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Only on A Consumer Perspective—Skin Types and the Sensorial Experience

Katerina Steventon, an independent consultant to the skin care industry and the general public, explains the importance of the senses when it comes to skin care.

Sophisticated texture and a fragrance as part of a formulation’s aesthetics are important to the discerning consumer, and skin type—i.e., dry, sensitive, combination or oily—is the primary influence on how the consumer perceives a skin care product. For example, consumers with a dry skin type require a richer moisturizer, even though the product should absorb quickly for a smooth finish.

Assessing skin type

The majority of women believe they understand their skin type, but they are often wrong. Facial sebum excretion dictates skin oiliness, with both excessive and reduced oiliness being undesirable. Skin type assessment is based on the consumer’s subjective view of dryness or oiliness; however, discrepancies are often found between this subjective view and objective measurements. There is no clear consensus within the scientific community on skin type definitions.1 Among beauty professionals, the primary classification of skin types would be the traditional dry, oily, combination and sensitive, as identified by Helena Rubinstein in early 20th century. These skin type categories are still widely used by skin care manufacturers when marketing products tailored to a specific skin type, although they inadequately address other clinically observed skin features such as pigmentation or wrinkles. The innovative and more complex Baumann Skin Typing System classification differentiating four independent spectrums—dry to oily, sensitive to resistant, pigmented to non-pigmented and wrinkled to tight—has not yet been broadly accepted.2

Skin types and cultural attitudes to skin care differ across the globe, and the most common skin type assessment is combination skin with two different zones in the face.3, 4 Research into oilier skin types has been carried out particularly in Asia, where there is a negative cultural attitude attached to shiny facial skin. Research in Asia has shown that only in cases where consumers have a specific concern, such as shiny and oily skin, is their self-assessment correct.5

Formulation aesthetics

European women attach great importance to the fragrance, texture and comfort of the formulation. They perceive aging as a natural process, rather focusing on how the formulation feels.6 In contrast, Asian and American women value results and efficacy more than comforting textures and fragrances.

Since the 1990s, media attention has been focused on addressing the needs of sensitive skin, and marketing stories about environmental aggressors such as sun exposure, harsh weather conditions, air-conditioning, dramatic temperature changes, harsh facial cleansers and exfoliators, are powerful in skin care. More consumers are convinced that their skin is sensitive and in need of soothing ingredients. Creamy and cocooning formulations reinstate the pampering aspect of taking care of oneself.

Natural skin care formulations are rising in popularity, and they often contain plant oils that may, contrary to their soothing connotations, cause problems for skin types with impaired skin barrier. Research suggests that oleic acid, an unsaturated fatty acid and a transdermal penetration enhancer, can disturb epidermal barrier function in children with atopic dermatitis.7 It's my view that this can be extended to all skin types with weak barrier function in genetically predisposed individuals or due to stressful life events. Oleic and palmitoleic acids, present in plant oils such as olive, grape seed and sea buckthorn, have been shown to induce epidermal hyperplasia, clinically manifesting as scaly skin, and abnormal follicular keratinization (implicated in acne) in animal models.8

Older consumers with oily skin types are often concerned about increased sebum excretion and are reluctant to apply a moisturizer. Emollient fluids that combine glycerin, dicaprylyl carbonate and cyclomethicone with absorbent rice powder work best to achieve a light texture that feels soft and smooth without leaving a greasy residue. In today’s fast-paced culture, consumers also expect to see noticeable results, immediately failing to recognize that skin care efficacy requires time. This instant gratification is provided by pleasant textures and fragrances and the feeling of an “instant effect” after application. For example, a self-heating mask can provide an instant pore opening effect through the thermal action of zeolite, a microporous aluminosilicate mineral that emits heat when transitioning from a dehydrated to a hydrated form. These are the elements that provide the daily skin care narrative with some excitement.9

Recognize the value

It is important to recognize the value consumers attach to the texture and fragrance of their skin care products. The pleasure associated with applying skin care encourages compliance, and each skin type seeks different textures and fragrances that connect them with a sense of touch, their childhood memories and reassuring rituals.


1. SW Youn, SJ Kim, IA Hwang and KC Park, Evaluation of facial skin type by sebum secretion: discrepancies between subjective description and sebum secretion, Skin Res Technol 8 168–172 (2002)

2. LS Baumann, The Baumann Skin Typing System, in Textbook of Aging Skin, MA Farage, KW Miller and HI Maibach, eds, Springer Verlag, Berlin Heidelberg , Germany (2010) pp 88

3. SW Youn, JI Na, SY Choi, CH Huh and KC Park, Regional and seasonal variations in facial sebum secretions: a proposal for the definition of combination skin type, Skin Res Technol 11 189–195 (2005)

4. I Le Fur, S Lopez, F Morizot, C Guinot and E Tschachler, Comparison of cheek and forehead regions by bioengineering methods in women with different self-reported “cosmetic skin types,” Skin Res Technol 5 182–188 (1999)

5. S Nouveau-Richard, W Zhu and YH Li et al, Oily skin: specific features in Chinese women, Skin Res Technol 13(1) 43–48 (2007)

6. P Kondhia, Estee Lauder launches anti-aging cream specifically targeting European woman, Cosmetic Design Europe, (Accessed Feb 2, 2012)

7. K Schaefer, Mild Cleansing, Effective Preservation for Baby Care, Cosm & Toil 125(5) 16 (2010)

8. Y Katsuta, T Iida, S Inomata and M Denda, Unsaturated fatty acids induce calcium influx into keratinocytes and cause abnormal differentiation of epidermis, J Invest Dermatol 124(5) 1008–13 (2005)

9. S Irvine, Skin Deep, Vogue 1 162–165 (2008)

From Cosmetics and Toiletries magazine.

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