A Step-by-Step Guide To The Perfect Skin Care Routine Order

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

skin care routine order

Does it really matter if you put on your serums before your moisturizer? Or if you put on your cleanser after your exfoliator? Of course, it does! The order in which you apply your products plays a significant role in your skincare routine. Without following the correct skin care routine order, you could compromise your product’s overall efficacy. More importantly, you could irritate your skin.

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.

Fun Fact: I’m a beauty blogger, and it took me many years to figure out the correct order to apply skin care products in my skincare routine. Why? Because skincare routine order is not intuitive, and there’s tons of misinformation out there.

So, this blog post is intended to break it all down. I’m sharing:

  • Why skin care routine order matters
  • My general guidelines for skincare product layering
  • My morning skin care routine order
  • My nighttime skin care routine order
  • When I use extra skin care treatments

Plus, I’ve got a great FREE CHEAT SHEET for you to download at the end of this post and reference for later!

So, why does skin care routine order matter?

When you don’t layer your skincare products correctly, you can run into three problems:

  1. 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 more viscous products can create a barrier on your skin that will prevent anything else from getting through.
  2. Your products may be less effective: If your products can’t penetrate your skin correctly, you can’t take advantage of their full benefits. Plus, using active ingredients meant to be applied away from each other can cancel out their efficacy.
  3. Your products could harm your skin: When certain active ingredients aren’t 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!

General Guidelines on Skincare Product Layering

Here are a few tips I use to guide me when determining what order to apply my skincare products:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Lowest pH products go before the highest pH products: If you’re using active ingredients, it’s essential to know their pH level 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).

Now, let’s discuss how I layer my skincare in more detail. If you’re just starting your skincare journey, check out my post on How To Build A Skincare Routine first.

My Skin Care Routine Order: Step-By-Step

My Morning Skincare Routine Order (AM Skincare)

Why is my morning skincare routine important? The main point of my morning routine is to prep and equip my skin for the day. Environmental stressors like free-radical producing pollution, intense heat or cold, and UV rays are waiting to aggravate your skin as soon as you go outside. So, we want to make sure our skin is ready to fight them off.

Now, let’s get into my morning skincare routine order.

Step 1: Cleanser

Cleansers are a must-have in your skincare routine. Cleansing washes away dirt, dead skin cells, makeup, and anything else that might lead to breakouts, blackheads, clogged pores, and irritated skin. A clean face also ensures that the products you use after will be its most effective. 

You don’t have to wash your face in the morning if it dries you out. But, 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.

If you produce a lot of oil or find residue left on your skin from last night’s routine, wash your face in the morning with a gentle, non-drying cleanser.

Paula’s Choice SKIN RECOVERY Softening Cream Cleanser
Klur Gentle Matter
African Botanics Fleur De Rose Cream Cleanser
iS Clinical Cleansing Complex
Biologique Recherche Lait U
Biologique Recherche Lait VIP O2
Paula’s Choice SKIN RECOVERY Softening Cream Cleanser
Klur Gentle Matter
African Botanics Fleur De Rose Cream Cleanser
iS Clinical Cleansing Complex
Biologique Recherche Lait U
Biologique Recherche Lait VIP O2
Paula’s Choice SKIN RECOVERY Softening Cream Cleanser
Klur Gentle Matter
African Botanics Fleur De Rose Cream Cleanser
iS Clinical Cleansing Complex
Biologique Recherche Lait U
Biologique Recherche Lait VIP O2

Step 2: Toner

Toners act as a prep step in your routine. They are usually applied after cleansing and before serums.

Toners can:

  • Help remove impurities, like the dirt and makeup leftover after washing your face
  • Help balance the skin’s pH and moisture levels, which can be thrown off after cleansing
  • Prep your skin to more effectively absorb any serum and moisturizer you apply afterward

I don’t use toners in my skincare routine regularly, but some contain skin-improving ingredients to supplement your treatment and protection products.

