Beginner's Korean Skincare Routine: Dehydrated Combination-Oily Skin Type

You know how you can be in the middle of working on something, and then you find yourself helping out with a question that you answer so regularly that you wish you had something you could just send them instead of hurriedly and badly explaining things?

That's the hijack reason inspiration for today's post.  Before we get started, I would just like to remind everyone that I am not a medical professional and the thoughts in this post are purely based off my own personal experience and approach to skincare.

Image from my Multi-Step Korean Skincare Routine: Winter/Spring 2015 post.  I also have an Updated Summer 2015 Routine Post for a hot-season example.
So here we go: if you have Dehydrated, Combo-Oily skin like me, this post's for you, skin twin.

In this post:
  • The first step: find your skin type
  • Dehydrated: the hidden skin type
  • Clearing the way: ditch 'The Shell'
  • Build your routine: splurge on water, skimp on oil
  • Find your Blogger skin twin: a list of routines by skin type
The basics of any routine are, in my opinion: cleanser, moisturizer, and sunscreen.  But when you have Dehydrated or Combination skin (or both), your skin isn't likely to fall in love with a single moisturizer, leaving you with an extra step needed (or several) when it comes to building a base routine.

I've more or less made peace with my Dehydrated & Combination skin and its quirky preferences, and I wanted to share it with my skin twins out there.

The first step: find your skin type

This can be tricky.  You can Google how to find your skin type, which will be a good start if you are starting from scratch on your skincare journey, or even have it professionally assessed if you can afford it.

However, I have noticed that most people who find themselves falling in love with a Korean (or Asian) skincare routine are already interested in skincare and looking to take it to the next level.  Therefore, they're already familiar with their skin type and how it reacts to products.

Traditional western definitions usually include the following skin types:
  • Dry: lacking in oil/sebum, usually genetic or as a result of environmental factors including medications
  • Oily: excessive production of sebum, often resulting in large pores, sebaceous filaments, blackheads, and acne
  • Combination: a combination of the above types on different areas of the skin, often an Oily T-zone and Dry U-zone
  • Normal: balanced, neither Dry nor Oily.
If you're wondering what I mean by "U-zone", here's the T-zone in green and the U-zone in blue, which is a common distribution of Combination skin type oily and dry zones, respectively:

Who knew my snow stickers could come in handy for things other than expressing my feelings about sheet masks?
This isn't always the case, as you can have oily and dry areas in any area, but many people with Combination skin have this pattern.

You will also find additional concerns such as Sensitive and Acne-Prone listed in western skin type guides, but these also can be modifiers to the above base types so I believe that's why the above four are considered the base types in western definitions.

But what if your skin is perpetually dry and oily at the same time, with dry flakes nestled next to, or on top of, clogged pores and blemishes?  What if the more creams you apply, the more oily and clogged your skin becomes, but you're still a flake monster?  What if you're trying to control your sebum with oil-free products, but your skin feels flaky and tight?

Dehydrated: the hidden skin type

Congratulations and sympathies, because you're probably a Dehydrated skin type like me.  Don't cry, though, because tears are pH 7[source] and they might disrupt your acid mantle.  Huehuehue. #nerdjokes *smacks self so you don't have to*

Hanbang in action:
Luckily for us, Korean skincare is already ready to handle our skin type, and in fact they've been ahead of the game for ... centuries?

Korean skincare is very much influenced by traditional Asian medicine (Hanbang, aka traditional Korean herbal medicine, is in at least 50% of the products in my routine) and therefore the core theme of balance is carried into the Korean skincare philosophy as well.

Just as Asian herbal medicine focuses on the balance between yin and yang, cold and hot, etc, Korean skincare strives to have a balance of water and oil in the skin.

Lemme say that again: water, not just oil, may need to be added to the skin, and both need to be in balance for healthy, well-adjusted skin.

This is where the light of illumination broke through the clouds of ignorance for me.  *cue refrain from heavenly chorus of enlightenment*   Water, not more oil, might be what my parched skin needed.

Let there be ... water added to your skin.
In the name of the Snail, amen.
image credit:
In the west, we learn that dry skin needs oil, and oily skin needs oil-free products, the end.  Combination skin is a rebel, being a bit of both, but you can avoid putting products on your t-zone and then just blot up the steady stream of sebum seeping from your brow.

If your skin is dry, put more moisturizer on it, more and more and more ... and if you break out?  Must be acne-prone.  Use a stronger cleanser, wash more often, or see a dermatologist for a prescription or a doctor for hormonal regulation.***

***Note: I am in no way saying that people should not see dermatologists or doctors for those concerns, in fact it's my most commonly given skincare advice when asked.  I even wrote a collaboration blog post about it.  My point here is that conventional non-medical skincare wisdom in the west had a big, glaring gap when it came to my skin type.

No one talked about having dehydrated skin, which has a lacking-water problem, not an lacking-oil problem.  If we take a step back and apply it to our bodies; it becomes common sense: if you are thirsty, should you drink water, or should you drink table cream?

Additionally, no matter how much water you intake, your skin is the last in line to get it, so depending on various factors including environment, your skin may be perpetually dehydrated even if you're chugging water like Jack Sparrow drinks rum.

Where ... where has it gone? [image credit: Pirates of the Caribbean wikia]
In fact, the more heavy, oily, rich, and occlusive products you apply on your flake-festooned face, the more and more dehydrated your skin becomes, because those occlusive products are actually forming a barrier to keep water out, perpetuating the cycle.

