The Correct Order To Apply Your Skincare, According To Dermatologists

by Well & Good
Ivan Lattuada

Whether you have a ten-step regimen or use two simple products in tandem, the order in which you put on your serum, oil, moisturizer and SPF can make them work even harder. “It’s important not only to choose the right products for your particular skin type, but to layer them correctly,” says New York City–based dermatologist Michele Farber of Schweiger Dermatology.

Read more: How To Apply Face Oil Properly, Because You Definitely Need It In Your Routine

The general rule is to layer your skincare based on weight. “Typically, products should be applied from thinnest to thickest,” she says. Keeping that in mind, here, Dr. Farber and fellow NYC derm Joshua Zeichner, MD, help us suss out the right order. If you don’t tend to use a particular product, just skip ahead to the next one to build your ultimate personalized regimen.

Step 1: Cleanser

Literally none of your skincare treatments would work if you didn’t have a clean canvas to start with, which is why cleansing in the morning and at night is essential. The first rule: Choose a cleanser that benefits your skin type, says Dr. Farber. “Those who have dry skin should look for a wash with ingredients like ceramides and glycerin to boost the barrier, and if your skin is extra dry, opt for an oil-based cleanser,” she says.

“Women with oilier skin should look for a gel-based formula, while sensitive types can get away with just using micellar water,” says Dr. Zeichner. And although washing twice a day is ideal, the most important time to cleanse is at night. “You need to remove dirt, oil, makeup and pollution that accumulate during the day,” he adds.

Step 2: Toner

After you’ve cleansed, it’s time to tone—but not with those harsh formulas you grabbed from the drugstore aisle as a teenager. “With the exception of the most oily patients, I recommend everyone use alcohol-free toners,” says Dr. Zeichner. “Astringent toners, including witch hazel, for example, effectively remove oil from the skin but can potentially cause irritation, which is why I reserve them only for patients with extremely oily skin.” The key to finding success with a toner is to be mindful about how much you use. Dr. Farber adds they’re great for prepping skin for a serum, but if you use too much, you can dry out.

Step 3: Eye cream

You want to apply your eye cream prior to any treatment products, so that potent ingredients like glycolic acid or retinol aren’t accidentally pulled to the eye area. Because the skin around the eye is more delicate than the rest of your face, it requires its own pint-size bottle of gel or cream. (They’re all just so cute, right?) Again, choose based on your skin type: If your lids are oily, opt for a gel-based formula, says Dr. Farber. Otherwise, look for a hydrating formula for parched skin or one laced with caffeine to lessen the appearance of under-eye bags. It really comes down to your needs. Apply it with your ring finger (which puts the least pressure on skin!), using gentle tapping motions.

Step 4: Serum

Think of serums as specialty treatments for your specific skin needs, as they’ll help target any issues you may have like dryness, dark spots, dullness or acne. “Essentially, they’re delivery systems for specific active ingredients,” says Dr. Zeichner, and he adds you can utilize different formulations and ingredients for different times of day. For example, in the AM, reach for a serum packed with antioxidants to help ward off the effects of pollution, he says, adding that a vitamin C serum is one of the most well-known and potent antioxidants.

At night, Dr. Farber recommends a serum with retinol to help skin regenerate as you sleep. “Evening serums tend to provide skin with reparative ingredients and stimulate collagen production,” she says. The result: a soft, revitalized complexion come morning.

Step 5: Moisturizer

Perhaps your most important step, your moisturizer not only hydrates your skin but also seals in all the ingredient goodness you’ve applied, says Dr. Farber. During the day, opt for a lightweight lotion and save your heavier face oil for nighttime (remember, you can’t use face oil under foundation). When it comes to the ingredient label on your face cream—day or night—Dr. Zeichner says it’s imperative to find a complementary formula to your serum to maximize their efficacies.

Step 6: SPF

No, you don’t need to put on sunscreen before you go to bed, but you should consider it an absolute essential in the morning—and the final step of your routine during the day to ward off UV damage, proven to speed up the aging process and lead to skin cancer. “Don’t forget sunscreen,” warns Dr. Farber. “Apply it every single morning, religiously.”

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