Paula’s Choice RESIST Advanced Replenishing Toner
Balancing pH Face Toner with Aloe, Oat & Hyaluronic Acid
Pyungyul Essence Toner
Aromatica Lively Super Barrier Hyaluronic Acid Toner
Dr. Barbara Sturm Balancing Toner
Gallinée Face Vinegar Toner
Paula’s Choice RESIST Advanced Replenishing Toner
Balancing pH Face Toner with Aloe, Oat & Hyaluronic Acid
Pyungyul Essence Toner
Aromatica Lively Super Barrier Hyaluronic Acid Toner
Dr. Barbara Sturm Balancing Toner
Gallinée Face Vinegar Toner
Paula’s Choice RESIST Advanced Replenishing Toner
Balancing pH Face Toner with Aloe, Oat & Hyaluronic Acid
Pyungyul Essence Toner
Aromatica Lively Super Barrier Hyaluronic Acid Toner
Dr. Barbara Sturm Balancing Toner
Gallinée Face Vinegar Toner

Step 3: Eye Cream

Eye creams are essentially a moisturizer explicitly formulated for the eye area. If you use an eye cream, here’s where you should apply it in your routine. No matter how careful you apply your serums and moisturizers, you’ll always get some in the eye area. By using your eye cream beforehand, you prevent the risk of irritation from your other products.

Personally, I don’t think eye creams are necessary, so you won’t see them in many of my skincare routines. I apply my moisturizer all over my face, including my eye area, and get my desired results without irritation.

Drunk Elephant C-Tango™ Vitamin C Eye Cream
NIOD FRACTIONATED EYE-CONTOUR CONCENTRATE (FECC)
La Roche-Posay Toleriane Ultra Soothing Eye Cream for Very Sensitive Eyes
First Aid Beauty Eye Duty Niacinamide Brightening Cream
Youth To The People Dream Eye Cream with Goji Stem Cell and Ceramides
Drunk Elephant C-Tango™ Vitamin C Eye Cream
NIOD FRACTIONATED EYE-CONTOUR CONCENTRATE (FECC)
La Roche-Posay Toleriane Ultra Soothing Eye Cream for Very Sensitive Eyes
First Aid Beauty Eye Duty Niacinamide Brightening Cream
Youth To The People Dream Eye Cream with Goji Stem Cell and Ceramides
Drunk Elephant C-Tango™ Vitamin C Eye Cream
NIOD FRACTIONATED EYE-CONTOUR CONCENTRATE (FECC)
La Roche-Posay Toleriane Ultra Soothing Eye Cream for Very Sensitive Eyes
First Aid Beauty Eye Duty Niacinamide Brightening Cream
Youth To The People Dream Eye Cream with Goji Stem Cell and Ceramides

Step 4: Serums

Serums are essentially a topical treatment. They contain concentrated active ingredients to help treat your individual skin concerns. Think antioxidants, acids, peptides, retinoids.

In the morning, I apply a Vitamin C serum for antioxidant protection, brightening, hyperpigmentation, and building collagen. Because of these benefits, I like to use it as my first serum on bare skin because it allows for the best product penetration. 

I follow that with a hydrating serum(s) because my dry, dehydrated skin needs it. 

When in doubt, apply serums from the thinnest to the thickest consistency.

La Roche-Posay Hyalu B5 Pure Hyaluronic Acid Serum
Dr. Barbara Sturm Night Serum
Dr. Barbara Sturm Super Anti Aging Serum
Holifrog Sunnyside C Glow Serum
Skinceuticals CE Ferulic Vitamin C Serum
Real Ferment Micro Essence Serum
dr. barbara sturm the good c vitamin c serum
Naturium Vitamin C Complex Serum
Hyper Skin Hyper Clear Brightening Clearing Vitamin C Serum
Paula’s Choice Omega+ Complex Serum
AbsoluteJOI Skin Refining Night Oil with Retinol and Vitamins C+E
Dr. Barbara Sturm Calming Serum
NIOD Modulating Glucosides
SkinFix Barrier+ Triple Lipid-Hyaluronate Serum
NIOD Copper Amino Isolate Lipid 1%
NIOD Copper Amino Isolate Serum
NIOD MULTI-MOLECULAR HYALURONIC COMPLEX
Pestle & Mortar Vitamin C 2-Phase Serum
Pestle & Mortar Pure Hyaluronic Serum
Dr. Barbara Sturm Hyaluronic Acid Serum
Paula’s Choice Omega+ Complex Serum
Bioeffect EGF Serum
PCA SKIN Vitamin B3 Brightening Serum
Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum
Dr. Barbara Sturm Darker Skin Tones Hyaluronic Serum
Drunk Elephant B-Hydra Intensive Hydration Serum

Step 5: Moisturizer

Moisturizers protect your skin from moisture loss. By protecting our skin from drying out, you’re able to keep your skin’s protective barrier safe.

Your moisturizer makes up the last few steps in your skincare routine after serums and treatments. And when used daily, they can improve the skin’s appearance, keeping it feeling smooth, plumped, and soft.