But if your skin isn't getting water from within either, what do you do?  Well, we can add it back topically, but first we've got to clear some crud out of the way.

Clearing the way: ditch 'The Shell'

Skin twin, you may have suspected this, but if you've been struggling with both Dehydrated and Oily or Combo-Oily skin, there's very likely to be a disgusting shell of dead skin and + oily sebum that is coating your face.  You've probably noticed that your skin is prone to dead skin build up, including dry flakes, alongside greasy and clog-prone skin.  Thus, I have dubbed this slurry of goo 'The Shell' and we're going to talk about how to get rid of it.

Your skincare isn't penetrating down to where it needs to, because The Shell, like a layer of plaque over your teeth, is obstructing it.  We need to get rid of The Shell, and physical scrubs, as you have probably noticed, aren't cutting it.

Enter chemical exfoliants ... wait, don't run away!  They're not as scary as you'd think.

Actives including acids: image from my Multi-Step Korean Skincare Routine: Winter/Spring 2015 post
I'll be honest; I was terrified and intimidated by chemical exfoliants at first.  They're scary!  They're acids that are acid-ing your face!  There are horror stories all over the internet!!   FYI, there are chemical exfoliants, and then there are chemical peels.  We're talking wine coolers vs 99% rubbing alcohol here.

Think of our skin as a pot that is caked with the greasy residue from cooking dinner.  Are you going to grind away with an abrasive pot scrubber and elbow grease, scratching your pot to hell, or are you going to soak the pot in some water + dish soap to soften the crud so you can wipe it away without damaging the surface?  Chemical exfoliants are the latter, and they can be super gentle.  I promise.

I use both beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) and alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) on a regular basis, and it's changed everything.   Everything!

My chemical exfoliant bros: Mizon at left, Cosrx at right.
BHA is oil-soluble, so it can cut through the grease on our face, down into our pores, and soften the hardened goo stuck in there.  This allows the sebum to flow unobstructed out of the pore, and also gives your cleanser a better chance to clean excess sebum away.

AHA is not oil-soluble, but it's excellent at dissolving excess dead skin on the surface of your skin, uncapping your pores so the BHA can go to town, whisking away dry flakes, lightning hyperpigmentation.

Currently, I use Cosrx's BHA Blackhead Power Liquid, which uses an ultra-gentle form of BHA called Betaine Salicylate, and Mizon's AHA 8% Peeling Serum, which is Glycolic acid.   However, there are lots of BHA and AHA options out there, and you don't have to use Korean products.  If you want to learn more about how to incorporate acids into your routine, check out my post on Putting your products in order, including pH dependent acids.

Be warned: acids are 'actives' and will release the kraken hidden under the surface of your skin, so read up on purging and how to identify it vs reaction breakouts.

So once you've freed your skin from the tyranny of The Shell, it will be ready to soak in all the goodness your products are ready to supply.

Build your routine: splurge on water, skimp on oil

Now that the layers of old buildup are out of the way, you are free to focus on re-balancing the missing water from your skin.  This is the real drawback of The Shell; the precious water that your skin lacks was unable to penetrate through the greasy sludge that coated your face.

But it's gone now, so it's time to go hard on the hydrators.  This is where a multi-step Korean routine obliterates the 'less is more' western approach, in my opinion.

Hydrators: image from my Multi-Step Korean Skincare Routine: Winter/Spring 2015 post
Mmm, hydrating products.  Korean products will give you a bevvy of options that are good for a Dehydrated skin type, including:
  • mists 
  • hydrating toners
  • first essences
  • skins (I know, weird, but it's a type of watery product)
  • essences
  • sheet masks
  • serums
  • ampoules
  • emulsions
  • milks
  • lotions
The above list is in a general order of wateriest-to-oiliest, thinnest-to-thickest, but Korean naming conventions are really, um, 'fluid' and it's not a hard rule.  Dehydrated skin perk: you can easily load up on hydrating products without overloading your skin, because it's a thirsty beast.  So when you're looking at various blogs, Instagram feeds, and sale PSAs, seeing shiny things you want to buy, this is what happens:

img source: tumblr
    Eyes: That's a pretty thing, we should buy it.
     Wallet: No, we don-
    Skin: That's a great idea! I'm thirsty, please mist me.
     Wallet: Wait, guys, we shou-
    Pragmatism: We are getting pretty low on that 2nd and 3rd essence in our routine ...
     Wallet: We still have two mists and a serum left ov-
    Skin: True, we are getting low!  I'm thirsty again, please mist me.
     Wallet: Guys? Can anyone hear m-
    Sense of Adventure: We haven't tried that brand before, let's do this!
     Wallet: Wait, what?! Noo-
    Skin: We just ran out of mist, and I'm thirsty.  More mist please! 
     Wallet: *muffled screaming*

Your (literally) thirsty skin has the capability to slurp up huge quantities of hydrating products, tearing through products at a rapid rate and ensuring that your wallet is perpetually on fire but the upside is that you can justify a constant stream of new pretties to try?

Like a gentle spring rain, a Korean routine will apply layer after layer of watery hydration, allowing your thirsty skin to soak up what it needs.

As I mention in Putting your products in order, including pH dependent acids, you layer from wateriest-to-oiliest, thinnest-to-thickest.  If you have a Combination skin type, avoid layering the oilier products in your oily areas and keep them to your dry areas, but the watery products can be layered all over.

