympathetic point of view, we went to Lori Anderson, one of San Francisco’s best facialists and a member of the combination-skinned club herself. Read on to learn how to identify combination skin and how to deal with it, both on the outside (with the right products) and on the inside (with the right diet and lifestyle habits).
Ayla: How often do you see clients with combination skin, and what does it look like?
LORI: These days, that’s pretty much all I see. The majority of my clients have combination skin, and I have it myself. Here’s what you might see when you look in the mirror:
• Combination-Oily skin usually has an oily t-zone, with enlarged pores on the forehead, nose, and chin that are prone to clogging. On the rest of the face, there are no visible pores and it feels smooth, free of bumps and flakiness (on a good day).
• Combination-Dry skin often has a balanced forehead, but dry, rashy patches elsewhere that can get inflamed, red, or itchy.
• Balanced skin, on the other hand, looks virtually flawless as far as dry and oily patches are concerned.
It’s really hard, though, to diagnose your own skin, particularly when it changes from day to day. The best way to determine what your skin needs is really by experimenting (carefully) with products. I tell my clients to have a little toolkit of products on hand so that they can treat it as needed.
Ayla: If you’re seeing more people these days with combination skin, is there any particular cause that you can pinpoint?
LORI: I think the most common cause of it is the excessive use of products. A lot of us have a tendency to go overboard with scrubs and glycolic acid, believing that if we use those products more often, our blackheads or flaky patches or brown spots will go away, but we end up doing more harm than good. Also, there are a lot of cleansers out there with strong ingredients, like sulfates, that are likely to create an imbalance in your skin, too.
Ayla suggestion: Luzern Pure Cleansing Gelee and S5 Neutralise are gentle but effective, combination-skin-friendly cleansers.
Ayla: What types of products work well for combination skin?
LORI: It varies from person to person, but I would follow these general guidelines:
• Keep it simple. Have a toolkit of products, but don’t use them all at once.
• Don’t forget that, as you get older, your skin needs oil. Skin-friendly oils can be very beneficial in protecting and balancing the skin.
• Don’t buy products with 50-100 ingredients. That can definitely contribute to irritation and unbalanced skin.
Ayla suggestion: The Organic Pharmacy’s Antioxidant Gel and Serum are perfect partners in any combination skin toolkit – used together, you can adjust the ratio of gel to serum as you wish, making a great moisturizer that perfectly accommodates combination skin’s fickle behavior.
Ayla: If you have combination skin, does it make sense to use different products to treat the oily or dry patches on your face separately?
LORI: Sure—I do! It depends on how much time you want to spend on your skin. If you can spend an extra two minutes on skincare in the morning and evening, then yes, especially when you’re applying a mask or a moisturizer. For instance:
• When you’re applying a mask, you can use a hydrating type of mask on your cheeks and a clay mask on your t-zone to deal with blackheads or enlarged pores.
Ayla suggestion: Naturopathica’s Seaweed Recovery Mask is a great hydrator, and The Organic Pharmacy’s Purifying Seaweed Clay Mask will mop up excess oil.
• For clients with very oily t-zones, I’ll suggest putting moisturizer only on their cheeks during the day, but I always tell them to use an eye cream, too—you never have enough oil around your eyes.
Ayla suggestion: A great, non-greasy choice is Luzern Labs Force de Vie Eye Contour Crème.
Ayla: Can certain diet and lifestyle habits contribute to imbalanced skin?
LORI: When I’m looking at someone’s skin, I usually ask a whole list of questions about lifestyle and diet in addition to finding out what products they’re using and how they’re using them. Some of the lifestyle and dietary habits that I think contribute to unbalanced skin include:
• Too much sun
• Too much alcohol or caffeine
• Excessive use of medications
• Diets rich in sodium and preservatives
• Diets poor in good fats (like those found in nuts, for instance)
Ayla: What “whole skincare” tips can you offer to help bring skin back into balance?
LORI: I find that these usually help:
• Reducing stress
• Reducing or eliminating caffeine
• Watching alcohol consumption
• Drinking more water (up to 10 glasses per day)
• Eating a balanced diet of whole foods that’s rich in fruits, vegetables, healthy fats (olive oil, avocado oil, and unsalted nuts), and basic proteins
• Taking a fish oil supplement—usually, my clients notice a difference after a couple of weeks
About Lori Anderson: Lori is known as one of San Francisco’s best estheticians. She began her own business in the late ‘90s and takes an approach that balances science and common sense; her background as a paramedic informs her choices and philosophy towards skincare. She is big on teaching clients how to take care of their skin in between appointments and spends as much time discussing the effect of diet and lifestyle on skin as she does advising her clients on the best products to use for their individual needs. Learn more about Lori’s background (or book an appointment) here.
Any topic discussed in this article is not intended as medical advice. If you have a medical concern, please check with your doctor.