Today I will show you in what order to apply skin care products. You will learn how to layer your skin care like a pro.
For each person there is an individual skincare cocktail of ingredients that will work best for their particular concerns on what they’re trying to achieve.
I hear lots of women and men told me that they don’t think they’re getting the maximum of their skincare and there could be a few reasons for this.
So I thought I’d go over the common mistakes you can make while layering the skincare and show you how I approach things.
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Table of Contents
Order to Apply Skin Care Products
First I cleanse with a cleanser and my skin is dry and ready for next steps.
A common concern is in what order do I put on my serums or my active ingredients in relationship to moisturizer, sunscreen and makeup.
The easy way to think about that is to think about applying the lightest, most watery products first, and they’re usually transparent, and then proceed through to more opaque, heavier textures.
For instance, something that I use on a daily basis is the Skinceuticals C E Ferulic, which is a powerful antioxidant. It’s a product that I want the benefits of all over my face. I want it on any parts of my skin that are exposed to ultraviolet.
What that means is I’m going to dose it in a specific way so I can apply the same amount each day. I do seven drops of that and I’m gonna evenly apply it around my eyes, on my upper eyelids, cheeks, all over my forehead, my ears and my neck. If I expose decolletage I would treat that too.
I may use another type of watery serum and apply it instead of vitamin C, such as Niacinamide. It’s not an oil or a cream and that’ll also absorb very easily and I would apply that in the same fashion.
If I was going on to do something more specific in terms of treating a problem like blemishes or pigmentation, the kind of products I would use next would be something like Epionce Lytic treatment.
This product contains salicylic acid and azelaic acid so this is a good anti-inflammatory, pigmentation
orientated, treatment for someone who might be improving from having had active acne.
I do that in a specific way when I’m trying to treat a full face.
This is the kind of a product where I want the benefits all over my face. I use my fingertip measure to guide me. In the first instance, I’ll use a small amount like pea, but if I’m established on a product, I want to use the same amount every day. I’ll standardize it by using a fingertip length. That’s literally a line of product as long as the fingertip.
I will apply as an even layer all over my skin except for the areas where I don’t have the particular concerns of pigmentation or blemishes.
So it goes on next after the watery serum. Make sure you get an even layer all over your face.
I’m gonna rub it in and I don’t put this on my neck, I don’t put this around my eyes because it has a different purpose then the vitamin C serum. This is treating more problem areas and I apply it to a thicker part of my skin.
I’m gonna massage in firmly and then I’m gonna give it a few minutes to dry. The heavier the product, the longer you will need to leave it to absorb before going on to the next step.
Watery serums, like vitamin Cm dry within a minute. Products like Epionce Lytic need a few more minutes.
The other thing to be aware of is using the right ingredients at the right time of day.
I’m doing my day routine now and I’m going to follow up with moisturizer and SPF.
That means I’ve chosen active ingredients that are designed to protect me from the environment and to do some problem solving. But the important part to mention is that because I’ll be using a retinoid at night, I tend to use that in isolation to avoid damaging the fragile retinol molecules. It means that in my day time I have to do the other things. I have to protect myself against UV.
Now that my treatment is fully absorbed (when I touch my skin there’s no product that can be moved around) now I can moisturize.
I take my moisturizer around my eyes, all over my face and down my neck. There are some products that you want to use all over because their benefits are universal and then there are those that are more specific for the more trouble zones.
Final step is my sunscreen.
The common question is do I put moisturizer on before or after my active steps. The general principle is you want things to penetrate into your skin so always apply your active steps to cleanse skin where possible.
If you’re using something that is irritating your skin or you’re just getting started, you can certainly use a no active moisturizer to dilute the effect by moisturizing before. But think of your goal and apply the active cream onto cleansed skin for maximum effect.
The final step in layering like a pro is to know when to go slow.
If you’re just starting out with this kind of approach to skin care and you’re introducing one or two things at the same time, you’ll want to take it easy.
Don’t be afraid to do it every other day or even every third day in order to get your skin tolerant to using skin care that actually works.
Every second day is a very standard approach I use with my clients, starting things like retinoids and azelaic acid. There’s no rush. This is an approach for the long term.
So there you have it – a way to make your layers count, a way to approach how you apply your layers and a way to make it practical so you can get used to a program that contains active ingredients that really will make it different to your skin.