When your skin feels hydrated enough, stop.  It's that simple.  If that means that you end up with a routine that has a mist, a hydrating toner, a first essence, two regular essences, a serum, an ampoule, and then sealed in with an emulsion, but no moisturizer, so be it.

Wait, no traditional moisturizers?!

Occlusives: image from my Multi-Step Korean Skincare Routine: Winter/Spring 2015 post
If you don't feel you need it, then nope.  Occlusives are meant to seal in the water you've just applied, but you can either use very light ones or ones that rely on silicones instead of lipids, if you feel that you need them.  If you feel you need more occlusives, rich creams, or facial oils, by all means add them, but as a Dehydrated skin type, you need to focus on re-hydrating your skin before you can assess how much oil needs to be added.

Once you have re-balanced your Dehydrated skin, it will release you from the tailspin it's probably been in for years, and you'll be able to fine-tune your approach.  You may discover that your Combo-Oily skin is actually Combo-Normal, or even Normal-Dry!

Find your Blogger skin twin: a list of routines by skin type

Don't have Dehydrated Combo-Oily skin like me?  Here's a list of some Asian skincare bloggers and their skin types:
Just keep in mind that skincare is extremely personal and what works for others may not work for you, but understanding your skin type's general needs can really help when  selecting products to try.

All the best,

**Disclaimer: : All products reviewed/mentioned in this post are 100% purchased with my own money and my opinions are entirely my own.  This blog contains  both affiliate and non-affiliate links, and clicking the former before you shop means that this blog may receive a small commission to assist in this blog supporting itself.  Please see my Contact Info & Disclaimer policy for more information.


  1. Great explanatory post! Thanks for putting this together!

    I think I'm the same skin-type as you, but I just placed an order for a ton of facial-oil samples... lol.

    But I guess as long as I get enough hydration, more oil won't necessarily be bad?

    1. I am glad you liked it! And you're right- occlusives aren't necessarily bad for our skin type (I use them a lot in the winter after all!) but the important thing is to re-balance the water in our skin before we seal it. :)

    2. Come to think of it, aren't oils closer to emollients than occlusives? I don't understand the difference that well..

    3. I believe anything that is a lipid will have a barrier/sealing type effect, so if you are trying to rehydrate your skin, you would want to apply the watery layers first and then the oily ones after. If you apply the oils first, they could block the watery products from penetrating. :)

  2. I love reading your posts :). You're definitely my skin twin. I have mild rosacea I was wondering do you think chemical exfoliants are okay for rosacea? physical exfoliants can be to harsh for me.

    1. I don't have rosacea, but I checked with a friend who does. She recommends very mild chemical exfoliants in a low percentage, and then slowly work up if it feels like your skin is liking it. If you have a dermatologist or a doctor, though, that diagnosed your rosacea, your best bet is to seek their professional advice.

      I hope that helps! :)

  3. *Clap clap clap*

    Great post explaining everything. For people who might find themselves reacting badly to glycolic acids, they would want to consider other gentler forms of AHAs such as mandelic acid or lactic acid.

    However, how do you feel about enzyme peels/exfoliants? Do you think they are a good replacement for AHA/BHA?

    1. I did consider mentioning the Glycolic alternatives but I didn't want to shove toooo much info in at once. You're absolutely right though! :)

      I have not used much in the way of peels, I am afraid. Have you used them as a replacement for chemical exfoliants?

    2. I just upped my acid game from 25% mandelic acid peel to 40%, in conjunction with my cosrx bha, OST vitamin c 21.5, and MUAC mandelic serum. My skin is loving the acids. I do the peel 2x a week or every couple of weeks as needed. On the nights I peel, I skip my other actives. Cleanse as normal, apply peel, then take my shower so all the peel is rinsed. Follow with cosrx centella blemish ampoule, mizon snail recovery gel, and shara shara honey bomb. Next morning my skin is glowing.

  4. Great review as always!! I couldn't live without my BHA and AHA's :-)

    1. I went without them for 5 days and I am full of #regret. D:

  5. Thank you thank you thank you! So very helpful.

    1. You are very welcome, I am glad it was helpful! :D

  6. I could not reply to your answer for some reason but thanks for the help!
    Also what is considered a low percentage of AHA's and BHA's? I googled it and got nothing >.<

    Sorry for all the questions... i just...need all the skincare knowledge╰(°ㅂ°)╯ahem.

    1. All the knowledge!! \O/

      AHAs are usually in the 8-10% range for daily use, and BHAs (from what I have read) need to be 1-2% for a daily use and 3-5% if you have congested skin like me. :)

  7. Thank you soooo much for the post. I've been searching for someone to share the same struggle with me but seems like everyone is clearly categorized into normal, oily, dry or combo skin but not this kind of dehydrated and oily at the same time.
    I used Paula's Choice BHA exfoliant 2 months ago but I broke out so hard just after 1st time using, and it gave me itchy sensation all day that I had to give up after one hell-like week. Didn't think my skin can be purged so quickly so I guessed it must be allergy :( Still wonder if chemical exfoliant really works?

    1. I definitely think chemical exfoliants work, but they have to be used cautiously and be slowly introduced, and also some types of acid don't work for people. I'd take a look at what acids are used in the PC BHA and see if you can find another BHA that doesn't use the same type of acid? :)

    2. i had the same issue when first time using PC 2% BHA. i had a red and swollen face for several days. i waited for almost half a year and tried again, this time i used very little and only once a day or once every other day at first and now, another half a year later i can use it every day and it helped a lot with my pores and blackheads issue. i'll continue using it and hope there will be more improvements.

