Skincare for combination skin needn’t be confusing. Here’s our go-to guide for nailing your regime

Creating a skincare routine for your needs can be a balancing act. It’s a bit like a puzzle, and a particularly tricky one if you have combination skin. 

If your face has a mix of dry and oily areas, it can be hard to know which one to build your routine around. Which is better to prioritise and why? From cleanser to moisturiser and SPF, we’ve created our go-to guide for helping you choose the right products to help take the confusion out of combination skincare and make your shopping experiences much less stressful.

Here’s what you need to know about the causes of dull skin and the products worth incorporating into your regime.

What is combination skin?

Having combination skin means having more than one skin type - usually an oily T-zone (across the forehead, nose and chin) and dry areas on the cheeks and jawline. Your menstrual cycle, changes in atmosphere (such as cold air and humidity), seasonal ebbs and flows and air travel can all affect how oily vs dry your skin is at any given time.

What is the best skincare routine for combination skin?

As a result of your skin’s differing demands, creating a routine can be a little complicated at first - especially when it comes to incorporating actives. While the oilier parts of your face are generally better able to tolerate higher strength formulations, the drier areas may be more susceptible to irritation. To keep skin happy, radiant and glowing, be guided by the more sensitive zones, and build a routine around their needs as a foundation in order to keep redness at bay and avoid disrupting your skin barrier. Once you’ve got that baseline sorted, you can add in leave-on treatments and products that target specific skin concerns such as spots or blackheads which are more likely to crop up along an oily T-zone.

The best skincare products for combination skin

1) The best cleanser for combination skin

To avoid drying out the more delicate cheek and eye areas, choose hydrating formulas designed to care rather than strip skin.

While it can be tempting to use more astringent cleansers for areas that are particularly shiny, this may have the unfortunate effect of making dry areas drier, and an oily T-zone shinier as it looks to replenish what it’s lost. Non-foaming formulas are best, as are ones that contain nourishing ingredients such as ceramides and hyaluronic acid. If your skin can be particularly sensitive in places, look for options that are fragrance-free too - you might also find our guide to the best face washes for sensitive skin helpful.

Try: CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser for Normal to Dry Skin (£9.50)

• Size: 236ml

• Fragrance-free

• Non-comedogenic

This non-foaming, fragrance-free gel cleanser suits a wide range of skin types - even the most sensitive - thanks to its nourishing formula containing ceramides and hyaluronic acid. It’s also non-comedogenic and so less likely to clog pores and lead to breakouts on your T-zone. The perfect balance.

Try: Bioderma Hydrabio H2O Micellar Water (£10.80)

• Size: 250ml

• Non-comedogenic

This micellar water’s gentle formula makes it ideal for removing eye make-up and as a first cleansing step before moving onto your face wash.

2) The best toner or exfoliator for combination skin

If you’re looking to boost tone, texture and radiance, it could be a good idea to incorporate an exfoliating acid toner into your routine.

Alpha hydroxy acids (or AHAs) such as glycolic acid can be a great go-to, as they exfoliate by sloughing off dead cells and increasing cell turnover, leading to brighter and smoother skin. A few words of caution though in order to get the most out of them:

• As glycolic acid can make skin more sun-sensitive, it’s best to use it at night (and wear an SPF the next day)

• If you’re new to an exfoliating acid, try using it once a week, building up to more regular use depending on how your skin feels

• Try not to layer it with other actives, such as a retinol, to avoid irritation

If you have excess oil on your T-zone resulting in blackheads, you can also try applying a salicylic acid exfoliator to target the area. Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid and, because it’s oil-soluble, it can be a great way to help clear clogged pores.

Try: PIXI Glow Tonic (£18)

• Size: 250ml

• Alcohol-free

As well as glycolic acid, this hugely popular exfoliator also contains energising ginseng and soothing aloe vera to provide the perfect pick-me-up for dull skin looking for a dose of radiance.

