The Cult of Personality

Redefining Skin Types

By Barbara Close

Originally published in Skin Deep, August/September 2005.

In her new book, Pure Skin: Organic Beauty Basics, Barbara Close redefines the traditional three skin types as five skin personalities, excerpted below. Her book follows up with information on working with each variety to best bring about balance.

In the late 1960s, a trend toward “scientific” skin care led to the introduction of the three skin types we know today: normal, dry, and oily. This classification system went on to dominate the skin-care industry and has changed how women look at their skin.

A holistic approach to well-being and beauty always looks at symptoms from an in-depth perspective, since symptoms are simply messages the body is sending us. I prefer to call my classifications “skin personalities” instead of skin types because I think this more accurately reflects how our bodies, and in particular our skin as a living, communicating organ, work. Skin personalities can be broken into five main groups.


A balanced skin personality is one in which the types of problems have a fairly narrow range and one that requires minimal attention. More than 75 percent of women fall into this category.

Hormone Reactive

This personality is somewhat mercurial, its swings determined by the ebb and flow of hormones. This can be due to the normal course of a woman’s menstrual cycle or the onset of menopause. The specific hormones that create havoc in the skin are androgen, which stimulate the sebum glands to enlarge and make more oil. As the sebum glands expand, the extra oil they secrete clogs the pores, causing acne. Hormone-reactive skin tends to have enlarged pores and excessive oiliness and is prone to acne-related conditions.

Stress Reactive

Stress creates havoc in our bodies. It causes our adrenal glands to work overtime, producing excessive amounts of corticoids that not only raise our “fight or flight” response but also create problems such as high blood pressure, and skin imbalances such as blemishes, rosacea, dermatitis, eczema, and psoriasis are all exacerbated by stress. Stress-reactive skin has an average pore size and moderate oil production (mainly in the T zone) but is highly sensitive to lifestyle factors, such as the lack of sleep, poor diet, and a stressful schedule.

Environment Reactive

In addition to helping monitor the internal environment of the body, the skin must also react to external forces that bear down on it, including temperature, sunlight, humidity, and environmental allergens. Environment reactive skin has an average pore size and moderate oil production but can display symptoms such as dermatitis, dry and flaky skin, and rashes due to changes in the environment.


Despite the many antiaging treatments on the market, the truth is that time does the same thing to everyone: It ages the skin. Certainly there are factors that can hasten this process: overexposure to sunlight, smoking, and absence of proper skin care are some of them. The mature skin personality has a thinner epithelial layer, lacks moisture, and shows facial lines and wrinkles as well as sun damage.