  8. Thank you for the great post!

    I guess I also have dehydrated skin.

    Do you do anaything different now with your body, especially the legs or do you just use a normal body lotion?

    1. I don't tend have body dryness issues, surprisingly enough, but I do use a regular lotion or gel if I feel like I am getting dry. It only happens maybe a few times a month, though, and right out of the shower.

  9. Hello,

    I'm french and I was looking for articles about asian cosmetics, I came across your blog and... THANK YOU !! I am fighting with a dehydrated skin for ages and it's always complicated to find good informations on the web (because as you said, most people ignore dehydrated skin type...).
    I'm looking forward reading more of your blog in the days to come ! :D

    (Sorry for my english, it might be a bit rusty...)

    1. You're very welcome! Thank you for the kind words. Your English is a lot better than my very rusty French. ;)

  10. This was an amazingly useful post for an AB newbie like myself. It also makes complete sense. Now, how long until my hauls arrive? :) Thank you!

    1. However long it takes for the hauls to arrive is too long. ;)

  11. Once again, a very informative and entertaining post. Thanks so much! I have a couple of questions: 1) I use an acid toner and not a leave-on exfoliant. Do you think a leave-on exfoliant makes more sense? 2) If I use 2-3 products that are a mix of hydrating toner, essence and serum, and skip the occlusive entirely, is that okay?

    1. Hi there, and thank you!

      Acid toners are generally too low in concentration, even if they are the right pH, for exfoliation. Only you can determine if a leave-on exfoliant is right for you, but I found that I needed a pretty hefty routine of acids to get right of The Shell.

      As for 2, I definitely skip the occlusive on days that I don't feel I need it. I am a big proponent of listening to your skin; if your skin says it's fine with what you've already applied to it, then it's OK to stop. Keep an eye on your skin during the day and see how it's reacting. If it seems to dry out too fast, you may be losing water too rapidly without an occlusive and you might want to look into lighter ones to keep things in place.

      I hope that helps!

  12. That makes so much sense. Yes, I too believe that listening to your skin should be the right way to go about it since there are as many unique scenarios as people out there. Thank you! :)

    1. You are very welcome! Listen to your skin ftw! :D

  13. I stumbled upon your blog through Skin & Tonics, as her skincare routine helped me incorporate Retin-A into a Korean-style regimen. However, her skin is dry and if I used that much facial oil, I'm pretty sure I could open my own gas station soon! Which brings me to...
    THIS IS AMAZING!!! Finally a someone who understands what it's like to live in a dry climate (I'm in CA) has kinda combo, but dehydrated (!!!) skin. I totally agree there is a massive gap Western beauty regarding dehydrated skin, and I will be introducing more hydrating products into my routine ASAP. Apologies if you've already stated, but where do you buy your K beauty products? I'm nervous about buying things on Amazon, etc. Thanks so much!! Love your blog.

    1. Hi there! Fist bump for a fellow dehydrated combo skin type! I buy a lot of my products directly from Korea, using buying sites like Avecko, etailers like 11st (you can find guides for both on this blog, they are a little more challenging to use) and some from resellers like RoseRoseShop, TesterKorea, and Koreadepart, but be warned that you will pay significant shipping costs direct from Korea no matter the method. Amazon is seriously stepping up it's k-beauty game; if you purchase from Prime, you're likely to be safe as they have very strict rules that offer protections to the consumer.

  14. Hi! Thanks for this very informative post!! :) Have been wanting to start a proper skincare routine but felt very lost as I'm a noob to skincare! Now I have a little idea where to start. :) Also, may I know if it is a good idea to start using chemical exfoliant when I am having an acne outbreak now? Thanks again for your time and effort in sharing your experiences! :)

    1. You're very welcome! It can feel overwhelming at first but soon you'll find yourself handling all kinds of things with ease. ;)

      Technially, the question about starting a product while you have a skin condition should go to a dermatologist. That being said, if you are asking if I personally started using chemical exfoliants while I had active breakouts, I did. I can't say if that would be a good idea for you as I am not a doctor, of course. :)

      Take care! :D

  15. I loved this post! It's being a while since i've diagnosed my skin as an oily, acne prone, super duper dehydrated skin, and i've been doing this routine for a while kind of instinctively. I love to see you doing the same kind of thing for the same kind of problem and explaining everything in details...Lately i've been using thermal water, toner, mist, first treatment essence, first essence booster, an essence, an ampoule, a lotion and a gel cream + eye cream... It's been amazing. This routine completely quenched my skin thirst. hahaha Thanks for sharing your time with us :)

    1. Awesome! I love it when things like that happen- when something I've been doing trial-and-error or based off instinct/logic is backed by someone else's discoveries or in-depth explanations as to the 'why' behind it.