Avene XeraCalm A.D Lipid-Replenishing Cream
Naturium Multi-Peptide Moisturizer
MDO Skin Intense Hydrating Moisturizer
Dr. Barbara Sturm Super Anti-Aging Face Cream
SkinFix Barrier+ Triple Lipid Peptide Face Cream
Dr. Barbara Sturm Face Cream
Paula’s Choice Omega+ Complex Moisturizer
Good Science Beauty Hydrating Cream
PCA SKIN ReBalance
Dr. Jart+ Ceramidin(TM) Cream
Drunk Elephant Lala Retro™ Whipped Cream
Youth To The People Adaptogen Deep Moisture Cream

Step 6: Face Oil

Face oils have many benefits, but their primary purpose is to provide an extra level of protection for your skin. Face oils can also help with anti-aging and provide antibacterial and healing properties.

If you apply face oil in your morning routine, it should always be your last moisturization step because it locks in the hydrating benefits of your other products and prevents moisture from escaping. Which means anything you put on top of it won’t get through. 

I usually only apply face oils in my morning routine when the weather is extremely windy and frigid.

Trilogy Rosehip Oil Antioxidant+
Ode To Self – DePalma Oil
Pai Skincare Rosehip BioRegenerate Oil
Indie Lee Squalane Facial Oil
Drunk Elephant Virgin Marula Luxury Facial Oil
Trilogy Rosehip Oil Antioxidant+
Ode To Self – DePalma Oil
Pai Skincare Rosehip BioRegenerate Oil
Indie Lee Squalane Facial Oil
Drunk Elephant Virgin Marula Luxury Facial Oil
Trilogy Rosehip Oil Antioxidant+
Ode To Self – DePalma Oil
Pai Skincare Rosehip BioRegenerate Oil
Indie Lee Squalane Facial Oil
Drunk Elephant Virgin Marula Luxury Facial Oil

Step 7: Sunscreen

Sunscreen protects against the sun’s UV rays. UV rays break down the elastin and collagen in your skin, causing discoloration, skin thinning, skin sagging, and ultimately wrinkles. More importantly, UV light can damage the DNA in your skin cells, leading to skin cancer.

This is why sunscreen is your most crucial skincare product. So, you’ll need to wear your sunscreen every day, year-round. The key is getting one that you can easily apply, doesn’t have you looking casket-ready, and has an SPF 30+.

SKIN TIP
You want your sunscreen to dry down before applying any makeup to reduce piling. So, wait a few minutes before continuing with your routine.

AbsoluteJOI Tinted Moisturizer With SPF 40 Mineral Sunscreen
Dr. Barbara Sturm Sun Drops SPF 50
La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Face Moisturizer UV SPF 30
Supergoop Unseen Sunscreen
Paula’s Choice RESIST Youth-Extending Daily Hydrating Fluid SPF 50
AbsoluteJOI Tinted Moisturizer With SPF 40 Mineral Sunscreen
Dr. Barbara Sturm Sun Drops SPF 50
La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Face Moisturizer UV SPF 30
Supergoop Unseen Sunscreen
Paula’s Choice RESIST Youth-Extending Daily Hydrating Fluid SPF 50
AbsoluteJOI Tinted Moisturizer With SPF 40 Mineral Sunscreen
Dr. Barbara Sturm Sun Drops SPF 50
La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Face Moisturizer UV SPF 30
Supergoop Unseen Sunscreen
Paula’s Choice RESIST Youth-Extending Daily Hydrating Fluid SPF 50

My Nighttime Skincare Routine Order (PM Skincare)

Why is my nighttime 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 environmental stressors at night, products can better penetrate, and I feel more comfortable using treatments that may cause skin sensitivity.

Now, let’s get into my nighttime skincare routine order.

Step 1: Double Cleanse

As I stated above, cleansing is one of the must-have steps in your skincare routine. At night, that includes a double cleanse. You need to double cleanse if you’ve worn any makeup, sunscreen, or silicone-based products.

When double cleansing, I start with an oil cleanser to draw out oil-based impurities such as sebum, SPF, makeup, and pollutants on my face. Then, I use a water-based cleanser to remove contaminants like sweat and dirt.

