Does it really matter which order you go about your beauty regimen? The question isn’t something we think about regularly—usually only when adding a new product or step into our routine.
But, it turns out that the answer is yes—order does matter to ensure that your skin gets the full benefits of each product application. Sure, some steps are common sense; after all, you wouldn’t apply moisturizer before washing your face. But, what about anti-aging serums, sunscreens, or products that combine the benefits of each?
Order does matter to ensure that your skin gets the full benefits of each product application.
For example, if you apply a cream-based product first, followed by a serum, the cream’s emolliency will prevent the serum from reaching the skin. Additionally, many moisturizers contain water, and if you apply a moisturizer over a sunscreen, you would in effect be watering down your sunscreen and diluting its ability to protect your skin.
To help you customize the perfect regimen for your specific skin concerns, we’ll explain which products you need and why, as well as the best order in which to apply each.
Selecting Your Skincare Products
Do you normally just sud up your face with whichever bar of soap is in the shower or allow your body lotion to double as a face cream? We’re not ones for promoting excessive purchases; however, the following four products are necessary regardless of whether your skin type is oily, dry, normal, or combination:
- Cleanser: Daily cleansing is the foundation of any skin care regimen. In fact, if you only take one step in caring for your skin, it should be washing your face. A gentle, water-soluble cleanser removes debris, oil, and makeup. Additionally, when your face is clean, it allows the other products you use to work even better, morning and evening.
- Toner: A well-formulated toner smoothes, softens, and calms skin, while removing the last traces of makeup. Toners also balance your skin’s pH back to an ideal, slightly acidic level after cleansing.
- Exfoliant: Sun damage causes the surface of your skin to thicken. Acne and oily skin complicate the texture of your complexion even further. Even if your skin is protected daily and free of blemishes, dead skin cells still pile up, causing clogged pores, uneven skin tone and deeper wrinkles. Exfoliating eliminates this buildup and allows any additional products to work on fresh, new skin.
- Moisturizer: Used daily, moisturizers (cream, lotion, gel, or liquid texture) improve your skin's healthy functioning and keep it feeling smooth and soft. All skin types will benefit from a moisturizer. However, those with specific skin concerns should search for targeted formulas. And don’t forget that you can (and should) use them around the eye area!
Targeted Products & Treatments
Are you frustrated with dark spots, acne, or dull skin? Consider adding the following to your arsenal of skincare products:
- Make-Up Remover: Scrubbing at or wiping your face to remove makeup residue can lead to micro-tears that speed up signs of aging. If you wear cosmetics on a daily basis, investing in a formula that effortlessly and gently removes makeup can help preserve the integrity of your skin.
- Serums: These concentrated solutions can deliver active ingredients to the skin quickly. Plus, they’re easy to customize by mixing two or three that address each of your skin concerns; formulas with peptides soften wrinkles, while those with aloe or licorice will help to calm redness.
- Acne Spot Treatments: Whether over-the-counter or prescription, using an acne spot treatment will lead to fewer breakouts and a reduction in large, red, swollen blemishes. Your acne will be reduced, and possibly eliminated.
- Skin Lightening Treatments: If you struggle with discolorations or uneven skin tone, daily use of a skin lightening treatment can gradually reduce, and in some cases, eliminate brown spots and discolorations.
- Retinol: Retinoids are the only anti-aging ingredient proven to help fight signs of aging by speeding up exfoliation, repairing skin on a molecular level, and boosting new collagen production.
- SPF Protection: This essential morning step keeps your skin shielded from sun damage, protecting the results of any targeted treatments you’ve let work through the night. Just remember that your sunscreen must have an SPF 25 or higher rating, and offer broad-spectrum protection.
Discover Which Products To Pick: Learning To Read Your Cosmetics Label Can Save You Cash
Products You Don’t Need to Purchase
Cosmetics companies tend to play off the fear of not taking every possible step to preserve our complexions. However, there are a few products that you can safely leave out of your beauty routine—leaving a few more dollars in your wallet:
Separate Daytime & Nighttime Moisturizers
Putting aside the claims and hype you may have heard, the only real difference between daytime and nighttime moisturizers is that the daytime version should contain a well-formulated, broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher.
