Consumer Perspective—Skin Types and Sensory Experience

Sophisticated texture and 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 behind how the consumer perceives a skin care product. For example, consumers with dry skin require a richer moisturizer, even though the product should absorb quickly for a smooth finish.

Assessing Skin Type

Most women believe they understand their skin type but they are often wrong. Facial sebum excretion dictates skin oiliness, with both excessive oiliness and low oil, i.e., dry skin, 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. Within the scientific community, no clear consensus regarding skin type exists;1 whereas among beauty professionals, the primary classification of skin types would be the traditional dry, oily, combination and sensitive, as identified by Helena Rubinstein in the early 20th century. These 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 toward skin care differ across the globe, and the most common skin type assessment is “combination” skin, with two different zones on the face.3, 4 Research into oily skin types has been carried out particularly in Asia, where there is a negative cultural attitude attached to shiny facial skin. Interestingly, 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 a formulation. They generally perceive aging as a natural process so rather than focusing on the effects of a formulation, they focus on how it 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 messages about environmental aggressors such as sun exposure, harsh weather conditions, air-conditioning, dramatic temperature changes, harsh facial cleansers and exfoliators, etc., are powerful in skin care. More consumers are convinced that their skin is sensitive and in need of soothing ingredients, thus creamy and cocooning formulations reinstate this pampering sense of taking care of oneself.

Natural skin care formulations are also 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. For instance, 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 In this author’s view, this detriment could be extended to all skin types with weak barrier function, in those who are genetically predisposed or those afflicted by external stressors. 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 moisturizers. Emollient fluids that combine glycerin, dicaprylyl carbonate and cyclomethicone with absorbent rice powder therefore 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 could provide an instant pore-opening effect through the thermal action of a zeolite since this microporous aluminosilicate mineral 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


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 to connect them with a sense of touch, their childhood memories and reassuring rituals. The challenge in formulating correctly for specific skin types lies in understanding concerns associated with these skin types in detail, yet keeping the categories simple enough for consumers to navigate easily through the overwhelming skin care market.

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  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) p 88
  3. 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, Estée Lauder launches anti-aging cream specifically targeting European woman, Cosmetic Design Europe, specifically-targeting-European-women (Accessed on 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)
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