      Isn't it amazing how the *right* products can expand one's routine into a starry-eyes-worthy lineup of pretties that somehow escape being 'too much'? :D

  16. Hi there, thank you so much for your very informative and educative post!! I have always thought I have oily skin, but always wonder how on earth I get scales and dry patches despite all that. Now all make sense :D
    Anyway, I wanna know what your recommendation is for someone with oily-dehydrated skin who just isn't too committed with sunscreen but wanna try a small dose of chemical exfoliant... I haven't found the sunscreen that works with my skin, so I only have the SPF 50 from my makeups. Thanks! :D

    1. I am so glad to hear that it was helpful! The oily-with-dry-patches was so mystifying to me as well.

      Although I can't give you specific recommendations, as I am not a medical professional, if you are my skin twin, you might want to check out either my Summer Routine post or my Winter routine posts if you want an idea of what products I use for which step. :)

  17. Hi there,

    I love this post and your description of "The Shell" :)
    In addition to the conventional shell on my face I think that also my hands are hidden beneath a shell, because the skin on my hands and fingers, especially around my fingernails, is very dry and hard and no hand cream I have tried so far has helped. Do you have any product recommendations how to get rid of the Hand Shell?

    1. Thanks! :) I actually don't have issues with my hands so I'm a bit useless on the hand cream/care front, but I think 50 Shades of Snail (a great blogger by the way) uses both hand and foot creams. Maybe shoot her a message? :)

  18. Fantastic explanations! I have been getting into Korean skin care and like you, I am dehydrated/combination. I am perpetually dehydrated. I have hypovolemia and take vassopressers, in addition to hormones and pain medications which interact with my skin. Occasionally I will be on steroids which help me retain water but that's very rarely.

    1. I am sorry to hear that, that sounds like a lot to deal with. :( I hope you're finding things that work for you!

  19. I am so glad I found your blog Cat!!! I was searching for treatment for clog pores, one thing lead to another and I arrived here by chance.

    I have the same skin problem like you, dry on my cheeks, oily T-zone and clog pores. I have been trying to find a solution or anything that help for a long time though I haven't try BHA or AHA.....chemicals sounds scary to me >.> When season change so does my skin, it is so hard to keep up. I try many products for combo skin or oily skin, etc, nothing really helps.

    After reading your blog, I bought Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA liquid, haven't try it yet just tested the texture on my hand, feels like oily water?

    Skincare products I currently using / own (I am still on the bare minimum, just hop onto this layering train and korean skincare last month.)

    -The Face Shop Herb Day 365 Cleansing Foam/Peach (AM and PM)
    -Mario Badescu Glycolic Foaming Cleanser (1~2 time per week PM)
    -Etude House Wonder Pore Freshner (AM and PM after cleanser)
    -HadaLabo gokujyun super hyaluronic acid lotion (AM and PM after Freshner, only been using for 2 days, I bought it thinking it was lotion/moisturizer, but it is a toner. My cheeks feel drier now that we are moving to a cooler season, so I added this to my routine.)
    - Skin Food black sugar mask (once per week)
    - Etude House Collagen moistfull cream (AM and PM, only been using for 2 days, I was using some seaweed lotion from a salon brand, it haven't help anything, was suppose to help control oil and hydrate, but I finished the bottle anyway.)
    - Biore pore pack (once per week, I have really bad clog pores!)
    - Sheet mask 1-2 times per week

    My skin doesn't like sunblock so I don't use them, I just wear hat and use umbrella if I go out. I plan to try BB/CC cream, but haven't find one I like yet.

    I want to wait a few more days after my skin adjust to my new face cream and HadaLabo toner before adding Paula Choice. I also bought Hipitch Deep Cleansing Oil and Skin Food Peach Sake Pore Serum, haven't use either.

    I have a few question for you Cat, A. should I op-out any of the product I am using before adding Paula's Choice? B. Is there anything I should add to my routine to help with my skin problems.

    C. The Freshner I am using said it helps Balance skin's ideal pH level, is that the same as pH-Adjusting toner? (Don't know the ingredient cause they are in korean)

    D. It also Moisturize inside and outside of skin, so according to your blog about Actives, I should use Paula's Choice before using the freshner?

    1. Hi Josalyn,

      In terms of the questions you have about what products to use or not use for your skin issues, I appreciate your consideration of me to ask this advice, but I am unable to answer your question- for more information see this post:

      As for the toner being pH-adjusting, I would double check the actual pH with some test strips to see if it's really low enough. Also, if it is very hydrating, it may have too many moisturizing ingredients for it to be a good prepping toner as most actives are best applied to clean, bare skin. (There are some exceptions, but those are usually only available via prescription from a Dermatologist)

      In terms of product order, I prefer to do my actives right after cleansing in order to maximize their effectiveness before I apply my hydrating layers. I haven't used PC, but I know Fifty Shades of Snail has, so you might want to check out her posts on PC products.

      Take care! :)

  20. Hi Cat,

    Just wanted to say that I really love this post, and your website. I had a very similar experience to yours two years ago when I broke out like crazy when I was living in Beijing. I had pretty much given up on everything (half a life time's worth of going to the derm meant that I wasn't interested in going down the antibiotics/retinol route anymore, since the acne inevitably flare back up after you stop using those products.)

    Thing took a turn actually when I found a product that DIDN'T work for me, but did open my eyes to a whole new category of skincare. Namely, the Hada Labo Gokujyun opened my eyes to Asian lotions, which introduced this idea of hydrating with a watery, softening substance before subsequent steps.

    Like you, I think western skincare do a horrible job at addressing dehydrated skin. But now I'm much happier with my Asian skincare. Wish I had been able to read your article much earlier, which would have saved a lot of grief. But appreciate what you are writing here now!


    1. <3 Thank you so much for your kind words, and for sharing your story! I guess it's never too late to learn but there are some things I wish I had known earlier.

