Are You Applying Skin Care Products In the Correct Order?

Sable Yong


Not to get OCD on you, but we just want to make sure you’re layering your skincare products in the right order. Why does it matter? Who are we to barge into your medicine cabinet and tell you how to go about your business? Turns out, this is pretty important stuff if you want your products to be as effective as possible. Nothing horrible is going to happen if you’re NOT applying your products in one way or another, but since you’ve already done the research and spent the cash and time on your skincare routine, you may as well get the best out of it.

A Fresh Start: Obviously it’s best to start with clean skin before you start piling more stuff on top of it. Double cleansing is totally a THING now. Why? Because other than removing your makeup, you also want to remove the makeup-remover to get your skin as clean as possible in a gentle way. Sometimes spraying a thermal water spray on your face before cleansing helps break up dirt and oil particles before you finish the job with your cleanser of choice. Using an oil cleanser or cleansing balm to remove all the dirt and makeup without over-drying your skin before a cleanser also works wonders to create a perfectly clean canvas to absorb skincare products.

MORE: How Cleansing Oils Work For Your Skin

The Thin and Thick Of It: As a general rule after cleansing, you should start with the lightest-feeling products to the heaviest. Things like toner, serums, and targeted treatments come before lotions, oils, and moisturizers. Anything water-based will sink into your skin most easily without any heavier products getting in the way. A good way to tell if this isn’t all going swimmingly is if any product pools on your skin and doesn’t absorb easily—that’s a sign that it can’t penetrate whatever is underneath it.

How Many Licks: If you think of layering skincare like a Tootsie Pop, think of the bottom product as the prize (read: most effective) one. You want to put things like medicated treatments as close to your skin as possible so there’s nothing in the way from them doing their job.

MORE: Acids in Your Skincare Products: What They Are and Why They Work

Beauty Building Blocks: After cleansing, if you use a toner, that comes next. Now if you use an essence that should be applied either in place of toner or directly after. This step isn’t all that common (yet!), but lots of folks are slowly adding extra effort into their skincare routines after the renowned 12-step Korean beauty regimen came to light as a skin-perfecting ritual.

MORE: Why You Should Include An Essence In Your Skincare Routine

Serums follow toners and essences so they can get as close to your skin as possible. Once that has been absorbed (it helps to pat it in, so the serum isn’t just slick on your skin) any targeted treatments like an eye cream can go where they need to go. Super-concentrated treatments like retinols or prescription topical treatments should be applied only at nighttime (unless otherwise directed by a dermatologist) for the most part since many of them cause sun sensitivity.

All-over treatments—think facial oils or perhaps all-over acne treatments—go over that. If you are prone to dry skin, a facial oil can do wonders for it in the long run. It might feel counter-intuitive since it seems as if beauty edict since beginning of time dictates that oil is bad for your skin, but on the contrary, the right oil can be your skin’s best friend. By this point you should feel like a hyper-moisturized individual. Not enough? Well top that with your moisturizer. In the daytime if you don’t use a moisturizer with SPF (which, why aren’t you? They’re great.) you can top your face with your sunscreen of choice over your moisturizer, adding a step. This part is crucial, unless you are a shut-in or vampire. Seriously—wear sunscreen. Your future self will thank you.