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How To Tell Your Skin Type and Skin Tone

Everyone has a unique skin type and tone that requires specific care and attention. Understanding yours makes a world of difference, helping you choose the right skincare products, treatments, and routines to address your skin's unique needs.

Image showing three women with different skin tones ranging from fair skin tone to dark skin tone

Key Takeaways:

  • Skin type and skin tone are two very similar but different aspects of the skin.
  • Your skin type refers to your skin's inherent characteristics, such as its oiliness, dryness, and sensitivity. 
  • On the other hand, skin tone refers to the color of the skin, which is determined by the amount of melanin it contains. 
  • Regardless of your skin color, your skin type could fall into one of these categories: normal skin, sensitive skin, dry skin, oily skin, or combination skin. 

One question that might leave you scratching your head when you're new to the skincare world is, "What's your skin type?" Terms like oily, dry, and combination skins will sound complicated, not to mention figuring out your skin tone.

But don't worry. Understanding your skin type and skin tone doesn't have to be that overwhelming. This article simplifies what oily, dry, and combination skin types mean and gives practical tips to help you identify your skin type and tone.

Skin Type vs Skin Tone

First, skin type and skin tone are two major, distinct skin features. 

Skin type refers to the skin's hydration or moisture content and the amount of sebum (oil) it produces. It is primarily determined by genetics but can change over time due to:

  • Aging
  • Environmental stressors like sun exposure, pollution, and climate
  • Hormonal fluctuations during puberty, pregnancy, and menopause
  • And even skincare routines. 

On the other hand, skin tone refers to your skin's color, which is primarily a result of the amount of melanin it contains. It ranges from fair to deep and may have pink, yellow, or olive undertones. 

Just like skin types, skin tone can be affected by environmental factors like sun exposure. As such, long-term sun exposure can darken your skin tone by a few shades—a process called “tanning.”

However, such changes are temporary and do not permanently modify the fundamental skin pigmentation (skin tone), which is primarily determined by genetics. Once sun exposure is reduced and the skin has a chance to recover, it will gradually return to its natural color.

The Different Skin Types

Each skin type has unique traits—such as pore size, texture, oiliness, and sensitivity— which all come into play when determining your skin type. The different skin types include:

  • Normal skin  
  • Dry skin 
  • Oily skin  
  • Combination skin
  • Sensitive skin 

Normal Skin Type

This skin type is well-balanced, with no visible pores and a smooth, even texture. It is neither too oily nor too dry, and it rarely breaks out.

Dry Skin Type

Dry skin lacks oil and moisture. It can feel tight, rough, and flaky and is prone to fine lines and wrinkles.

Oily Skin Type

This skin type is characterized by an overproduction of sebum, which makes the skin look shiny and greasy. It is also prone to acne and blackheads.

Combination Skin Type

As the name implies, combination skin is a mix of oily and dry skin, with an oily T-zone (forehead, nose, and chin) and dry cheeks.

Sensitive Skin Type

This skin type is prone to redness, itching, acne, and irritation caused by certain products and specific skincare ingredients.

How To Find Out Your Skin Type at Home

To identify your skin type:

1. Observe how your skin feels throughout the day:

  • Normal skin feels comfortable and balanced—not too oily or too dry.
  • Oily skin tends to be shiny, especially in the T-zone (forehead, nose, and chin). 
  • Dry skin feels tight and may have visible flakes. 
  • Combination skin can exhibit properties of both oily and dry skin.

2. Parchment paper test:

Here is how to do the parchment paper test to help you determine your skin type:

  • Wash your face with a gentle cleanser and pat it dry.
  • Wait for your skin to return to its natural state, without any skincare products applied.
  • Press a piece of parchment paper against different areas of your face, such as the forehead, nose, cheeks, and chin, and observe how it sticks to your skin.

To read the result:

  • If the parchment paper sticks to all areas, your skin may be oily.
  • If the parchment paper sticks only to certain areas, like the T-zone, but not to the cheeks, you may have combination skin.
  • If the parchment paper does not stick to any area and falls off easily, your skin may be dry.
  • If the parchment paper sticks slightly to some areas but not to others, you may have normal skin.