      Take care,

  21. Where are the Combination skin bloggers? I didn't see any on the list.

    1. I'm sorry for any confusion, because I am a Combination skin blogger writing about Combination skin, the list was to provide examples of skin types other than my own for those readers who don't have the same type as me. :)

  22. Hi Cat!

    First of all, thanks for writing this blog post, it's inspired me to add some actives/chemical exfoliants to my skincare routine!

    I have some follow-up questions, if you don't mind - I'm currently alternating AHAs and BHAs in my PM routine (the Nip+Fab Glycolic Fix Pads, and I have the CosRx AHA Whitehead Power Liquid on the way, and I'm also using the CosRx BHA Blackhead Power Liquid), but I'm still seeing the dreaded "Shell" appear on my skin! I'm not sure what I'm doing wrong :(

    Is your current routine enough to keep "the Shell" from appearing on your skin? Do you think I should up my acid usage to keep pores from being clogged? Or is there a physical exfoliant that you'd recommend in addition to the acids to keep the dead skin + oil from building up?

    I would really appreciate it if you could respond!!

    Thanks so much,


  23. Thank you so much I always thought I had just combo oily-dry skin. But I always see the whole oily T zone and dry U zone thing and it didnt really apply to me. Here I'm like but what if its oily and dry in the same place. My forehead is oily but at the same time above, between and below my eyebrows it's dry with flaky skin. Same with the bridge of my nose and around my mouth area. I was always so confused on how to deal with it.

  24. Hello!

    I just recently found you through Instagram and was hoping this post would be what I needeed Unfortunately I don't see my skin in here (neither is it your type, I think) and since it's an old post, I was hoping you might have come across more bloggers so here goes.

    I took a skin test at Elizabeth Arden and she told me my skin was combination. And that was that. This was in mid-october I think. But every k-beauty product I've tried for combination is catered to combination/oily, it seems, because they dry out my skin so badly. I have some products for dry skin too and they work, just not amazingly. So I think I have combination/dry skin. A little bit shine on the forehead and nose, dry cheeks and hormonal acne around my period, especially on my chin. I had troubled skin when I was younger with a good amount of spots and I do still get spots from time to time, but I haven't found out what cause them yet. But every month at least, I know I will break out.

    Have you by any chance came across bloggers who migh be my skin twin? Primarily on the combination/dry part :)

    Any help is much appreciated!

    Sincerely from Denmark


    1. Hi Simone,

      I am so sorry, I thought I had already answered this question. I have a list of bloggers by skin type here:

      Other than that, I'm not sure what recommendations to make other than googling for that skin type + beauty blogger?

  25. Hi Cat! I need your wisdom (BGM: Aaaaa~!).

    I'm currently using Missha's Time Revolution Night Repair Science Activator Ampoule (fuh, that was a mouthful) in conjunction with the OST Vitamin C20 Serum and COSRX Natural BHA Skin Returning A-Sol and some other stuff. After reading your post about adding acids and actives into the routine, I know that I have to use the Vitamin C first, and the BHA last before proceeding to the rest of the routine.

    My question is, I don't really know where I am supposed to put the Missha Ampoule in the routine.
    Is the ampoule considered as an active? If so, does that mean I use it after the Vit C?

    Just in case you've never used it, I thank thee for thy help (bows)


  26. Hahaha this is beginner? No wonder Koreans have perfect skin :D

    Feel free to stop by my latest post Top 6 BB Cream :-)

  27. Thanks so much for posting this. I've been dealing with dehydrated oily-combo skin for years. Traditional toners either dried out the oily patches or dried out my whole face and kick the oil production into overdrive.

    Now, I have a frame of reference to with with!


    1. The dehydrated conundrum, eh? Too dry for oily skin products, too oily for dry skin products.

  28. Not sure if you will read this on an old post, but I need help :( The best I can tell, we are skin twins, and I am so so so excited to have found you, but I am struggling with a "first step". I've gotten a bunch of decants of products I've researched and sound like a potential good fit for my skin, but clearly I don't want to just throw everything at it at once.

    I know the PURGEEEEEE has to happen, but I've also read to NOT add actives until your routine is in a good place and your moisture barrier is repaired, but then I read to repair everything you have to remove THE SHELL... I'm confused how these things co-exist :(

    I know you aren't a dr (and I have a derm appt BEFORE I start any of this to make sure it isn't something bigger at play :) ) but do you recommend adding actives first when switching to an AB multi-step routine, or getting your routine all set then adding actives?

    Thanks so so so much :)

    1. Hi DaniRenee,

      Since this is a fairly complex question, I'm going to bring this to The Snailcast so you can have 4 different replies, because I think this is going to end up a case of YMMV.

      The next episode is going to be focused on questions from our readers, so we should be able to tackle it then!

      Take care!

  29. Hi! I do have Dehydrated Combo-Oily skin as well. Can you recommend me a sunscreen that doesn't make my skin feel like a pit of oil? Thank you :)

    1. Hi Marta,

      Have you taken a look through the sunscreen tag? I have a few reviews of physical-filter only sunscreens, because that's all I use. If you can wear chemical sunscreens, the world is your oyster! :)

  30. This article might have just changed my life, I've never known what to call my skin and now I have a name for it! Dehydrated! I literally have dry flakey skin hiding under a layer of oil, and products for oily skin take that oil layer off and just dry me out more, but products for dry skin just add to the oil problem. I'm definitely going to be using your tips! So happy to have found this article! If you happen to see this, I know your not supposed to change your whole skincare routine/add a bunch of products at once, where would you recommend someone with this skin type start?


