The Best Way to Layer Your Skincare Products

Gone are the days when your skincare routine consisted of a washcloth, Clearasil, and using whatever moisturizer samples your mom had in the bathroom.  Today, you have products…lots and lots of products.  Well curated and targeted cleansers, toners, serums, lotions, treatments and tools in a multi-process, multi-step, full-fledged regime.   And yet a drawer filled with tons of bottles, tubes and jars can be confusing and a little intimidating – which may explain why I’m always asked, “What order should I apply skincare, and does it matter?”  The short answer is that yes – there is a best way to layer your skincare products…and it does matter!  Applying your skincare products in the proper order ensures that your skin receives the full benefits of each product with less risk of irritation.

Drawer filled with various bottles jars and tubes of skin care products

The Best Way to Layer Your Skincare Products

Let’s make this easy and offer two basic rules after cleansing: start with your thinnest consistency (liquid) and progress to your thickest (lotions/creams) making sure that your most active product goes on first.  You want the products with the ingredients that are most important to penetrate the skin first (serums, acids) ultimately finishing with the products that sit on top of the skin (moisturizers, oils).

Woman washing face with a palmful of water

Morning Routine

  1. Light Cleanse – For many of us, a few splashes of water is just fine. But if you’ve worked out or just feel like you need something, a light and gentle cleanser is a great way to start the day.  I like this light balm and this cleansing oil. I also like using this enzyme scrub in the shower two or three times a week.
  2. Toner – Depending upon your skin’s needs, consider your toner as the first leave-on step that hydrates and treats. I’ve used this beauty water for almost a year and will definitely re-order.  This easy to use spray is also great.
  3. Antioxidant –No matter how many serums you have in your anti-aging repertoire, your antioxidant goes first. They protect the cells from UV light, pollution and other environmental elements that produce damaging free radicals.  Aside from Vitamin C, other antioxidants can include niacinamide (also known as vitamin B3), coenzymeQ10 and polyphenols.  (You only need one, though there are products that offer a combination such as this one from Lancome and this multi-ingredient product, a very hyped cult favorite, which is next on my list to try.
  4. Treatment Serum –  Depending upon your specific need, this layer might be a collagen booster , a serum for hyper-pigmentation, breakouts using IS Clinical Active or hydration concerns.
  5. Non-Tinted Moisturizer – If you have dry skin, your next layer is a moisturizer. (If it’s tinted, put the SPF on first!)
  6. Eye Cream – I sometimes skip this step because I find that a regular moisturizer is plenty. But if you need that extra boost of hydration, go ahead and apply it now.
  7. SPF 30+  – And finally, finish with your favorite SPF of 30+ and apply your normal make-up. For some of the best clean sunscreens, check out this post. And for more clean beauty info, there are some great resources here.

 How to layer skincare products, woman applying serum in palm of hand using a dropper

Nighttime Routine

  1. Double-Cleanse – If you wore a full-face of make-up or lots of sunscreen, then I recommend a double cleanse of balm (it’s what I use!) or nourishing oil with a cloth/cleansing pad to quickly break down and emulsify makeup, dirt and impurities. Alternatively, micellar water works nicely too.  Follow that with a gel or creamy cleanser, you’ll have totally clean but super bouncy skin.
  2. Toner or Essense – If you use a toner, apply it as you would in the morning. (My holy grail is Biologique Recherche, but it’s so pricey that I use it only in the evening). Other skincare mists, essences, beauty waters or hydrating serums which are meant to nourish and hydrate the skin, would come next.
  3. Eye Treatment – Again, this is one area that I generally skip since I find my regular serums work just as well. But if you have a product you love, this would be your next step.
  4. Treatments and Serums – Similar to your morning layer, think thinner consistency to thicker – serums/treatments to lotions/creams. Since skin repairs and restores as we sleep, your most targeted skin care treatments (retinols, exfoliants, serums and peptides) are ideally used at night.  However, it’s best not to do all at once.  For example, in the evening I use a collagen-boosting serum (almost watery), hyper-pigmentation treatment (gel-like), and prescription-strength Retin-A cream.  But on evenings when using a glycolic treatment, I’ll skip Retin-A altogether and just apply a hydrating oil.
  5. Moisturizer/Oil – End with a moisturizer to seal it all in.  Many people use the same moisturizer for day and night. But note that products specifically labeled as night moisturizers or night creams are generally thicker, heavier and designed to be absorbed overnight.

No matter what products you choose, make sure it’s a routine you can happily embrace and easily maintain.  Be flexible, listen to your skin and adjust as needed.

As always, I love hearing from you so let me know if you have questions or product recommendations in the comment section below!

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20 thoughts on “The Best Way to Layer Your Skincare Products

  1. Nice article. I’m looking for a good eye cream that’s not runny or greasy, but still does the trick. Any suggestions?

  2. Great article! I’ve recently been adding more products as I get older and always left wondering if I applied correctly. This is super helpful!

  3. I love this! Thanks for breaking it down so simply! Not saying I’m gonna do it all, but it’s a start for this busy working mama.

  4. Very helpful information and I will pass on to my daughter. I was happy to know I am doing my skin care in the right order!
    Thank you Francine!

  5. Love this very helpful article!! I always wondered if I was doing the order correctly for all the products that I use! Thanks for the tips!

    1. Hi Jody and welcome! So happy this was helpful for you because the right order can make all the difference!
      xoxo Francine

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