Does it really matter if you put on your serums before your moisturizer? Or if you put on your hyaluronic acid after your retinol? Of course, it does!
We spend a lot of time and money on our skincare regimen. So, its important that we get the most from our products. This is why it’s so important to layer our skincare correctly.
When you follow a set of instructions or a recipe, you do so in order, right? You start with step one, followed by step two, which comes before step three, and so on. The same applies to how you layer your skincare. If you don’t layer your products in a specific order, you can disenable them from doing their job.
So, this blog post is intended to break it all down. Today, we’ll discuss:
- Why the order of your skincare matters
- My general guidelines for product layering
- How I layer my skincare in the morning
- How I layer my skincare at night
- When I use face wipes, masks, and skincare tools
Plus, I’ve got a FREE CHEAT SHEET for you to download at the end of this post!
Why do the Order of Skincare Products Matter?
When you don’t layer your skincare products correctly, you can run into three problems:
- Your products may not penetrate: This is a likely problem if you’re putting thin, watery-like products on top of thick or oily ones. The richer products will create a barrier on your skin that will prevent anything else from getting through.
- Your products may be less effective: If your products aren’t able to penetrate your skin correctly, you can’t take advantage of their full benefits. Plus, using active ingredients that are meant to be applied away from each other can cancel out their efficacy.
- Your products could harm your skin: When certain active ingredients are not meant to be applied together, using them can also create an unwanted chemical reaction. For example, if you layer serums, creams, and oils on top of your sunscreen, you’ll be disturbing the coverage and diluting the protection of your sunscreen. This can leave you more vulnerable to skin cancer and premature aging!
Product Layering Rules
There are a few general “rules” I abide by when determining what order to apply my skincare products:
- Thinnest to thickest texture: The most basic rule is to use the most lightweight formulas first so they can easily be absorbed without the barrier of a more substantial product. I start with my most watery products, such as toners, face mists, essences, and serums. Heavier ones like lotions, creams, and oils come next, followed by sunscreen.
- Water-based products before oil-based products: Oil and water don’t mix, and oil-based products can block water-based products from penetrating. So, I apply my water-based formulas first. Then, I use oil-based products on top.
- Lowest pH products go before the highest pH products: If you’re using active ingredients, it’s essential to know their pH levels and go from lowest to highest. So, acidic products (pH 3.0 to 4.0) should always be applied before more neutral ones (pH 5.0 to 7.0). For example, I wouldn’t use my Neogen essence, which has a pH of 5 before my P50V 1970 acid toner, which has a pH of 3.5.
Now, let’s discuss how I layer in my skincare in more detail, keeping in mind that many of these steps are entirely optional. If you’re just starting your skincare journey, check out my post on How To Build A Skincare Routine.
How I Layer Skincare in the Morning
Step 1: Cleanser
You don’t have to wash your face every morning. And since we’ve been self-isolating, I’ve actually been incorporating micellar water in my routine. My ideal morning routine these days starts with Bioeffect Micellar Cleansing Water or Bioderma Sensibio H2O on a Shiseido Facial Cotton pad. Micellar water is gentle. And it’s effective at removing dirt and oil to help cleanse your face and while toning your skin.
I don’t use this micellar water every day though, and I wouldn’t recommend it. If you produce a lot of oil or if there’s a residue left on your skin from last night’s routine, I would recommend using a gentle, non-drying cleanser.
- Skin Fix Barrier+ Foaming Oil Cleanser is a lightweight lotion that turns into a soft foam. (reviewed here)
- Holifrog Superior Omega Nutritive Gel Wash is a non-drying gel cleanser packed with probiotics to balance the skin and prevent it from drying out. (reviewed here)
- Lait VIP O2 is a moisturizing cream cleanser that can decongest without dehydrating
Step 2: Exfoliate
I’m personally not a fan of exfoliating in the morning, but if you decide to, I’d do it here. Chemical exfoliants (a.k.a. acids) remove dead skin cells without scrubbing. I love both AHA’s and BHA’s, but I’d recommend a BHA in the morning. They help deep clean your pores and don’t make your skin sensitive to the sun.
- Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant is the Holy Grail of BHAs
Step 3: Treatment Serums
Now here’s where you treat your individual skin concerns here. I personally don’t exfoliate in the morning, but I do use a Vitamin C serum for antioxidant protection, brightening, hyperpigmentation, and building collagen. Because of these benefits, I like to apply it as my first serum because it allows for the best product penetration. I always try to use Vitamin C on bare skin, before I add any hydration. That way, it will have the best chance of doing its job without having to penetrate through layers of other products.
I might also follow it up with my niacinamide serum, which is also an antioxidant that treats pigmentation, wrinkles, redness, and dryness.
- Paula’s Choice C15 Super Booster is a vitamin C serum with L-ascorbic acid. This serum has a thin, watery, consistency, and absorbs quickly into my skin without me having to wait before layering on other products. Check out my mini-review here.
- Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum is another vitamin C serum with L-ascorbic acid. This was my first Vitamin C serum, and its effects on my skin are the reason I fell in love with Vitamin C
- Paula’s Choice 10% Niacinamide Booster is a personal favorite, and layers well under other products without pilling
Step 4: Face Mists, Essences & Hydrating Serums
I apply face mists, essences, and hydrating serums for lightweight hydration. I look for essences and serums with humectants, mostly ingredients like hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and aloe vera that draw water into the skin. Since my skin can always use an extra layer of moisture, I can efficiently (and often do) layer a face mist, essence, and hyaluronic acid serum.
- Bioeffect Hydrating Essence and Neogen Real Ferment Micro Essence are two of my favorite hydrating essences right now
- Aromatica Lively Super Barrier Hyaluronic Acid Toner and Pyungyul Essence Toner are two newer toners for me, but I’m enjoying how plump my skin feels afterward
- Caudalie Grape Water has been in my arsenal for years. It’s simple and effective
- NIOD Superoxide Dismutase Saccharide Mist is a new mist I’ve been enjoying
HYALURONIC ACID SERUMS:
- Pestle and Mortar Hyaluronic Serum, Drunk Elephant B-Hydra Hydrating Serum, and Dr. Barbara Hyaluronic Sturm have been my go-to hyaluronic serums
- NIOD Multi-Molecular Hyaluronic Complex is a new hyaluronic acid serum that I’ve been enjoying, and its the most economical of the options I’ve included
Don’t use a hydrating serum or essence on top of treatment serums that are high in silicones or oils because they won’t be able to penetrate properly. I say that because many times, I’ll apply a serum with omega fatty acids that help strengthen my skin barrier, like SkinFix Barrier+ Triple Lipid-Hyaluronate Serum or Paula’s Choice Omega+ Complex Serum. Because of their thin, lotion-like textures, I’ll apply this as my last serum right before my moisturizer.
When in doubt, apply serums from the thinnest to thickest consistency.Tweet
Step 5: Moisturizer
Next, I apply my moisturizer. As the weather gets warmer, I gravitate towards lightweight moisturizers that melt into the skin.
- Drunk Elephant’s Protini Polypeptide Cream has gel-cream texture and has been a go-to for me in the warmer months
- Dr. Barbara Sturm’s Face Cream is a relatively lightweight moisturizer that isn’t greasy and melts into the skin
- Good Science Beauty Hydrating Cream is a little richer for the spring and summer, but it melts into my skin beautifully
Step 6: Face Oil
A face oil should always be your last moisturization step because it locks in the hydrating benefits of your other product and prevents moisture from escaping. Which means anything you put on top of it won’t get through.
- Indie Lee and Good Molecules have squalane oils that sink in fast and are well-tolerated by most skin types
- Pai Skincare Rosehip BioRegenerate Oil is an excellent rosehip oil, which is great for uneven skin.