    1. I am so glad it was helpful! That shell of flakes and oil is miserable, isn't? I would say that the basic steps for anyone is a cleanser, moisturizer, and sunscreen. The handy thing for our skin type is that you may do better with hydrating products instead of traditional moisturizers.

      Take care!

  31. wow thanks for posting this
    i think we have the same skin type
    my face is combination, my face is normal, nose have oily and dry side(around nostril), also my forehead looks dehydrated maybe because i use bang
    and sometimes my nose got flakey on the side # sigh
    i guess it might be because of my ost vit c serum
    my face also feel tight even after moisturizing, i guess its the AC

    my routine is simple
    - double cleanse (PM)
    - toner
    - bha/vit c (alternate)
    - skii fte
    - innisfree green tea fresh cream
    - sunscreen (AM)

    do you think i need to add more products ?
    what products do you suggesting?

    i'm thinking to add aha liquid, rice mask and klairs toner for hydration
    my skin is acne prone with lots of pih from terrible breakouts last year

    Thanks in advance

  32. Hi, I was wondering if you could help me. I am currently using Aczone (am) and Tazorac (PM) topical acne creams prescribed by my dermatologist. Per his instruction I apply after using CeraVe cream (very thick and moisturing.. Love it) Question is... When following the Korean skincare routine, when do I apply these acne creams? If I apply it at the end of the routine will it still be effective?

  33. Thanks so much for the post! Have you tried the Shara Shara Honey Bomb yet? It gets so hot (like, H.O.T.) where I live these days so it is so hard for me to slap on so much steps on my face without feeling greasy after a whole day. My pores and black heads are screaming SOS but it is too hot for me to even deal with them. Do you have any suggestion for staying cool and non greasy a whole day in the summer? Thanks so much!!! Luv u A LOT!

    1. I admit that I am very not into the AIOs in general, including all the honey, berry, etc, bombs. I know a lot of people like them, but they're just not the kind of product that excites me. :)

      As for the summer routine feels-- I totally get you, girl! I have a post about my summer routine in the "Routine & Spreadsheet" tab, in fact!
      Take care,

  34. I wish I could use Aha and Bha. My skin is so thin, it bleeds a bit. The bleeding used to be far worse but my skin has since improved.

    1. That is horrible! I am so sorry to hear that, it must be terrible having such delicate and sensitive skin. :(

  35. Hi Cat,

    In your experience, how long did it take to remove the dreaded Shell and is this an on-going process?

    How were you able to tell that the Shell has been removed?


  36. Thank you so much for this wonderful post! I'd never heard of using mists as part of one's actual routine before (I thought they were just for use during the day). But about a week ago I tried incorporating them after my first essence and I'm seeing really incredible results! I'd had dehydrated skin all along and never knew... Thank you so much! :)
    Btw regarding the chemical exfoliants, I'm currently trying out samples of CosRX's AHA, which I'm really liking so far. Would you recommend incorporating a BHA as well? My skin is oily/dehydrated/sensitive (super fun combination!), and I have some sebaceous filaments on my nose, but otherwise I'm more prone to whiteheads, so not sure if I need the BHA or not...?

  37. Hi! Thanks for the post :)
    I am a bit confused as to when to use the acid toner if I follow the korean skin care steps. Should I use it after cleansing and before the first treatment essence?

  38. Very nice post!
    I've been curious about my skin type. I know that in my T zone was oily-so maybe my skin is a combination... but I also really aware that my skin is very 'thirsty' and I cant explain to several beauty assistant I met, because they always automatically offered me a product for combination skin (in some case they are offering me a product which 'removing the oil' and makes my face really dry).

    But then after I read this, I feel like your skin and my skin are in the same type :))

    I wonder if I could ask you several question about Korean skincare and the products?

    Thanks beforehand :)

  39. i have oily skin, and i really hate it. I dont know why, my face its was oily everyday. But someday before sleep i use laneige sleeping water mask from korea. And voila, now everyday I dont have greasy face again!!! laneige from korea is good!
    Take care and happy beautifying!
    Obat Asam Urat

  40. Hi Cat

    I am 24 years old this year and have combination-dehydrated skin. Do you have any recommendations for a good hydrating emulsion (without alcohol and snail mucin, I am a vegetarian so animal-derived ingredient is out for me). I just bought the Missha SuperAqua hydrating emulsion and have been trying it for 2 weeks but I started having break-outs. Thank you.

  41. Hi Cat!

    Thank you so much for this post! I have always had skin issues and couldn't never figure out why exactly. Your post totally opened my eyes to the world of Asian skin care and Dehydrated types! What you're doing is awesome. Please keep posting, this is so helpful. Thank you


  42. I know this is an older post but wanted to know is it possible to have combo dry skin? I am only really oily on my nose but not anywhere else. I get breakouts on my nose and the skin right below my eye/upper cheek area. Other than that I have hormonal acne acround my jaw line every so often. Would this be considered the same as dehydrated?

    1. My skin is exactly the same and I would love to know the answer as well. I never know what kind of products should I use because my nose is super oily but the rest of my face is dry! 😕

  43. OMG, thank you for this post! Your description of your skin type totally clicked with me, I think I'm in the dehydrated/combo/acne-prone club too!!