More on the Art of Layering Skincare Products
Combining ingredients and layering skincare is especially important for the morning routine, which is a time when we’re all short of time and you need layering to really work with you if you’re gonna end up with a nice base for makeup.
It won’t matter how good your layers or active ingredients are if they’re not functional and letting you put your makeup on.
When I build a routine for the people, I split a routine into the basics and into the actives.
So the basics for most people will be a cleanser, a moisturizer and sunscreen. SPF is a really fundamental part of any good anti-aging routine but because it’s the outermost layer and it goes underneath your makeup, it has to really work with your makeup. If it doesn’t work, it’s game over and you’re not putting it on a regular basis.
Your SPF must be broad-spectrum and it must have that all-important UVA protection to give you protection all year round from those aging rays.
The next active that is important and it works for so many different skin types in terms of anti aging, blemish prevention, treating pigmentation, is retinoid.
It is such an important molecule and it has to go on the skin at night. These molecules are fragile and you want them to have maximum chance of doing their thing.
It actually makes it very easy because if they’re on their own at night, it means that everything else has to be worked in into the morning routine.
If you’re layering it to get the most impact out of it, it’s probably going to go on to cleanse skin.
Things that go on straight after cleansing and before you put moisturizer on your skin tend to have the most impact because they’re gonna penetrate more readily.
However if you’re dry and sensitive and struggling, you moisturize first and then you put your retinoid on and that will lower the intensity of your treatment and you can build up slowly over time to using it on cleansed skin for maximum impact. But there’s no rush with these sorts of projects.
Basically that’s your nighttime routine. If you are moisturizing either before or after your retinoid, it is completely fine to include ingredients like Niacinamide, which is an also all-rounder and very robust. It combines well with retinoids and won’t negatively impacts on your retinoid.
Other ingredients that people talk about that might be found in your moisturizer like hyaluronic acid are
completely fine to combine with retinoids at night.
That brings our attention to the morning time. In terms of layering actives, there are a number of different ones you might want to put in your morning routine.
If you think about the space in the sandwich, you’ve got cleansing and you’ve got SPF. If you’re going to use moisturizer, you’ll probably put it on before your SPF but after your actives. That’s your space in your skincare sandwich to put active ingredients that you wanna harness the benefits of.
Top ingredient for during the day, if we’re talking just about anti aging, will be something like the vitamins C, which is a potent antioxidant. It most often comes in a sort of watery serum type format. It’s going to go on straight after cleansing because that’s going to deliver the most benefit.
If you’re just looking for a good anti-aging routine, you’ve got your retinoid at night and maybe some niacinamide. And vitamin C and good quality moisturizer in the morning.
However if you have issues like acne or pigmentation, you might want to think about combining an acid with your morning layering routine. Common acids are alpha hydroxy acids, like lactic and glycolic acid, azelaic acid and beta hydroxy acids.
In terms of where they might fit in your routine, you typically only need one of those acids so it’s about choosing the right one for your concerns and it’s usually layered after vitamin C if you’re using it, but before moisturizer.
I’m not too concerned about the terminology that we use, serum, gel, cream, it is all about knowing where your actives lie and applying them in a way that facilitates them, getting them into your skin to do something and that’s what’s really key.
If you put a greasy oily moisturizer on your skin straight after cleansing, that is gonna stop, for example, a vitamin C from penetrating into your skin.
Use some logic and think about what you want to get where in your skin and layer it in your routine accordingly.
Those are the important layers, certainly from a practical point of view. I haven’t got time for any more than cleansing, vitamin C, some sort of acid, a bit of moisturizer where I need it and sunscreen. That already have five steps.
The key with all of this is to take time with your steps and wait until they’re properly touch-dry after thoroughly massaging them into your skin before you go on to the next layer. So you really have to do a little bit of planning.
It really is a bit of trial and error.
Lots of people will come back to me saying that those layers just didn’t work for them but once they changed their moisturizer, all of a sudden, everything slotted into place.
So you sometimes have to have a little bit flexibility and I find that often times the moisturizer is the thing that can make all the difference to how well your sunscreen applies over the top.
Rebecca is a licensed aesthetician and certified laser technician with almost 15 years experience in the dermatology. Her life-long passion is making people look good and happy.