Updated: May 17
Have you ever read a recipe when baking and noticed it is specific in regards to which order you put what into the bowl? Well, let me first off say that no, they are not trying to drive you insane by telling you that the butter must be room temperature or that the eggs must go in before the sugar. The reasoning for this is because the order of ingredients does matter when it comes to them performing their best among the others, giving us a soft, chewy, delicious treat as the final result. You may be wondering what the point of all this is. Just like in the kitchen, the order in which you apply your skincare products does affect the way they work!
The internet is FLOODED with so much conflicting information, that it's difficult to know just where to start when it comes to a skin care routine. From YouTube University, to Facebook College, and of course, Instagram Institute, it is easy to get caught up on what some self-made "guru" will try to tell you to use and when. Unfortunately, there is no college-level 101 class on how to build a skin routine and I can't be the one to tell you just what to use, but, there is an easy way to remember what to apply in what order.
Choosing You Products
Before we can even get into what goes on first, you need to know what products to look for to create a routine. In today's world, we are constantly being reminded of the importance of using different ingredients like retinol, hyaluronic acid, vitamin C and more. Let me tell you a little secret; you don't need a 10-step routine to achieve great skin. Don't jump in and spend all this money on a regimen with no idea of what compliments what or just what your skin needs. Just because Sally has 6 products in her routine doesn't quite mean that your skin will need all of those.
Your brain might be spinning a little bit right now. Don't worry, I will not let you out into the wilderness of the Skincare aisle just yet! Even though our skin will change as we age and change, the general ideas of skincare will always remain the same: how to have healthy and youthful skin for as long as we can. Below is a breakdown of the correct order to apply your skincare products as well as some of the steps you can skip - depending on your skin type.
The Exact Order To Apply: DAY VS. NIGHT
Save it, screenshot it, write it down, whatever you need! Just try to get these steps into your brain then continue reading for some further breakdowns on these routines.
Removing makeup and washing your face is extremely important before you start lathering up with serums and creams. Our skin can absorb up to 60% of whatever you are putting on top of it in 26 seconds. In order to get the most benefit from your products, you must start with clean skin that is free of oil and grime. Cleansing oils or balms can dissolve makeup easily, eliminating the need for any extra removers that will strip your face of its natural oils. Follow this with a gentle, creamy cleanser (especially if you suffer from acne-prone skin). Yes, you read that right. Cleanse your face TWICE before even thinking about moving on to the next step. This is actually the only required step in your routine so don't complain now!
If you would have mentioned toner as being a vital part of a skin care routine years ago, you would find yourself using poor quality, alcohol-based liquids that would cause more harm than good to your skin! Thankfully, the skin gods have given us plenty of good toners that are packed with gentle, hydrating ingredients to comfortably dry the skin, or they contain chemical exfoliants that help to treat acne and bumps. Toners are not meant to be heavy or leave a residue on your face. Their purpose is to prime your face for better absorption to come.
*SKIN TIP: Toner is a completely optional step. They should only be used to help hydrate the skin. Toners should NEVER be used in place of, or as a cleanser!*
Probably one of the most misperceived steps in our routine. If I had to guess, you probably have purchased a few that don't get used, probably out of confusion or overwhelm. Think of it like this, serums are pretty much just "shots" of highly concentrated nutrients, hydrators, and antioxidants that will amp up your skin health once you apply them. They are looked at as sort of like the heavy lifters of your skincare routine.
IN THE AM: Reaching for a vitamin C serum in the a.m. will help to protect your skin from inflammation and damage that is caused by the environment, while also brightening your skin and even lightening pigmented spots over time. For sensitive skin, opt for a serum that is soothing and helps boost your skin barrier for more protection.
IN THE PM: Our daily activities and actions could have a huge impact on our skin. For instance, we could experience skin dehydration after a long day out and about. Choosing a serum with Hyaluronic Acid will help to pull water from the air and into your skin to help keep it hydrated during you sleep. If you are suffering from aging, incorporating a Retinol Serum will help slow down the signs of aging.
