You’ve spent hours and hundreds of dollars buying the best beauty products for your skin type, but if you’re applying them in the wrong order, you could be doing more harm than good. For example, should serum be applied before or after moisturizer? When is the best time to apply retinol? The order in which you apply skincare products has a huge impact, and can be the difference between a product working effectively, or a total waste of money.
One easy way to remember the order of a skin care routine is to think about the texture of the products. You want to apply them from lightest to heaviest. Serums are lightweight, so if you apply them after a rich cream, the cream will essentially create a barrier and block the serum from reaching your skin. Many moisturizers also contain water, which can dilute a product that is layered on top of it.
When it comes to creating and sticking with a skin care routine, timing is also critical. Some products need time to be absorbed into the skin. An acne treatment take a few hours to work, so they are best applied at night without anything else on top of them to block them from reaching your skin.
We’ve outlined a simple way to organize a basic skin care routine below. If you’d like to invest more time into your primary regimen, consider a K Beauty skincare routine, which has at least 10 steps. Koreans view the multi-step process as a ritual to be enjoyed rather than a chore. It follows essentially the same steps outlined below but starts with a double cleanse, and includes an essence (a toner-serum hybrid), as well as a sheet mask. Popular Japanese skin care routines follow a similar multi-step process.
Keep in mind that as you age, your skin concerns will also shift. What works in your 20’s may need a readjustment in your 30’s, 40’s and 50’s as hormonal and lifestyle changes shift the balance of our skin. Powerful exfoliants may need to be swapped with gentler ones, and hydration needs may peak for women in their 50s’ and 60s, as estrogen levels are at their lowest. Also remember that day and night time routines are different as well- most people don’t need to start their day with a thorough cleanse, and products such as retinols are generally used only at night.
A fool-proof way to take the guesswork out of choosing the right products, and applying them in the right order, is to purchase an entire system, such as Advanced Dermatology’s Regimen. The skincare system includes a cleanser, serum, anti-wrinkle treatment, moisturizer, day cream and eye cream- in other words, everything you need for glowing, beautiful, healthy skin.
Here’s our guide to the correct order to use and apply skincare products.
Start With A Clean Slate
Most people can skip washing their face in the morning- a splash of water is enough as your face doesn’t really get dirty overnight. Nighttime is a whole different story. It’s essential that you cleanse your face to remove any traces of makeup or sunscreen, as well as oil, sweat and dirt in order to make your face ready for serums and treatments.
Depending on your skin type, choose from a milk, cream, gel or oil based cleanser. Advanced Dermatology’s Daily Renew Cleanser is gentle but effective, thanks to plant based extracts such as rose oil, lemon oil and chamomile. Don’t let an oil based cleanser such as Tata Harper’s Nourishing Oil Cleanser scare you off if you have oily or combination skin. The concept is that the oil in the cleanser attaches itself to the oil on your face. If you feel like you need a deeper cleanse, use a cloth as a gentle exfoliant or try a rotating face brush such as the Clarisonic a few times a week. If you’re in a hurry, try a micellar water such as one from Garnier. Just soak a cotton pad with the product and wipe over the face until all traces of makeup are gone.
Scrub A Dub Dub
Scrub and Tone
Many people skip a toner as they think of them as being harsh and stinging (remember Seabreeze?) Today’s toners, like Kiehl’s Blue Astringent Herbal Lotion, are much different and are formulated to address specific skin concerns, such as excess oil or dryness. Toners help to restore pH balance to skin and deliver antioxidants. Exfoliation is also key to help slough off dead skin cells and reveal brighter, smoother skin, but it’s important not to overdo it. Exfoliate a few times a week using a pre-soaked pad such as M-61 Power Glow Peel which is swiped over the face, or a gentle scrub as Kate Somerville’s classic ExfoliKate, which contains lactic and salicylic acid.
Time To Attack
Spot treatments for things like acne need to be applied as close as possible to the skin in order for them to be effective. Once you apply a spot treatment, wait about five minutes before adding another product. Patches help protect the treated area, or when you apply a thick product such as Mario Badescu’s Drying Lotion, apply your next product around it, avoiding the treated area. Or take the guesswork out and just apply an acne patch which is essentially a sticker to place over a pimple. Peter Thomas Roth and Skyn Iceland both make patches.
Strength in Serum
Smooth on Serum
Soothe and Treat
Think of serums as the heavy lifters in your skincare routine. There are hundreds to choose from, depending on your skin concerns, from hydration to anti-aging. One of the most common is a vitamin C based serum, which stimulates collagen product and helps to reduce the appearance of fine lines. It’s also an antioxidant. Serums work best closest to skin, so apply before a moisturizer. If you’re using multiple serums, apply the one with the thinnest texture first. Advanced Dermatology’s Super Youth Serum reduces the need for multiple serums as it does a bit of everything, from tackling fine lines to adding powerful antioxidants.
The Eyes Have It
The eyes may be the windows to the soul, but sometimes they have dark circles, puffiness or just look tired. This is where eye cream comes to the rescue. Start using an eye cream in your 20’s to keep this delicate area hydrated. Advanced Dermatology’s Youthful Boost Eye Cream helps fight the signs of aging, including wrinkles and dark circles. If puffiness is an issue, try an eye cream with caffeine and a cooling roller ball applicator such as Garnier Skin Renew Anti-Puff Eye Roller. Remember to always apply eye cream with your pinkie, and tap – do not rub.
Hydrate & Protect
Everyone needs a moisturizer, even if you have oily skin. The most effective moisturizers have ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, coconut oil and ceramides. Apply moisturizer when the skin is slightly damp. Advanced Dermatology’s Complete Age Defense Day Cream helps target the main causes of aging while leaving skin hydrated and balanced, thanks to argan oil and jojoba oil. If your skin needs extra hydration, mix a drop or two of a face oil, such as Radiant Glow Face Oil by DermaE to your cream before applying.
Try to choose a moisturizer with a high SPF- otherwise apply it as the next step. EltaMD sunscreens are highly effective and have transparent zinc oxide, which means your face will not look chalky. There’s also a tinted version of the SPF. SkinCeuticals Light Moisture UV Defense SPF 50 is sheer, lightweight and oil free, and provides high UV protection.
Always buy specific night and day creams, as the formulas are very different. Day creams usually contain SPF, while night creams tend to be packed with more anti-aging and moisturizing ingredients as bodies do most of their repair at night. Advanced Dermatology’s Deep Cellular Regeneration Cream helps regenerate new skin cells while you sleep, and targets the signs of aging. The cream also adds moisture to skin thanks to hyaluronic acid. If you want to wake up looking refreshed, try Garnier’s SkinActive Ultra-Lift Miracle Sleeping Cream, which contains hydroxyl acid to gently exfoliate skin cells.