3. Observe your pore size:

 Wash your face with a gentle cleanser, pat it dry, and examine the pores of your skin in a mirror using good lighting:

  • You likely have oily skin if your pores appear larger and more visible, especially on your nose and forehead.
  • If your pores are smaller and less noticeable, you may have dry skin.
  • If your pores are a mix of sizes, some larger and some smaller, you likely have combination skin.
  • If your pores are not particularly noticeable and appear small, you may have normal skin.

4. Sensitivity Test:

You most likely have sensitive skin if your skin often becomes red, itchy, or develops a rash after using most products that many other people don't react to.

The Different Skin Tones

Everyone’s skin tone falls into one of the following four major categories based on their skin’s melanin content:

  • Fair skin 
  • Light skin
  • Medium skin 
  • Deep skin

Fair Skin Tone

Fair skin contains very little melanin. It appears pale and porcelain-like and is prone to burning rather than tanning in the sun. Fair skin often has a cool undertone, which may appear pinkish or reddish.

Light Skin Tone

Light skin tone is slightly darker than fair skin, with a warm, cool, or neutral undertone. It tends to tan slightly in the sun but still burns easily. Light skin is often characterized by a golden undertone, which can be enhanced by makeup and skincare products.

Medium Skin Tone

Medium skin tone has more melanin than fair skin and tends to have a warmer, golden hue. It tans easily in the sun and has yellow or warm undertones.

Deep (Dark) Skin Tone

Dark skin contains the most melanin of all the skin tone classifications, resulting in a rich, brown complexion. It rarely burns in the sun but develops a deep, even tan instead. Deep skin tones often have olive or neutral undertones.

Notice how we always refer to undertones? It's because they're a crucial factor to consider when discussing skin tones. While "skin tone" refers to the skin's surface color, "undertone" is the more subtle hue that lies underneath the tone and is determined by the balance of red, yellow, and blue/purple pigments. 

How To Determine Your Skin Tone

The commonest way to determine your skin tone is the sun-reactivity test.

To carry out this test, look at the color of your skin in the mirror, especially around the jawline, which is less affected by color changes, and observe how your skin reacts to sun exposure:

  • If it burns (as in sunburn) without tanning, it implies you have a fair skin tone.
  • If it burns easily and doesn't tan much, you likely have a fair or light skin tone.
  • You likely have a medium skin tone if it tans easily without burning.
  • If it doesn't burn in the sun but develops a deep, even tan instead, you have a dark skin tone.

Alternatively, you can utilize skin tone and undertone identification tools or apps. Such tools and apps can analyze a photo of your skin to determine your skin tone and undertone within minutes.

Why You Need to Know Your Skin Type and Skin Tone

Knowing your skin type and tone is essential for effective skincare and other factors that best suit your skin and health.

Here’s why it matters:

1. Effective Skincare Routine

Knowing whether your skin is oily, dry, combination, or sensitive helps you choose the right products for your skincare routine. For instance, dry skin needs extra hydration, while oily skin benefits from products that manage excess oil. This ensures your routine is both effective and gentle on your skin.

2. Makeup and Clothing Choices

Your skin tone affects which colors complement your complexion. Understanding your skin tone allows you to select makeup shades, clothing colors, and hair dyes that highlight your natural beauty.

3. Skin Health

Tailoring your skincare routine to your skin type and tone helps maintain overall skin health. It prevents common issues like acne, dryness, or sensitivity and addresses specific concerns more effectively, ensuring your skin stays healthy and vibrant.

4. Personalised Care

Identifying your skin type and tone allows for personalized recommendations from dermatologists or aestheticians. These professionals can suggest products and treatments tailored to your skin’s unique needs, providing you with the best possible care.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can you change your skin tone?

Your skin tone is primarily determined by the amount of melanin pigment in your skin, which is determined by genetics. No treatments can permanently alter this. However, you can alter or even out skin tone to some degree, either naturally or with skin-lightening products (which are often unsafe).

Is skin type genetic?

Yes, skin type is primarily determined by your genes, and so is genetics.[2]

What does porcelain skin mean?

Porcelain skin refers to a flawless skin type characterized by smooth, pore-less, blemish-free, and even-toned skin, regardless of the actual skin color.

What skin type is least likely to have blemishes?

Compared to other skin types, normal skin type has the smoothest texture, characterized by fine pores, balanced production,  and good blood circulation. It is the least likely skin type to have blemishes.