4. Eye Cream
Creams meant for the under-eye area tend to be lighter and thinner than our face moisturizers are so it is important that they are applied prior to creams and oils. One thing to remember when applying skincare is to apply the lightest (or thinnest) first and the heaviest (thickest) last. This is because the thinner products are unable to penetrate the thicker one. Having a moisturizer with an SPF should honestly be enough to trump needing an eye cream but if you want to use one, here is how to choose one for the AM and the PM.
IN THE AM: Find an eye cream or serum that has a rollerball applicator - the steel ball helps with fluid retention, or under-eye bags. You can also look for a formula made with caffeine, which is known to temporarily constrict and tighten your under-eyes in a matter of minutes.
IN THE PM: A big misperception on night-time eye creams is that people think they should contain retinol to help with fine lines. Here's a little mythbuster for you - your eye area is a LOT more delicate and at risk for rashes or irritation, so retinol is probably not the best choice. Choose a simple, hydrating eye cream to protect and repair your under-eye skin barrier.
A moisturizer is pretty much a non-negotiable when it comes to skincare. Two times a day, not questions asked. Regardless if your skin feels like the Sahara desert or it's so shiny you can see your reflection in it (there are formulas for each don't worry), do not skip the moisturizer! The reason for this is because it is the only thing that will keep your skin barrier healthy and happy. Moisturizer will infuse your skin with hydration as well as trap in all the products underneath, almost like an incubator, to render them even more effective to your skin.
IN THE AM: Something like a gentle hyaluronic-based moisturizer will be best in the morning to keep skin hydrated but not greasy. Allow your moisturizer to sink in for at least 5 minutes before applying anything like makeup.
IN THE PM: Since we already know our face goes into repair mode at night, our nighttime moisturizer should be filled with the things our body naturally produces and can use more of, like hyaluronic acid, lipids and proteins. If you want to use one containing "anti-aging" properties, make sure it is a water-base that is balanced enough so the retinol doesn't irritate your skin.
*PRO SKIN TIP: look for a formula that is BROAD SPECTRUM, SPF 30, for daily use, to eliminate a step.*
We know Retinoids to be the general term for just about all vitamin A derivatives, including retinol. They sink into our skin to speed up cell turnover, which actually causes our body to put out fresher, smoother, less wrinkled skin over time. To see the true results of this ingredient, it takes four to six months of consistent use to see.
When we use retinol or retinoids, the collagen production will become triggered, helping to fade dark spots, smooth scars, clear pores, and prevent breakouts as well as brighten the skin. This product is what the skin care world calls the closest thing to magic that we have to improve our skin's aging process. One thing to mention is they should be slowly integrated into your routine through an adjustment period to avoid reactions. Begin with one night a week for one week, then two nights a week for two weeks and so on.
*PRO SKIN TIP: If you already use a night cream that has retinoids in it or you have fairly sensitive skin, feel free to skip this step to avoid inflammation! Don't worry, you can't get your anti-aging magic elsewhere!*
Face oils are typically occlusive, which means that they will seal in all the products and nutrients that you just applied to keep them from evaporating off your skin. When used alone, oils will not moisturize your skin that well, but when you layer them over your other products, they will help to increase smoothness.
Oils will penetrate moisturizers, serums, and treatments, but products cannot penetrate an oil, which makes them the perfect final step to your routine. If you suffer from acne-prone skin, look for oils like rose-hip or jojoba to decrease oil production, or marula and aloe oils to soothe sensitive skin.
Don't get mad, I only lied a little!! Yes, oils SHOULD go last over your other products, but technically sunscreen will be the final step. Sunscreen is used to protect your face and act as armor against harmful rays. So realistically, it's not adding anything to your skin, it's just protecting it.
Before running off to use your SPF 15 foundation or moisturizer, keep in mind that the BARE minimum SPF that you need is SPF 30. No one wants premature aging, worsened acne scars, or an increased risk for skin cancer.