Try: The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution (£6.80)

• Size: 240ml

If you’re looking for something a little bit stronger (and your skin is able to tolerate it), try this leave-on treatment. In addition to a 7% serving of glycolic acid, it also contains Tasmanian Pepperberry derivative, chosen for its ability to reduce irritation associated with acid use.

Try: The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Masque (£9.90)

• Size: 50ml

Formulated for oily and blemish-prone skin, this exfoliating rinse-off mask infused with charcoal and clays, works a treat for helping unclog pores on an extra shiny T-zone.

3) The best moisturiser for combination skin

Moisturiser is a key part in anyone’s skincare armoury for keeping skin soft, supple and well hydrated from morning until evening. Many of us with combination skin worry that it might clog pores though, so look for lighter, less occlusive formulas to use during the day. Save your thicker or richer ones for the night to use with actives such as retinol.

Try: Estée Lauder Daywear Multi-Protection Anti-Oxidant 24H Moisturiser Crème Normal/Combination Skin SPF 15 (£45)

• Size: 50ml

• Non-comedogenic

• SPF15

This moisturiser’s lightweight, whipped formula is what sets it apart. Its cocktail of conditioning ingredients such as squalane, hyaluronic acid, glycerin and vitamins C and E makes it ideal for upping the skin’s defences against everything from pollution to the drying effects of cold weather and central heating.

Try: Dr.Jart+ Ceramidin Cream (£30)

• Size: 50ml

This nourishing moisturiser uses ceramides to support the skin’s barrier function and cocoon it against the elements. It sinks in quickly and reviewers also love using it as a night cream, especially in the winter months.

4) The best serum for combination skin

Whether you’re looking to strengthen skin’s defences against modern day stressors or to target anything from tone to texture, a serum can help. Providing a concentrated stream of actives for more targeted results (such as niacinamide to support barrier function, retinol to increase cell turnover and antioxidants to protect), it can be a worthwhile addition to your routine from your late 20s onwards (read our guide to the best night serums to find your perfect match).

When it comes to choosing the best serum for combination skin, a good starting point is to pick one that’s more likely to be well tolerated by the drier or more sensitive areas of your face - especially if you’re planning on using a retinoid and other vitamin A derivatives such as retinol - in order to reduce the risk of irritation. Retinoids are a great option if you’re looking to address dullness, uneven tone and rough texture; it’s best to go for a lower concentration to begin with, using it once a week to start and building up usage gradually to give skin time to adjust. If your skin’s particularly sensitive, apply a moisturiser underneath to act as a buffer.

Try: The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion (£8)

• Size: 30ml

As good for skin as it is for the bank balance, this high performance serum containing two types of retinoid helps improve the appearance of skin texture, tone and signs of sun damage.

Try: Clarins Double Serum (£78)

• Size: 50ml

Containing 21 plant extracts including antioxidants like turmeric, ginger lily and edelweiss, this serum can be used day or night to help with the appearance of dullness and signs of fatigue. Its innovative rotating push button also dispenses the perfect dosage, to take the guesswork out of application.

Try: La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo+ Serum 30ml

• Size: 30ml

If you have combination skin that veers more towards the oily and breakout-prone, then this serum containing calming niacinamide and salicylic and glycolic acids can help. Formulated to target excess sebum production, blackheads and blemishes, it helps skin to look smoother and clearer.

5) The best SPF for combination skin

The best SPF for combination skin (and any skin type, really) is one that you’re going to look forward to using everyday. For most, that means something that’s non-sticky and that leaves zero tell-tale white marks. A gel-based formula could be your perfect pairing, especially if you’re worried about sunscreen adding further shine to your T-zone.

Try: La Roche-Posay Hyalu B5 Aquagel SPF 30 (£34.50)

• Size: 50ml

• SPF 30

• Non-comedogenic

This hydrating gel acts as an invisible shield against sun damage thanks to its non-greasy, fast-absorbing formula and broad spectrum UVA and UVB protection. Enriched with hyaluronic acid and glycerin, it leaves skin glowing - a great way to end your morning routine if you ask us.

Photography: Getty images
All prices correct on date of publication