How to Layer Your Skin Care Products: A Step-by-Step Guide

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 to thickest, or from liquid to oil. “In general, think thin-to-thick, but you also want to first use the products with the ingredients that are most important to penetrate into the skin (like antioxidants in serums) and finish with the products that need to sit on top of the skin (like emollients and humectants in moisturizers),” says Dr. Rogers.

Your Daytime Regimen

The morning routine is all about protection from the sun, pollution and the elements, according to Dr. Rogers, so leave your peel pads and treatment products, like retinol, for night.

STEP 1: CLEANSER

In the morning, start by splashing your face with warm water or, if you must, wash with a gentle face cleanser designed for your skin type.

STEP 2: TONER

Most people choose to skip toners, partly because there’s a lingering assumption that most toners are harsh and irritate the skin. Fortunately, that’s not the case anymore. While they don’t physically “shrink” pores, the new breed of toners can serve multiple purposes, like act as a delivery system for antioxidants, vitamin B derivatives and even toning acids. Additionally, each type of toner is intended for a different skin issue, so it’s important to use the right kind for your skin concern.

However, if you have lived all your life without using a toner and your skin looks healthy, Dr. Rogers says there is no need to start using one. “Toners were created to help return the skin’s pH after it became too basic from harsh soaps,” explains Dr. Rogers. “Face cleansers are now so much better balanced than toners are not a required step for me, particularly in the morning when your face is clean from being washed the night before. Alcohol-based toners contribute to over-drying of the skin by stripping the protective oils, and water-based toners are a poor vehicle for getting active ingredients into the skin.”

 STEP 3: ANTIOXIDANT SERUM

Serums are super-concentrated, nutrient-dense treatments that address specific concerns, so it’s better to keep them as close to the skin as possible. There are various serums available on the market today, but for daytime, Dr. Rogers recommends antioxidant serums, which provide a variety of benefits—from blunting your skin’s inflammatory response to neutralizing damage from UV rays and environmental pollutants.

STEP 4: EYE CREAM

According to board-certified dermatologist Annie Chiu, it’s vital to apply an eye cream at least every night, if not twice a day, starting in your 20s. “It’s about maintaining the health and thickness of the eyelid skin. Improving the skin quality in this area early on ensures that the eyelid skin does not easily lose laxity and its smooth appearance later on.”

For best results, consistency is key. “Regular use of eye cream over time will keep the eyelid skin elastic and can improve or prevent against some fine lines or collagen loss. Remember: Nothing is magic. Results don’t occur overnight,” Dr. Chiu adds. “You can further protect the delicate skin around your eyes by choosing an eye cream with SPF or applying sunscreen every day.” Dr. Chiu also advises people to remember to wear sunglasses when outside to protect against UV-light damage and lines that can creep up around the corners of your eyes from squinting.

STEP 5: SPOT TREATMENT

According to Dr. Diane De Fiori, dermatologist , prescription medications and acne spot treatments, like serums, need to be applied as close to the skin as possible to maximize their benefits.

As acne spot treatments differ in active ingredients, check your product packaging or consult your dermatologist for the best way to apply it. Prescription-strength benzoyl peroxide, a common acne spot treatment ingredient, has a one- to three-hour working time, according to esthetician and acne specialist Ashley Wiley. “Any cream that comes in contact with it before it has completed its work will likely inhibit the active ingredient from working properly.”

Remember that acne spot treatments can dry out your skin, so always apply only on spots where you need it.

STEP 6: MOISTURIZER 

Yes, everyone needs a moisturizer, even if you have oily skin. “Even though your body has its own natural lubricating system consisting of glands that secrete oil (or sebum) to maintain a protective coating against harsh outside conditions and infections, most of us do need extra hydration after the havoc that sun, weather and harsh chemicals wreak on our skin,” explains board-certified dermatologist Sandra Kopp.

Most experts recommend that the best time to apply a moisturizer is while the skin is still damp, so the sooner you go through applying your serum and treatment, the sooner you’re able to lock in much-needed hydration with your moisturizer.

If you’re using an acne spot treatment, you may want to skip those areas when applying your moisturizer to make sure the ingredients in it won’t interfere with the active ingredients in your spot treatment.

Step 7: SUNSCREEN

Sunscreen should be the last step in your daytime skin care routine if you’re using a physical or mineral sunscreen, which works by physically blocking the UV rays. This step becomes tricky when you’re using a chemical sunscreen.

Dr. Rogers explains: “Chemical sunscreens have to be absorbed into the skin to be effective, so applying after your moisturizer will delay and hinder that. However, if you apply your chemical sunscreen before your moisturizer, your moisturizer will not work as well either because the skin is coated with chemical sunscreen.”

So to get around this, and for many other reasons, Dr. Rogers always recommend using a physical sunscreen with zinc and to apply it after your moisturizer. “Zinc is safe, effective and provides the broadest protection against UVA and UVB rays.”

As for those who like using chemical sunscreens, try to look for formulas that offer moisturizing benefits, so you can get your daily hydration needs while protecting your skin.

Your Nighttime Regimen

As your skin naturally repairs itself at night, your nighttime routine should be all about treatment and giving your skin what it needs, says Dr. Rogers. “If your skin is looking dull, exfoliate. If it is irritated, hydrate and protect.” Here’s the best order of skin care products to make sure you get the most out of them:

Timing Matters, Too

Aside from the order of application, some experts believe it’s also important to consider the time it takes for your skin to absorb your products. However, since most of us are often in a rush to get somewhere (or hit the sack), Dr. Rogers understands that this isn’t always possible. Her advice? Keep your skin care routine simple.

“Many products say you have to wait anywhere from five to 30 minutes before the next step to ensure proper absorption, but who has time for that? If you make it too complicated, you just won’t do it,” says Dr. Rogers. “If you have many steps, pause for a bit (a minute) to allow each product time to react with the skin. For example, at night, after I wash my face and apply my serum or evening treatment, I just wrap up my day and get into bed. I keep my moisturizer on my bedside table and apply it right before I go to sleep to give these typically expensive, specialty treatments a touch more time to penetrate the skin before I seal them in with my cream.”

Another piece of advice? Listen to your skin. Remember that you are unique and that nobody else has your skin. No matter what experts say, it’s important to find what works for you and to always be kind to your skin.