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How to Apply Your Skincare Products in the Right Order

Does it really matter if you apply your skincare products in a particular order? The answer is YES.

You might have the most amazing skincare products in the world, but if you're applying them in the wrong order, you could be wasting your precious time and money.

In this tutorial, you will learn:

  • Why the order of skincare products matters

  • The general guidelines for product layering

  • How to apply your skincare products in the correct order

Why the Order of Skincare Products Matters

When you don't follow the correct order to apply your skincare products, you can run into three problems:

They may not penetrate: This is a problem if you're putting thin, fluid or water-based products on top of thick, creamy or oily ones. The richer products will form a barrier on your skin that prevents anything else from getting through.

They may be less effective: If certain products aren't able to penetrate your skin properly, you obviously can't get their full benefits. Plus, when certain active ingredients are meant to be applied away from each other, using them together can deactivate them or even create a new, unwanted chemical reaction. In either case, your routine won't be as effective as it should be.

You could harm your skin: Using products out of order could even create new skin issues. For example, applying serums on top of oils could leave your skin dry and dehydrated, since not enough water is reaching your skin. Or, if you're layering your serums, creams and oils on top of your mineral sunscreen, you'll be disturbing the coverage and diluting the protection. This will leave you more vulnerable to skin cancer and premature aging!

The 3 "Rules" of Product Layering

There are three general "rules" to keep in mind when determining what order to apply your skincare products:

Thinnest to thickest texture: Move in the direction of light to heavy. Start with your most watery products, such as toners, serums and essences. Heavier, more moisturizing ones—like lotions, creams and then oils—come next, followed by sunscreen.

Water-based before oil-based: Oil and water don't mix, and oil can block water from penetrating. That means water-based products must be applied first. Let them absorb into your skin, and then apply oil-based products on top.

Lowest to highest pH: If you're using active ingredients, it's important to know their approximate pH levels and go from lowest to highest. In other words, acidic products (pH 3.0 to 4.0) should always be applied before more neutral ones (pH 5.0 to 7.0).


Now, let's discuss each step in more detail (keeping in mind that many of these are completely optional).

Order of Skincare Products

Cleanser You don't have to wash your face in the morning—some skin does fine with a splash of water alone. But you may want to if your skin type produces a lot of oil or if there's a residue left on your skin from the products you used the night before. Choose a non-drying, sulfate-free cleanser.

Physical Exfoliant If you can't or don't want to use acids to exfoliate, you can manually buff away dead skin cells. Try a silicone cleansing brush (which you can use daily) or a non-abrasive scrub (which you should limit to a few times a week).

Toner can be helpful if you wash your face at the sink, since it ensures that all traces of cleanser are removed from your skin. (I don't tone in the morning, since I always wash my face in the shower.) I also recommend toning if you used a creamy cleanser that leaves a film on your skin.

Eye Cream Since the eye area doesn't have oil glands to help keep it moisturized, you'll want to give it some hydration right away—as soon as you're done cleansing and exfoliating. (Since it's not going on top of the areas where you applied acid, you don't need to wait.) Feel free to use either your regular moisturizer, if you tolerate it around your eyes, or a specialized eye cream or eye serum.

Treatment Serum Now you can treat your individual skin concerns and fight free radicals with a serum containing active ingredients. L-ascorbic acid (the active form of vitamin C) is good for antioxidant protection, brightening, fading dark spots and even building collagen. Or consider niacinamide, which is also an antioxidant, and treats pigmentation, wrinkles, acne, redness and dryness. Other options include peptides, alpha arbutin and alpha-lipoic acid.

Hydrating Serum or Essence This step is all about lightweight hydration. Look for serums or essences with humectants—ingredients like hyaluronic acid, glycerin and aloe vera that draw water into the skin. If you're using a cream next, then you don't necessarily need this step, unless your skin is very dry and could use the extra layer of moisture.

Moisturizer Next comes moisturizer, if you need it. Not everyone does! If you're oilier, you may be able to get away with serum, oil and sunscreen alone (or even just sunscreen). Otherwise, look for creams with a blend of humectants and stable emollients, that are low in silicones and fragrance.

Face Oil If you want to use face oil, it should always be your last moisturization step. That's because it locks in the hydrating benefits of your other products and prevents the moisture from escaping. (So, anything you put on top of it won't get through.) It can also act like a barrier to protect your skin from the elements.

Physical Sunscreen Sunscreen is the most important skincare product of all, and needs to be worn every day, year-round. I only recommend physical sunscreens that sit on the skin surface to reflect away the light (which is why they need to be your last skincare step). They don't absorb into the bloodstream to cause hormone disruption, and at high enough concentrations, you're getting the best possible UVA and UVB protection.

Makeup Finish with makeup, if you feel the need to cover any redness, darkness, blemishes or discolourations. Primer (if you wear it) should go on under your foundation, tinted moisturizer, BB or CC cream, and then concealer on top. Or, you can simply wear concealer alone. A light dusting with translucent powder will help the makeup stay put all day.

Thank you for reading till the end, now you know how to apply your skincare products in the right order!

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