Skin Pot Cleansing Balm
The Inkey List Oat Cleansing Balm
Paula’s Choice Omega+ Complex Cleansing Balm
Jordan Samuel Skin The After Show Treatment Cleanser for Sensitive Skin
Deviant Skincare Enzymatic Cleansing Oil
AbsoluteJOI Sunflower & Moringa Fresh Cleanse Oil
Deviant Skincare Cleansing Concentrate
Tatcha Pure One Step Camellia Oil Cleanser
HoliFrog Kissimmee Vitamin F Therapy Balmy Wash
Clinique Take The Day Off Balm
Skin Pot Cleansing Balm
The Inkey List Oat Cleansing Balm
Paula’s Choice Omega+ Complex Cleansing Balm
Jordan Samuel Skin The After Show Treatment Cleanser for Sensitive Skin
Deviant Skincare Enzymatic Cleansing Oil
AbsoluteJOI Sunflower & Moringa Fresh Cleanse Oil
Deviant Skincare Cleansing Concentrate
Tatcha Pure One Step Camellia Oil Cleanser
HoliFrog Kissimmee Vitamin F Therapy Balmy Wash
Clinique Take The Day Off Balm

Step 2: Toner

If you use a toner, here’s where you should apply it in your nighttime skincare routine. Read more about this above.

Paula’s Choice RESIST Advanced Replenishing Toner
Balancing pH Face Toner with Aloe, Oat & Hyaluronic Acid
Pyungyul Essence Toner
Aromatica Lively Super Barrier Hyaluronic Acid Toner
Dr. Barbara Sturm Balancing Toner
Gallinée Face Vinegar Toner
Paula’s Choice RESIST Advanced Replenishing Toner
Balancing pH Face Toner with Aloe, Oat & Hyaluronic Acid
Pyungyul Essence Toner
Aromatica Lively Super Barrier Hyaluronic Acid Toner
Dr. Barbara Sturm Balancing Toner
Gallinée Face Vinegar Toner
Paula’s Choice RESIST Advanced Replenishing Toner
Balancing pH Face Toner with Aloe, Oat & Hyaluronic Acid
Pyungyul Essence Toner
Aromatica Lively Super Barrier Hyaluronic Acid Toner
Dr. Barbara Sturm Balancing Toner
Gallinée Face Vinegar Toner

Step 3: Eye Cream

If you use an eye cream, here’s where you should apply it in your nighttime skincare routine. Read more about this above. 

Drunk Elephant C-Tango™ Vitamin C Eye Cream
NIOD FRACTIONATED EYE-CONTOUR CONCENTRATE (FECC)
La Roche-Posay Toleriane Ultra Soothing Eye Cream for Very Sensitive Eyes
First Aid Beauty Eye Duty Niacinamide Brightening Cream
Youth To The People Dream Eye Cream with Goji Stem Cell and Ceramides
Drunk Elephant C-Tango™ Vitamin C Eye Cream
NIOD FRACTIONATED EYE-CONTOUR CONCENTRATE (FECC)
La Roche-Posay Toleriane Ultra Soothing Eye Cream for Very Sensitive Eyes
First Aid Beauty Eye Duty Niacinamide Brightening Cream
Youth To The People Dream Eye Cream with Goji Stem Cell and Ceramides
Drunk Elephant C-Tango™ Vitamin C Eye Cream
NIOD FRACTIONATED EYE-CONTOUR CONCENTRATE (FECC)
La Roche-Posay Toleriane Ultra Soothing Eye Cream for Very Sensitive Eyes
First Aid Beauty Eye Duty Niacinamide Brightening Cream
Youth To The People Dream Eye Cream with Goji Stem Cell and Ceramides

Step 4: Serums & Treatments

As discussed above, serums are concentrated active ingredients to help treat your individual skin concerns.

In my nighttime routine, I use a combination of acids, peptide serums, skin-strengthening serums, and retinol throughout the week.

La Roche-Posay Hyalu B5 Pure Hyaluronic Acid Serum
Dr. Barbara Sturm Night Serum
Dr. Barbara Sturm Super Anti Aging Serum
Holifrog Sunnyside C Glow Serum
Skinceuticals CE Ferulic Vitamin C Serum
Real Ferment Micro Essence Serum
dr. barbara sturm the good c vitamin c serum
Naturium Vitamin C Complex Serum
Hyper Skin Hyper Clear Brightening Clearing Vitamin C Serum
Paula’s Choice Omega+ Complex Serum
AbsoluteJOI Skin Refining Night Oil with Retinol and Vitamins C+E
Dr. Barbara Sturm Calming Serum
NIOD Modulating Glucosides
SkinFix Barrier+ Triple Lipid-Hyaluronate Serum
NIOD Copper Amino Isolate Lipid 1%
NIOD Copper Amino Isolate Serum
NIOD MULTI-MOLECULAR HYALURONIC COMPLEX
Pestle & Mortar Vitamin C 2-Phase Serum
Pestle & Mortar Pure Hyaluronic Serum
Dr. Barbara Sturm Hyaluronic Acid Serum
Paula’s Choice Omega+ Complex Serum
Bioeffect EGF Serum
PCA SKIN Vitamin B3 Brightening Serum
Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum
Dr. Barbara Sturm Darker Skin Tones Hyaluronic Serum
Drunk Elephant B-Hydra Intensive Hydration Serum

Step 5: Moisturizer

Here’s where you should apply your moisturizer in your nighttime skincare routine. Read more about this above.

