It's always interesting to me when I meet someone with truly "dry skin." As in, they seriously don't produce much oil. They may have a few blackheads here and there but generally their skin is without the concerns most people have with say, t-zone oiliness, occasional shininess, breakouts. They're on a perpetual quest for additional moisture. It's also interesting to meet a person with exclusively "oily skin," someone who never has dead skin flakes hanging out and who has learned that most moisturizers are not their friend or are unnecessary. Those polarities certainly exist, but they're not what I see 90% of the time.
Maybe it's an exaggeration to say 90%, or just due to the fact combination skin people seek my help more often that true dry and true oily people, but I do think combination skin is what most people have.
You may be combination/predominantly dry or combination/predominantly oily, or right down the middle, or maybe you go between the 3 states within a given month and throughout the year (I do!), but the following skin care recommendations will apply to you and make your skin happier than if you treat it as a polarity:
1) Choose a cleanser that's gentle--but also one that's going to get your face actually clean
I usually see cleansers that are either marketed to breakout-prone and oily-skinned people that promise to clean out pores (impossible for a cleanser, I will explain below) and tend to be too harsh; or "gentle" skin cleansers that are marketed to the dry-skinned (usually these are lotion-type cleansers that don't do a great job of actually cleaning and especially not removing makeup). My thought is, why box yourself in when you know you have combination skin?
The best choice for ALL skin types, in my humble opinion, is a gentle, fragrance-free gel cleanser (here's ours, as an example) that's not full of harsh detergent agents. NO sodium lauryl sulfate for example! Sodium laureth sulfate is actually okay. Not all sulfates are bad, and sometimes a product that says "sulfate-free" won't get you as clean as you need to be, especially if it's a shampoo. But sodium lauryl sulfate is irritating and drying and just bad, so avoid it.
But avoiding fragrance is actually even more important! I don't just mean free of synthetic perfume, I also mean ditch essential oils. Those are just so so awful for your skin (save them for the air, use them in a diffuser). I don't care what anyone else says, they can fight me on this!! I will battle to the death. Actually, your skin cells will be dying, not me! Volatile, fragrant oils just do not, under any circumstance, belong on the face. They kill skin cells ("apoptosis," worth a Google); cause skin to produce more oil to protect itself from the assault; cause tiny dermatitis bumps; cause redness; and cause a flaky layer of dead skin (because again, essential oils kill skin cells). I can always tell if someone has been stalking the Whole Body aisles by their pink faces with the tiny bumps;) If you pick up a cleanser and it has a scent to it (and that will be the vast majority, because marketers know you loooove scent, even if your poor skin hates it), put it down. Walk away. Walk on by. Remember, your skin is an ORGAN. Organs (except your brain, which enjoys it), do not need, want or enjoy perfume--natural or otherwise--slathered on them.
Also, avoid hot water. Even in the shower. Just turn the water to cool to tepid when you wash your face and avoid getting it into the shower stream otherwise. If you expose your face to the hot water you use on your body (which I think your body can handle, as long as it isn't too hot--I'm not suggesting cold showers!) you will both dry out your facial skin and make it oilier. Just like it hates fragrance, your skin hates temperature extremes, and combination skin in particular needs to avoid extremes.
2) Exfoliate--both superficially and inside the pore
What does that even mean?? It means you'll need more than one type of exfoliant, unfortunately! Fortunately, it can be a quick thing. I like glycolic for dead surface skin because it dissolves the flakes and dry layer gently, without forcing you to rub and scratch with a brush, scrub or washcloth (rubbing messes up your skin's elasticity and stimulates oil production, which is obviously not ideal). Glycolic also plumps up the skin because it stimulates collagen!
How do you integrate glycolic? I prefer gentle, low concentration ones you can sweep on like a toner (like ours, obviously, because that's what I asked our chemist to make:) because I like to see the dead skin come off on a cotton pad--just a personal preference. But some people may prefer gel or lotion types. Up to you. You'd apply either after cleansing and before any other type of moisturizer. You DO need to be using an SPF daily if you exfoliate with glycolic, since it reveals new skin cells to the UV rays, but you should be anyway!
When you want to dissolve gunk inside the pore, there are lots of products that seem like they'd help but very few actually will for combination skin types. Many products are simply too harsh (like, you really don't want anything alcohol based, or even witch hazel (which is chemically pretty much the same thing! remember, just because something is "natural..."). These harsh products may dissolve oil but they're so irritating they get too much and actually make your skin produce MORE oil as it tries to protect itself from the attack, thus exacerbating your combination skin). And cleansers that claim to get inside the pore are simply lying. Surfactants, which are in cleansers, are able to get surface oil only. Any salicylic acid listed on a cleanser label is useless, it just gets swept away. And besides, I have fallen out of love with saliyclic acid anyway.
Lactic acid is my favorite acid for dissolving oil trapped inside pores. After you've applied your glycolic (which can be used around the eyes to dissolve dead skin so moisturizer will penetrate more effectively), go in with lactic over areas you tend to clog. Sweep it over your entire face--except under your eyes! I wouldn't apply lactic under your eyes because you don't have enough oil to justify that and you could create dryness. But everywhere else is a good idea for combination people.
The great thing about lactic is it not only helps blackheads and breakouts, it also helps with those stubborn hard white things called milia. Combination skin people can be prone to milia, and nothing helps prevent those better than lactic because lactic acid can dissolve the keratin (the hardened oil) in them. Awesome.
My daily routine goes: cleanse; glycolic; lactic; moisturizer (with SPF for AM and without SPF for PM)
3) Moisturize appropriately--but not excessively
NO CREAMS, except under your eyes perhaps--if you're truly dried out there. Your best bet is to choose lightweight, fluid-type moisturizers or gels that will give you just enough hydration to not feel tight but that also won't clog your pores. Again, fragrance-free is best. And you have no option for daytime, you must wear an SPF! So find one you like the feel of. But at night you may not even need a moisturizer (see below to find out when you might not).
4) Be consistent--but change things up for your cycle and the season
Cleanse, exfoliate and protect from the sun. Those are the steps I recommend for every day skin care, especially for combination skin. Any slacking off will push your skin into an extreme and make it look worse. You'll accumulate dead skin and oil if you don't cleanse and exfoliate daily, because 24/7 you're producing both. That said, hormones and seasons can shift you into an oilier phase or drier phase if you're combination, so you might want to lean more heavily on glycolic or lactic one day/week/month compared to another, and you may need more moisturizer or none at all any given day. Combination skin types must always pay careful attention to what their faces are saying. It's a little more work, but it will pay off to be sensitive to the ups and downs of your oil cycle. Hotter months you'll produce more oil naturally, and the week before your period as well. Colder months and the week of your period you'll produce less. So just don't be a slave to a given routine. Do be consistent, though...does that seem contradictory?? I'm sorry! But to use myself as an example, I use glycolic just once a day instead of twice a day when I'm oilier, and lactic just once a day instead of twice a day when I'm drier. I don't just skip out of either totally. It really does come down to just paying attention. I like using a period-tracking app to help me with that.
So there you go! I hope that was helpful. Please contact me if you need additional help interpreting your skin's needs, because that's what I'm here for and enjoy:)