Even if your foundation includes SPF, studies show that the average makeup wearer doesn’t apply enough foundation to provide sun protection.
Look for a product that contains UVA-protecting ingredients; specifically titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, avobenzone (also called butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane or Parson 1789), Tinosorb, or Mexoryl SX (ecamsule).
We’re told that eye creams are specially formulated for the skin around your eye area. However, there’s absolutely zero evidence, research, or documentation to validate the claims that eye creams have special formulations that set them apart from, or make them superior to, other facial moisturizers.
According to Paula Begoun, The Cosmetics Cop at Paula’s Choice and author of Don’t Go To The Cosmetics Counter Without Me, “Eye creams are a whim of the cosmetics industry designed to evoke the sale of two products when only one is needed.”
One of the drawbacks of many eye creams is that they rarely contain sunscreen, making them inappropriate for day wear—lest you risk putting your delicate eye skin at serious risk of sun damage. Of course, you could always layer additional sun protection over an eye cream, but Paula Begoun claims that a regular facial moisturizer with SPF is just fine.
Products In Jar Packaging
Packaging plays a significant role in the stability and effectiveness of the products that you use. This is because many state-of-the-art ingredients, antioxidants, and plant extracts are unstable in the presence of air.
Jar packaging, once opened, allows air to enter freely—causing important ingredients to break down and deteriorate. Jars also mean that you’re probably sticking your fingers into the product, which can transfer bacteria and further cause ingredients to break down.
Alternatively, airtight packaging—or any packaging that reduces a product’s exposure to air—is essential to search for when investing in the best skin products.
Layering Your Skincare Routine
So which product goes on top of what, you ask? An easy rule of thumb to follow is to apply your products with the thinnest consistency first, moving up to the thickest.
During the day, most experts recommend a simple cleanser-toner-light moisturizer/day cream-sunscreen routine in this order:
Because sunscreen should always be the last skin-care product you apply, it's a good idea to allow a few minutes for it to set before you apply your makeup. By allowing your sun protection a few extra moments to dry, you ensure that no areas are left exposed due to a wayward smudge.
At night, that’s when you load up on problem-solving products, allowing each ample time to soak in:
- Make-up Remover
- AHA-Based Exfoliant (Unless cleanser includes manual exfoliation)
- Acne Spot Treatments or Retinol or Skin Lightening Treatments
Tip: If your sensitive skin reddens at the thought of using even one treatment product, try putting on a simple, fragrance-free moisturizer first and then serums on top. The cream will reduce the potency of the serums or spot-treatments, but they'll also be less likely to cause irritation.
Bottom Line? An Effective Skincare Routine Doesn’t Need to Take a Ton Of Time, but Timing is Crucial
Aside from the order of application, it’s also important to consider the time it takes for your skin to absorb your products.
Take benzoyl peroxide, for example. This ingredient, which is commonly found in acne-treatment regimens, has a one- to three-hour working time. Any cream that comes in contact with it before it has completed its work will likely inhibit the active ingredient from working properly.
So, how long do you have to wait between applying your skincare products?
If you're using gentle, well-formulated skincare products (and you should be), then in most circumstances, waiting is about personal preference (what works best for you). A general rule of thumb is to give each product enough time to dry completely, ensuring it’s not still sticky or wet to the touch, before applying your next layer.
If you notice that a combination of products you're using tends to roll or ball up when you apply one right after the other, then it's probably best to allow the first product more time to dry before applying the next one in your routine. However, sometimes two product's textures just aren't compatible—they don't play well together—and choosing alternate days to apply each is best.
Finally, if you're applying treatment products to manage discolorations, keep oil in check, help with breakouts, or even combat crow's feet—it's okay to spot-treat rather than to apply the product all over your face.
For example, you can apply a skin-lightening product with hydroquinone directly to the discolored areas, or dab an anti-acne product with benzoyl peroxide right over your breakouts at the end of your skin-care routine just before you apply sunscreen.
Using a spot-treatment method has a few benefits: Your products dry more quickly, you’re not treating skin that doesn’t need it, and it allows you to conserve how much product you use.
Do you have any tips for applying multiple products during your skincare regimen? Let us know in the comments below!