Dewy vs. oily skin – what’s the difference?

People always say to me, “Your skin looks so dewy.” In my mind, I just think my skin is oily, not dewy, but are they really that different? I talked to a dermatologist to figure out if my skin is actually dewy or if my suspicions of having oily skin are correct.

California-based celebrity dermatologist Dr. Caren Campbell of Caren Campbell M.D. Dermatology gives us the scoop on the dewy vs. oily debate.

SEE ALSO: Here’s how to tell if your skin is dry or dehydrated

What does dewy skin look like?

So, technically, “dewy” isn’t a medical term. The skincare community and social media popularized the term. Dewy skin typically looks luminous, like the skin is reflecting light. Dewy skin has become everyone’s #skingoals since Glossier launched in 2014.

The glowy, no-makeup-makeup look AKA the dewy look captured everyone’s attention. Glossier’s slogan “Skin First, Makeup Second,” and the color millennial pink were on every timeline and every skinfluencer’s YouTube video.

Fast-forward to 2021 and you’l lnotice that dewy skin is STILL the ultimate skin goal, from up-close selfies of “glass skin” to strobing and highlighting makeup tutorials.

What are the signs of oily skin?

While everyone produces a natural oil called sebum, excess production of sebum would indicate that you have oily skin.

“Oily skin is influenced by hormones which drive oil production and make the skin greasy,” says Dr. Campbell.

Your sebaceous glands working overtime can be hella annoying. Some causes for overactive sebaceous glands could be out of your control, like if you live in a humid area yearround, or even genetics.

Sometimes, combination skin can be mistaken for oily skin. One way to tell the difference is by looking at your t-zone and cheeks. If you notice an overall shininess or breakouts on your forehead, then you have oily skin. If you notice oiliness just around your t-zone then you have combination skin.

Some things that ARE in your control when it comes to oiliness are the types of products you use. Avoid products that strip your natural oils from your skin and thick creams that could clog your pores.

What is the difference between dewy and oily skin?

The most telling difference between dewy skin and oily skin is really based on perception. While my sebaceous glands tend to be overzealous in their job of moisturizing my skin, it does give me a complexion that reflects light off my cheekbones, which I love.

Those of you with normal to combination skin can also achieve that same effect. Not everyone enjoys having skin that reflects light all the time and that’s totally okay. You can make your own #skingoals.

How can I look dewy but not oily?

Exfoliate, exfoliate, exfoliate.

“Dewy skin is typically skin that has been exfoliated and has the top layer of stratum corneum AKA dead skin cells removed,” Dr. Campbell explains.

Now, how you exfoliate your skin is very important. Over-exfoliating can cause damage to your top layer and cause micro-cuts, especially if you use exfoliating scrubs.

Dr. Campbell recommends exfoliating your skin by washing your face with glycolic wash a few times a week, or you can remove dead skin cells with retinoids which will speed up skin cell regeneration.

Moisturizing your skin daily and using Dr. Campbell’s suggestions will give your skin that healthy glow that Glossier girls dream of.


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