Can Your Skin Type Change? I Think Mine Has, So I Asked an Expert

For the past 35 years, I've known one thing to be true: my skin type is oily/combination.

I'm talking seriously oily. My face melting off by 3pm every day kind of oily.

But since turning 35 and being in lockdown, change is in the air. My skin is no longer an oil slick (huh?).

So confused are my skin and I, we've had to change our whole routine. I've swapped my micellar water for an oil cleanser (what?!), traded my gel cleanser for a cream cleanser (um, are you OK?), and for the first time in my life, my skin feels somewhat... normal?

Shanthi selfieShanthi selfie

I'm not complaining, but it got me thinking: am I experiencing some kind of beauty-placebo effect, or can your skin type change?

So, I called Melbourne-based Dermatologist Dr Shyamalar Gunatheesan to see if she could explain why my skin type has changed. Here's what she said.

Skin Types 101.

First, a quick refresher on skin types.

Experts agree skin types can be broken down into four categories: normal, oily, combination and dry.

Dr Gunatheesan advised me our skin type is predetermined by our DNA. In other words, you're born with your skin type. You enter this world as either an oily, dry, normal or combination human being.

(I keep imagining my newborn baby oily skin glistening as if my mother had slathered me in coconut oil... not unusual for a Sri Lankan mother to do!)

What Is My Skin Type?

The easiest way to find out your skin type is to think about how your skin looks/feels the majority of the time.

Is your skin mostly oily? Do you wake up with a sheen on your face or find your T-zone becomes oily by lunchtime? You've probably got oily skin. Got skin that feels dry and tight, or looks a bit dry and flaky most of the time? Then you might have dry skin.

A side note - dehydrated skin and sensitive skin aren't skin types, they're skin conditions. So it's important to know you can have oily skin that's dehydrated or sensitive as a result of factors like the environment, weather, the products you're using, hormones, medications... the list goes on.

FYI, we unpack the best The Ordinary products for your skin type in our Skincare Nerds YouTube video below!

Can My Skin Type Change?

No... but yes.

Dr Gunatheesan said while your skin type typically won't change, your skin state can during different periods throughout your lifetime.

What constitutes a 'skin state', you ask? It's the temporary appearance of your skin. Think texture, breakouts, how visible your pores are, and how luminous your skin is.

For example, right now, my pores are less visible and my skin feels less oily and more glowy. That's my current skin state, but that doesn't mean my skin type isn't still fundamentally oily.

What Causes Skin to Change?

Dr Gunatheesan explained several factors can cause your skin to change, including:

  • Hormones (i.e. during pregnancy and menopause).

  • The natural impact of ageing.

  • Sun damage.

  • Stress.

  • Your gut health.

  • Your external environment.

But why exactly does our skin state change depending on whether we're having a baby, living in a humid climate or, say, working from home in air conditioning?

Besides acting as a protective barrier from the outside world, your skin regulates your body temperature and contains a network of nerves that recognise, react to and communicate changes in your environment. 

For example, identical twins can be born with the same skin type. However, if one of these twins was a smoker who lived in the Sunshine state and loved to sunbake, you would anticipate a difference between their skin states.

With all of this in mind, I now understand the factors that have caused my skin state to change for the better include sitting in my window-lit study instead of an air-conditioned, fluorescent-lit office, only exposing my skin to an hour of the outside world and all of its daily aggressors, and eating like a healthy person (aka no more Uber Eats).

Yep, it only took a pandemic for my skin to improve.

What to Do If Your Skin Is Changing.

OK, so now we know it's normal for our skin state to change throughout our lives, what can you do about it?

What's working for me is subbing out my usual oily skin products (that are now too stripping for me) for alternatives that better suit my current 'normal' skin state.

For example, my tried and tested oily/combo routine included:

Now, here are the products I'm using for my newfound combo/normal skin:

Shanthi's combo/normal skincare routineShanthi's combo/normal skincare routine

It makes sense this new routine is working for me, as Dr Gunatheesan explained a great skincare regime is about mimicking the natural balance of the skin, whatever that might be at any given time.

She also stressed the importance of respecting your skin - things like getting to bed at a reasonable time (no, midnight is not reasonable), eating a low GI/plant-based diet and ensuring you make time to detox from anything that may cause your skin state to worsen. 

So, in short, your skin type doesn't change, but your skin state can.

And it looks like this previously oily gal will be working from home for the foreseeable future in the name of great skin. Unless we can get rid of the fluorescent lighting at the office...

Boss, if you're reading this, please take note.