- For a slightly heavier oil that moisturizes, I like the Drunk Elephant’s Virgin Marula Oil
Step 7: Sunscreen
Sunscreen is your most crucial skincare product and needs to be worn every day, year-round. Here are a few sunscreens that are lightweight and don’t have me looking casket-ready.
- Paula’s Choice Youth Extending Daily Hydrating Fluid SPF50 is my number one recommendation since its lightweight, easy to apply, and protects me from the UVA rays that cause skin cancer and premature aging.
- Supergoop Unseen Sunscreen is another good choice (reviewed here).
Give your sunscreen a few minutes to dry down before applying any makeup.
Step 8: Makeup
Finish with your makeup routine. I don’t really wear foundation, but I wear mascara, eyebrow makeup, and bronzer often. And I may throw on some concealer too. Check out my picks from this most recent Sephora sale for my makeup options.
How I Layer Skincare at Night
Why is my evening routine important?
While the main point of my morning routine is to prep and equip my skin for the day, the primary purpose of my evening routine is to help my skin restore and regenerate itself. Since my skin is not being bombarded with sunlight and dirt at night, I believe treatments have a better chance of being effective. Now, let’s get started with my evening routine…
Step 1: Double Cleanse
If you wore any makeup, sunscreen, or any silicone-based products, you need to double cleanse. The only time I don’t double cleanse is if I haven’t applied SPF or makeup.
You should start with an oil cleanser to draw out oil-based impurities such as sebum, SPF, makeup, and pollutants on your face. Then, you use a water-based cleanser to remove water-based impurities like sweat and dirt. This spring, I’d recommend the water-based cleansers I discussed in my morning routine above.
Step 2: Exfoliate
This is where I often exfoliate in my routine. I’m a big advocate for regular exfoliation with chemical exfoliants. As long as I’m not overdoing it, I see such a positive difference with my skin texture, tone, and clarity. So, it’ll be no surprise that most of the time, I’m using an acid toner. But you might see me using my Clarisonic or Drunk Elephant’s T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Resurfacing Night Serum in the evening too.
I don’t usually use a chemical exfoliant and my Clarisonic in the same routine, though. I generally use chemical exfoliants 2-3/week in my routine, whereas I’ll use my Clarisonic at most once a week. Especially since I’m using my Clean Towels daily to lift off dead skin cells, which I apply to my face like a warm, damp cloth.
This method has proven to work for my skin, leaving it smooth and prepped to receive any skincare treatments I apply afterward.
- P50V 1970 is a game-changing product that I’m okay with investing in. Check out my first impressions here.
- My Clarisonic is what I use once a week to exfoliate and deep-clean.
- Dr. Barbara Sturm’s Enzyme Cleanser is a non-abrasive, enzyme-based exfoliating powder.
- I use the Clean Skin Club Clean Towels in my morning and evening routines. They are durable, biodegradable, and soft on the skin.
- Drunk Elephant’s T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Resurfacing Night Serum is the only chemical exfoliant serum I own. This leaves my skin nice and soft the next morning.
Acids have a low pH, so I generally wait about 3-5 minutes before I apply any other products on top.
Step 3: Eye Cream
I generally put eye cream on right after cleansing and exfoliating to keep the eye area protected while I treat the rest of my face.
I often wake up with puffy eyes, so I prefer to use a light-textured eye cream in the evening. Most of us prefer a richer formula at night, but I always end up applying it too close to my lash line, and it seeps into my eyes when I lie down, causing irritation and puffiness.
- Bioeffect EGF Eye Serum is super moisturizing but lightweight and made with clean ingredients
- Paula’s Choice Omega+ Complex Eye Cream has a buttery texture and is packed with plant oils rich in omega essential fatty acids and antioxidants
Step 4: Face Mists, Essences & Hydrating Serums
This is when I apply face mists, essences, and hyaluronic acid serums. As I stated above, I look for essences and serums with humectants, especially after applying my chemical exfoliant. See here for my go-to face mists, essences and hyaluronic acid serums. I also have a great post on Instagram about these.
