As we near the end of the year, chilly temperatures, blistering winds, and snow days have us layering up with coats, hats, beanies, and gloves. Why? Because the more layers, the more protected we are against winter elements. The same concept applies to skin care. Layering on products over other products is a great way to optimize the hydration in your skin, especially during the bleakest of cold days. As it turns out, there is a name to this technique and it’s called moisture sandwiching.
A popular Korean skin care method, moisture sandwiching popped up on the Western beauty scene thanks to Reddit, Instagram, and (that’s right) TikTok. It essentially utilizes a three-second rule where you apply your skin care products to damp skin three seconds after cleansing — as opposed to patting your skin dry prior to proceeding with the rest of your routine. “Moisture sandwiching refers to the process of applying products on top of damp skin to ensure your skin stays hydrated,” says Dr. Carl Thornfeldt, board certified clinical dermatologist and founder of Episciences. The thought behind this is that damp skin is more receptive to absorption, giving you more benefits to your products.
Although moisture sandwiching is having a moment in the buzzy beauty world, according to Dr. Karyn Grossman, co-founder of RAF FIVE and celebrity dermatologist, it is one of the oldest tricks in the book. “This has always been the golden standard in treating skin gently for years,” says the pro. “Having some water on the skin, then adding ingredients to bring the water into the skin [humectants] then adding ingredients to seal that water in the skin [occlusives] helps to keep skin hydrated and healthy.”
Now that you know the history behind moisture sandwiching, what are the total benefits and steps to incorporate it correctly into your routine? Ahead, TZR spoke to six expert dermatologists to get the 411.
What Is A Moisture Sandwich?
If you look at the basics of a skin care routine, you have three main steps: cleansing, hydrating, and locking in moisture. However, with the moisture sandwich method, you add in more nutrients between these three basic steps, piling on product from light to thick textures. So you can have an order that looks like this: cleansing, hydrating, moisturizing, toning, moisturizing, serum, and more moisturizing ... or any other combo you desire.
“The idea is to lock in hydration to the skin to prevent trans-epidermal moisture loss (how much water the skin holds) and keep skin glowing and hydrated,” says Dr. Yannis Alexandrides, triple board-certified plastic surgeon and founder of 111SKIN. The goal here is to start with the lightest texture products and layer with heavier ones. According to the expert, the technique can be used year-round but is ideal in the colder months to keep skin hydrated.
Essentially, when the skin is dehydrated or dry, it’s paramount to trap in hydration for the skin to hold onto. The sandwich method does this by layering in lightweight, water-based formulas under thicker creams so water is sealed into the skin’s deepest layers — producing hydrated and bouncy skin.
What Are The Benefits Of A Moisture Sandwich?
Sandwiching creams, oils, moisturizers, and hydrators can trap water into the skin and reduce water loss — allowing water to stay in the skin for a longer period of time, resulting in healthier and more radiant skin. “Every time you lightly dampen your face with tap water and then apply your moisturizer, you help all your products penetrate better,” says Dr. Sherwin Parikh, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Tribeca Skin Center. “Ultimately, your skin looks and feels perfectly hydrated and healthy, for a noticeable glow.”
Not only that, but it helps protect the skin from the elements. “The entire process provides a protective barrier to the dry skin and keeps skin texture smooth versus a moisturizer that tends to evaporate and not give the same tactile textural improvement you’d get from an oil,” says Dr. Loretta Ciraldo MD FAAD, a Miami-based board certified derm and founder of Dr. Loretta Skincare.
When you use products with lighter textures and smaller molecules, it allows for deeper penetration and thicker formulas the ability to lock in moisture. “The idea behind moisture sandwiching is to lock in extra moisture by applying products on damp skin,” says Carmen Castilla, MD, New York City-based board-certified dermatologist. “It can theoretically draw in more moisture than just applying the products alone to dry skin.”
How To Incorporate A Moisture Sandwich Into Your Routine
Dr. Gross says the sandwich method is the same concept as applying lotion to the body post-shower. “The damp skin will absorb the moisturizer better and lock in hydration,” the pro tells TZR. So if you are ready to apply the technique to your beauty regime, start with water-based and lightweight options like hydrating toner, essence, or face mist. Follow that with a hydrating serum packed with glycerin or hyaluronic acid (aka, humectants that will pull moisture into the deepest layers of your skin) to help retain moisture on the surface of the skin.
Third up, grab your favorite occlusive moisturizer to seal in long-lasting hydration and finish with an overnight or 15-minute mask to deeply hydrate the skin. The greatest thing about moisture sandwiching is it can be completely customizable based on your skin care needs to see best results. Meaning, if you prefer four steps, five steps, eight steps, or 12 — it’s still sandwiching. The experts all agree this can be done daily, but to ease up if you have acne-prone skin (more on that later).
And it’s not just your face, but your lips too. Simply wet lips with water, apply a moisturizer on top (can be a face cream), and a thick layer of lip balm to finish. Keeping the lips moist gives the moisturizer a better chance at deeper penetration, while the lip balm prevents moisture loss.
Does Moisture Sandwiching Work On All Skin?
Typically moisture sandwiching is highly beneficial on dry and sensitive skin, but it can work on other skin types as well. However, if you have oily skin, the experts advise thinking twice on the buzzy trend. “Patients with oily skin and who are acne-prone should avoid occlusive moisturizes since they may exacerbate acne flares,” says Castilla. Instead of applying an occlusive moisturizer, Dr. Grossman suggests using a hydrating hyaluronic acid in a gel formula on damp skin to hydrate without added oils.