Avene XeraCalm A.D Lipid-Replenishing Cream
Naturium Multi-Peptide Moisturizer
MDO Skin Intense Hydrating Moisturizer
Dr. Barbara Sturm Super Anti-Aging Face Cream
SkinFix Barrier+ Triple Lipid Peptide Face Cream
Dr. Barbara Sturm Face Cream
Paula’s Choice Omega+ Complex Moisturizer
Good Science Beauty Hydrating Cream
PCA SKIN ReBalance
Dr. Jart+ Ceramidin(TM) Cream
Drunk Elephant Lala Retro™ Whipped Cream
Youth To The People Adaptogen Deep Moisture Cream

Step 6: Face Oil

If you use face oils, here’s where you should apply them in your nighttime skincare routine. Read more about this above.

Trilogy Rosehip Oil Antioxidant+
Ode To Self – DePalma Oil
Pai Skincare Rosehip BioRegenerate Oil
Indie Lee Squalane Facial Oil
Drunk Elephant Virgin Marula Luxury Facial Oil
Trilogy Rosehip Oil Antioxidant+
Ode To Self – DePalma Oil
Pai Skincare Rosehip BioRegenerate Oil
Indie Lee Squalane Facial Oil
Drunk Elephant Virgin Marula Luxury Facial Oil
Trilogy Rosehip Oil Antioxidant+
Ode To Self – DePalma Oil
Pai Skincare Rosehip BioRegenerate Oil
Indie Lee Squalane Facial Oil
Drunk Elephant Virgin Marula Luxury Facial Oil

How To Incorporate Extra Skincare Treatments

Now, here’s where I fit in optional extras like face wipes, face masks, and skincare 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 or pat in the remaining serum before proceeding with the rest of my routine
  • MICROCURRENT DEVICES: I use these right after cleansing and exfoliating but before my serums and moisturizer. (Tap here to get 20% off your ZIIP Beauty device using my promo code DANA20)
  • FACE MASSAGE: I usually do this right after applying my face oil. The face oil gives me good slip as I massage.
First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Instant Oatmeal Mask
Topicals Like Butter Mask for Dry, Sensitive & Eczema-Prone Skin
Clean Skin Club Travel Size 25ct
Clean Skin Club – Clean Towels Bamboo
andLAB Niacinamide 2% + B5 Hydrating Face Mask
ZIIP GX device
Nuface Trinity Facial Toning Device
Dr. Barbara Sturm Face Mask
Bioeffect Imprinting Hydrogel Masks
Clean Skin Club – Clean Wipes (Big Pack)
Dr. Jart+ Ceramidin(TM) Sheet Mask
N.M.F Intensive Hydrating Sheet Mask
Clean Skin Club – Clean Wipes
Clean Skin Club – Clean Towels

Conclusion & Free Cheat Sheet on Skincare Routine Order

Now you know the correct skin care routine order! 

For a reference guide, 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.

What’s your skin care routine order?
Do you layer your skincare products differently?

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8 Comments

  1. Lizzy
    May 12, 2020 / 4:22 am

    Thank you for sharing 🤗

    • May 12, 2020 / 5:17 am

      You’re welcome! Thanks for taking the time to read my blog post. Feel free to DM me any questions!

  2. Arielle
    June 11, 2020 / 5:46 pm

    I thought I was well-versed in skincare, but I learned so much from this post! Never even considered pH levels in my products, thx for breaking this down 🙂

    • June 13, 2020 / 7:32 am

      No problem! I’m happy you found the blog post informative. Feel free to ask questions!

  3. j
    August 17, 2020 / 4:41 pm

    Is the layering cheat sheet still available? I can’t seem to find the link to download it

    • August 25, 2020 / 6:39 pm

      Hi – You can sign up for the cheat sheet at the end of the Layer Like A Pro! blog post.

  4. Candra Reeves
    August 29, 2020 / 6:58 pm

    This was very informative! Thanks so much for laying out the importance of each step!

    • August 30, 2020 / 8:51 pm

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it!

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