  44. hey, you using cosrx bha power liquid does the product make your skin irritant? cause i'm scared of putting any acids in my face. Thank you

  45. Thank you so much :D I'm so excited to try a chemical exfoliants. Let the punging come.

  46. Just stumbled upon this post! I'm new to the whole korean skincare multistep routine and so far it's been good to me! :)

  47. thank you for this post! kind of new to the skincare blog world but after a move to a really polluted city, hours of air travel ,and getting off hormonal birth contro lat the same time, my skin has been absolutely freakout out. super congested but also dehydrated!

    i have a question: should be using hydrating products (water-based serums etc) at the same time as active products to release the shell?`

  48. Hi there! I'm planning a blog post and came across hydration vs moisture and I can't put it better than you have.
    Is it okay if I link this post as a "read here for more information"?
    Also i adore your stickers! Where did you get them done?

  49. I have the same type of skin, but putting on AHA and BHA makes my cheeks very red, sensitive and a little more dry. On the days I do use these 2 acids, my routine goes: cleanser, toner, BHA, AHA, emulsion, and water pack, but depending on what my face needs that day, I'll switch it up and add/remove items with essence, vit C, and serum as well.

    Any tips?

  50. Hi Cat, Does "the shell" feel like there is a layer if film over your skin? That's what I feel in mine. Two different aesthetician that I have dehydrated but oily skin. But I've never seen dry flakes on my skin though. A previous laser treatment made my cheeks feel painfully dry but still looked had a light oily sheen to it. So that got me believing that I have dehydrated but oily skin. What I do not understand though is till now my skin doesnt seem to absorb skincare products well. Is this the result of "the shell" you are talking about? Three layers of Secret Key Aloe makes my skin feel really tacky. Just one layer of Naruko Face Miracle Essence makes my skin feel really tacky also. Two layers of Pyunyangkul Toner makes my skin tacky. Even swiping the Cosrx AHA/BHA toner leaves me feeling sticky. And everything I apply after is just tacky, tackier and tackier on my skin that I can literally feel a film barrier on the skin surface. My moisture meter reads my tacky skin as good with high moisture and lower oil. But as soon as I blot my skin with a blotter to get the filmy tacky feeling away, the moisture meter reads my skin as BAD with low moisture and high oil. I dont get it.I do not get it when I read reviews that says so-and-so skincare sinks into their skin. Is this because of "the shell"? that my skin is unable to absorb? I am still testing and testing which products will suit me but it's getting expensive as almost all products I tried just leaves my skin feeling sticky and tacky even after 10, 15, 30, 60 minutes =(

  51. Hi!
    I have dehydrated combination dry skin. Could you maybe recommend a blogger/skin twin who might have the same skin type? Based on your experience, could you also recommend some water-based essences/serums that would be good for this type of skin? I hope this doesn't veer into the legal problem territory. If it does, I'm sorry!

  52. Hi!
    Just want you to know I found your blog the middle of March, and since then have voraciously read nearly every post.
    I know you don't get told this enough: THANK YOU SO MUCH for writing all of this! I'd have never figured out K-beauty without your awesome blog posts! You're pretty much my skin twin, so many of the products you like and have recommended are working out great for me.
    I've also commandeered a copy of your spreadsheet, and thoroughly desecrated it to meet my own needs. I now understand your love affair with your spreadsheet. ;)

    Speaking of "The Shell" in this post - my first real BHA/AHA peel was last week, and I want you to know I HAD NO IDEA ALL THAT GUNK WAS PILED UP ON MY SKIN. I had to wash again with an exfoliating sponge to get it all off. I couldn't believe how clean my skin felt afterward! Thank you!

    And I have a product recommendation for you - I got some samples of TonyMoly's Chok Chok Green Tea Watery Cream from RoseRoseShop, and it's AMAZING. It smells like fresh green tea, and my skin is hydrated, plumped, and all my fine lines are thoroughly erased after using it. I have to put an occlusive over it (Mizon Snail Recovery Gel Cream OMG I love that stuff!!) to keep it sealed in, but with my skin type sounding like it's so similar to yours, I thought you might like it.

    Thank you again for keeping up this blog! I'm looking forward to your next post.

    1. Eeee, thank you so much! ❤️❤️❤️

  53. Hey! I've just discovered your blog and WOW my mind is blown and I'm so excited to start using all these new products! I'm oily/dehydrated and have stubborn black heads and clogged pores AKA The Shell, it's been there for years!

    So I have one question, if I started using (cosrx) AHA/BHA toner + BHA blackhead gel + hyaluronic power essence in that order would that be okay to start with? I'd use a gel cleanser first and a moisturizer last and see how I go with that. I just want to make sure I'm not missing anything crucial or if it would be too much?

    This is totally my new obsession I can't wait to break free of my shell lmao thank you so much for all this amazing info!!! p.s you're hilarious <3

    1. Ooof, begone, O Shell, back to the skin hell from whence you came!

      Your steps as you mentioned above would be cleanse >> prep >> active >> hydrate >> moisturize so that sounds good to me. Whether it's too much is really going to depend on your skin.

      Good luck in your battles with The Shell, you can do it!!!

  54. Wow! Loved that you shared beauty bloggers based on skin-type. Already reading through posts by The Wanderlust Project. I've been using Lavendar Water lately for my oily skin but I'll take some tips for her. Also, the entire post was really insightful. Thanks!