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Right Skin Care Routine Order: How To Layer Your Products Like A Pro


Are you applying your skincare products in the right order? *scratches head*

Skincare used to be so easy. Cleanse. Tone. Moisturise. Go out the door.

Now you can’t leave the house without sunscreen. And an antioxidant serum or two. Plus, an exfoliant. And… what the heck are essences now?!

Your skincare routine is getting longer by the minute. But how do all these products fit in together? Like, should you go with serum or moisturiser first? Toner or exfoliant? Does it even matter?!

Yep – and a great deal, too. Vitamin C or retinol get into the skin much faster if they don’t have to fight through 5+ layers of products to get there.

Here’s the right skin care routine order to make the most of your lotions and potions:


1. Cleanser

Before you apply your skincare products, you need to remove everything that’d make it harder for them to get through the skin. Start your routine with a gentle cleaner that removes dirt, oil, makeup and all the other impurities that accumulated on your skin during the day (and night). The key is to pick one that doesn’t leave your skin feeling tight. That’s a sign the cleanser’s damaged your protective barrier!

Related: How To Pick The Right Cleanser For Your Skin Type

2. Exfoliant

You know what else prevents retinol & co from penetrating deep into your skin? All those dead cells that accumulate on the surface of your skin. Get rid of them with a good exfoliant. And nope, I don’t mean a scrub. Chemical exfoliation is the way to go here. These exfoliants dissolve the “glue” that holds skin cells together, so they can slough off and reveal the smoother, brighter and softer skin underneath. But don’t use them every night! Two or three times a week is more than enough.

Related: How To Choose The Right Exfoliant For Your Skin Type

3. Toner

This step is totally unnecessary, but, I know a lot of you like to use a toner. A good one hydrates skin and prevents premature wrinkles. You can apply it before exfoliation, especially if it has a runny texture. But I prefer to make my canvas as clean as possible before using anything else.

Related: Is Toner Really Necessary?

4. Prescription Products

If your doctor’s prescribed you any meds (think Tretinoin or Hydroquinone), use them now your skin’s freshly clean. Those active ingredients need to penetrate the skin deeply to fix whatever issue you’re dealing with. The only exception? If you find they’re way too harsh for your skin and cause severe peeling, flakiness and redness, you can put them on after moisturiser. Yes, you’re diluting their effectiveness. But that’s what makes them more tolerable to your skin. You can always invert the order again once your skin has gotten used to the harsh med.

Related: 3 Reasons You Should Use Retinoids

5. Serum

Serums are the workhorses of skincare. They contain higher concentrations of active ingredients than moisturisers, so they’re able to treat dehydration, wrinkles, sun spots, and everything else you’re dealing with better and faster. They have thinner textures to so the sooner you apply them, the better. Put them on top of moisturisers, and chances are they won’t be able to get through to your skin.

Related: Why You Should Add A Serum To Your Skincare Routine

6. Eye cream

Another unnecessary step you do out of habit. The eye area doesn’t need any special ingredients, so your fave fragrance-free facial moisturizer would do. If you want to use a separate eye cream, apply that first. It helps keep the undereye area hydrated, smoother, and brighter.

Related: Do You Really Need An Eye Cream

7. Moisturizer

A moisturizer locks in moisture and all the other skincare products you have just applied, boosting their efficacy. That’s why it makes sense to use it last. Plus, out of all your skincare products (sunscreens excluded!), moisturisers have the thickest texture. Anything you put on top will struggle to reach your skin.

(P.S. If you have very oily skin, you may not need a moisturiser at all. A moisturising sunscreen in the AM and a hydrating serum at night may be enough for you).

Related: Does Everyone Need A Moisturiser?

8. Sunscreen

Sunscreen should always be the last thing you put on your skin in the morning (well, before makeup!). Why? Cos that’s how scientists test it. Sunscreen is medicine. It keeps you safe from UV harm and prevents wrinkles, sun spots, and cancer. Use it like it’s meant to.

Related: How To Boost The Effectiveness Of Your Sunscreen

Skin Care Routine Order Explained

I know what you’re thinking: “Gio, you’ve left so many products out. Where do essences go? And what about sheet masks? And clay masks? Argh!”

I hear ya. There are too many skincare products to mention them all here. Especially because you DON’T need them all. I rarely do more than 4 steps, both morning and night.

I’m not convinced, the more, the better. If anything, the more stuff you put on your skin, the more chances of an irritation or breakouts.

But if you want to go the extra mile and use something I haven’t mentioned here, it pays to know the rules behind the right skin care routine order:

  1. The rule of textures: start with the lightest product in texture and build your way up till the heaviest in texture. Heavy textures (think moisturisers) create a barrier that’s difficult for anything you apply next to get through.
  2. The rules of actives: if you’re using any prescription products, retinols, vitamin C, skin-brighteners or exfoliants, apply them as close to freshly cleansed skin as possible. If vitamin C is the 5th layer you put on your skin, it won’t be able to penetrate as well (that’s why I like minimalistic routines ).

Now you know the rules, use your judgment. If your serum has a lightweight, almost runny texture and your prescription product is a rich cream, then it makes sense to use the serum first. But if they both have lightweight textures, apply the one with the most beneficial active first.

It helps to keep your skincare simple. I don’t use toner, eye cream or any extra layer I don’t need. If I like two antioxidant serums, I’ll use them on alternate days rather than try to fit everything in.

Skincare isn’t about using all the products. It’s about using what works for you. In the right order.


Are you following the right skin care routine order? Share your skincare routine in the comments below.





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