Step 5: Treatment Products
Treatment products should be your main expense skincare-wise, and what you use will depend on what you’re trying to achieve.
Try to have at least three products in rotation that focus on your skin’s needs.
- Paula’s Choice Peptide Booster firms with copper peptides
- Paula’s Choice CBD Skin Transformation Treatment Milk and NIOD Modulating Glucosides Serum are great when you’re skin is prone to sensitivity or irritation
- Bioeffect EGF Serum has been a go-to night serum for me. Check out my detailed review on this serum and the brand here
Whether or not I follow with moisturizer depends on what treatment you prefer. For example, if you’re using a lovely night-time oil, you may not want/need anything else; otherwise, I use the same moisturizers I use in the morning (as long as it doesn’t contain an SPF).
And if I have a few pimples, I apply a spot treatment with ingredients like sulfur, zinc oxide, and salicylic acid.
- Indie Lee Blemish Lotion and Kate Somerville EradiKate Acne Treatment are similar spot treatment formulas and not overly drying
When you’re using an acne spot treatment or patch, avoid layering any retinols on top of that area.
I have been incorporating retinol into my routine, but I am a newbie. So, I will provide my feedback on what retinols work for me at a later time. Most people will benefit from retinol. And retinol is best applied at night, away from UV light.
- Paula’s Choice Retinol + 2% Bakuchoil Treatment
- Paula’s Choice CBD + Retinol
- Dr. Rose Ingleton MD Retexturizing Booster
For the best results, I give my retinol 10-20 minutes to sink in before applying any hydration on top. If you find your retinol is drying or irritating, you can dilute its strength by mixing it with moisturizer.
Step 6: Moisturizer
Some retinols have a thicker texture that allows you to skip a moisturizer. But most of the time, I layer on my favorite moisturizer here. Most people like to apply a richer formula than in the morning since you don’t have to worry about looking shiny!
- Good Science Beauty Hydrating Cream and Paula’s Choice Water Infusing Electrolyte Moisturizer are my current favorites. They’re profoundly hydrating but not heavy and melt into my skin when applied
- Pyunkang Yul Moisture Cream has a unique sleeping mask texture to seal in hydration
Step 7: Face Oil
A layer of face oil locks in all the goodness you applied beforehand and helps prevent overnight moisture loss. I look for oils that contain fatty acids.
- Drunk Elephant Virgin Marula Oil is perfect for dry skin that isn’t acne-prone
- Indie Lee and Good Molecules are pure squalane oils, which most people can use
Step 8: Lip Balm
Last but not least, I apply lip balm to repair chapped lips and dryness caused by either the environment.
- Bioderma Lip Balm
- Drunk Elephant Lippe Balm
- Naturopathica Lip Butter
- Dr. Barbara Sturn Lip Balm
- Kosas Lipfuel Baseline
Face Wipes & Masks
Now, here’s where I fit in optional extras like face wipes and tools.
- FACE WIPES: I save my Clean Skin Club Wipes and Bioderma Sensibio H2O Micellar Wipes for when I’m on-the-go and can’t wash my face at the sink—like post-gym or during airplane travel. Since I’m not traveling or going to the gym, I haven’t been using them lately
- FACE MASKS: Unless they’re specially formulated to be left on until the morning, I generally apply my face masks to clean, freshly exfoliated skin, and then I rinse them off before proceeding with the rest of my routine
Conclusion & Free Cheat Sheet
Now you know how I apply my skincare products. Just click below to download my Skincare Layering Cheat Sheet so you can remember all the steps on layering your skincare.
And again, if you’re new to building a skincare routine, check out my blog post on How To Build A Skincare Routine first.
Do you layer your skincare in this order?
Or do you layer your skincare differently?