This post was published just over four years ago, but is one I reference frequently so I make it a point to update it at least once a year with my most current thoughts + favorite products as a few things have changed/
The Correct Order to Apply Skincare Products
One of the questions I get asked the most is what skincare product to apply, when!? With so many products out there (serum! toner! essence! oils!) layering your skincare products can feel really overwhelming. It doesn’t have to be though, I promise! The general rule is to layer your products from thin to thick; and to apply the products with the highest percentage of active ingredients first so that they are absorbed first. And of course, SPF is the last step. Makeup goes on after SPF!
I’m not an expert or board certified dermatologist (lol), but I have talked to a lot of experts about this, and this is what I have been told.
I’ve talked about product order before in my bedtime skincare routine but today I wanted to break things down in full. I think the biggest “controversial” part of my routine (if skincare routines can be controversial, ha ha) is whether to apply face oil before or after moisturizer. I’ve been taught that facial oil is the last step, but if you want to apply it before your moisturizer, do that, no one is stopping you! I say this often, and I’ll say it again: if something works for you, there’s no need to fix it just because of “rules.”
I’ve seen it in my DM’s and reader emails, everyone stresses out about doing things the wrong way. You’re not going to ruin your face because you didn’t follow the recommended product order. The only thing that is truly bad for your skin is using too many actives at night (or skipping SPF during the day). Listen to your skin, experiment to see what works, don’t stress! Pampering should be fun… applying things in a slightly “wrong” order is not going to ruin your life.
I will also caveat that you might not need all of these steps. If you have sensitive skin or oily skin for example, you’re probably not going to want to do all of these serums and oils. I have dry skin, so share what works best for me. My biggest concerns are hydration, dullness, and anti-aging… tackling those fine lines and wrinkles!
Cleanse and exfoliate:
Obviously this is the first step. But I included it because if you are doing a double cleanse (more on that here),you should use the creamy/oil cleanser first. I love a good cleansing oil or balm… they transform washing your face into a luxurious treatment. These are frequently applied to dry skin and the point is to use that rich cleanser to get your makeup off, and then use a gel cleanser to get your skin extra clean. If you are doing a face scrub, that’s the last part of your cleansing process.
For the longest time, I didn’t think toner was necessary but recently changed my position. Toner should be the last step of your cleansing routine. If you use a toner, this is where you do it. Pat skin dry and apply all over with a cotton pad. This toner is my personal favorite! I wrote more about toners and why you need one in this post!
The next step is your essence. Whereas toner is the last step of cleansing, essence is the first step of skincare. (If you use it – you can read about my love of SK-II in this post.) I apply my essence (Right now my favorite essence is actually the newer Royal Fern one – it’s described as “if P50 and SK-II had a baby” and I think that’s pretty spot on).
*Note: P50 is very very active and I consider it an acid, not an essence. I recommend only using at night, and if you do use it before bed don’t use other actives (retinol, Vit C, etc). Just moisturize. You could do a gentle serum like hyaluronic acid (this is my current favorite HA serum – it’s amazing at plumping up the skin!), but you don’t want to do much else. Also, re: P50, Helena did a great review of it!
I wrote a longer post about the difference between essence and toner; highly recommend reading that if you are at all confused!
If you use an eye cream or a neck cream, this is when I like to apply these. Caroline Hirons has drilled it into my head (read her book, it’s amazing!) that eye cream goes on before everything else. The eye area is so delicate; you want to just pat it on very gently. I do a little extra patting around my crows feet and fine lines. For eye cream, this one from Strivectin is my current favorite. It pretty much just does everything. I also love the Neocutis Lumiere so much. It does a great job tightening and brightening. This one from Biossance is also very good. (Plus it’s clean and less expensive).
Serum or Actives.
Serum is the next step. The way you want to think of your product order is that you want to apply the ingredients with the highest concentration of active ingredients first, so that they’re closest to the skin and absorbed first. Essence is packed with actives, as is serum. But because essence is less viscous (it’s consistency is like water), you want to apply that first. I use a bunch of different serums/actives. Below is a loose guide to my favs and how often I use them.
Also: this is my favorite hydrating serum. You can use it before any of these (or Vitamin C serum in the morning). It delivers a long lasting shot of lasting hydration… and it has a nice little plumping effect too!
- Retinol – 1-2x a week. This is my current favorite retinoid. For something affordable, I love the Olay one. The Biossance phyto-retinol is amazing if you want something clean.
- Acid – 2x a week. Still loving the Biossance one. (Honeymoon Glow and P50 also fall into the acids category!)
- Kiehl’s Wrinkle Reducing Concentrate – 1x a week
- (On the off nights I just do Bader and skip serums)
Obviously Bader is king (for me) but on serum nights I don’t use it (I make sure to use it in the AM instead if I don’t do it at night!)
My second to last step is always my moisturizer. I love a thick, velvety moisturizer. This one from Sobel Skin (refer to this post for a more in depth review of that!) is probably my favorite for non-Bader nights but I also love Skin Food!
This is when I’d apply any spot treatments (like pimple cream, etc!)
Oil or SPF
The last step in your routine should be face oil (at night) or SPF (day).
Oil is what seals it all in! I like to let everything I’ve applied sink in for a minute or two while I brush my teeth, and then gently pat on my oils. I love to warm my facial oil up in my palms and then push it into my skin. For me, oils are saved for nighttime as after serum AND moisturizer I’m already pretty shiny, but I really like to lock in all that moisture. My favorite is either the Biossance Rose Oil or Everyday Oil and sometimes if I am feeling really extra I will do Vintner’s Daughter over Dr. Bader. Yes I know that’s one very expensive skincare routine but it’s an incredible combo.
For SPF right now I am VERY big into the Supergoop Glowscreen. It’s so pretty that you can skip makeup (or put foundation over it for a more subtle glow). I know a lot of people swear by mineral sunscreen but I have historically had a hard time with it. It feels like my skin can’t breathe!
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