The Correct Order to Apply Your Skincare Products

written by Jordan Bishop

We’ve written a lot about skincare here at The Everygirl, and recently we’ve gotten more feedback and questions about one thing: How exactly do we apply all this stuff? Daily skincare includes several steps, and it can be a little confusing as to what goes on top of what and which ingredients shouldn’t be applied together.

We’re going to demystify the proper steps and applications of various products and give a few basic no-nos when it comes to combining certain ingredients, but we urge you to be mindful of the active ingredients in the products you already own. Should your hydrating serum and Vitamin C serum be applied together? Well, that depends on their main ingredients. This article will help you know what to look out for.


The Basics

When it comes to the proper order of application of products, you typically want to go from thin to thick — the viscosity of your products determines how they are absorbed into your skin. If you apply a watery serum after you have already layered on a cream or lotion, you are not receiving the full benefits of the thinner product. This foundational principle has some exceptions that we’ll cover — namely when it comes to eye creams, eye serums, and retinol.

The proper application of products also differs between night and day applications, as you won’t be using the same products each time.


What Order to Apply Your Skincare Products in the Morning


Step 1: Oil Cleanser

It should be noted that if you are not using a facial oil in your nighttime routine, then oil cleansing in the morning isn’t always necessary.


Step 2: Water cleanser

Cleanse with either a water-based cleanser or do a micellar water rinse by saturating a cotton pad with pure micellar water and sweeping it all over your face and neck.


Step 3: Hydrating Toner and Essences

This step restores your skin’s pH after your acid treatment so that the following treatments aren’t compromised.


Step 4: Treatment Serums and Ampoules

A typical treatment serum used in daytime skincare is a Vitamin C serum, but no matter what types of serums you use, just make sure that the most potent active ingredient goes on first. To save time, I’d recommend a Vitamin C serum combined with hyaluronic acid so you don’t have to spend time layering in the early morning. But if you do choose to layer serums, always apply the hydrating serum after the treatment serum.


Step 5: Eye Cream or Eye Serums

The skin under your eyes is the thinnest on your face, so your eye-specific products need to go on before any heavier moisturizers.


Step 6: Moisturizer

There’s no such thing as skin that’s too moisturized, but if you struggle with heavy moisturizer under makeup, consider a gel consistency or a light lotion. If you’re using a Vitamin C serum, this is a great opportunity to include peptides into your routine.


Step 7: SPF

You need sun protection every. single. day. and there is no way around it! SPF is getting smarter and more wearable all the time — look for a milky essence consistency or a serum style sunscreen to avoid white cast or caking makeup.


Source: Gal Meets Glam


What Order to Apply Your Skincare Products at Night


For nighttime skincare, you need to consider whether or not you want to incorporate a retinol in your routine. Retinol can be a little daunting, so read our full rundown on it here. Night skincare is the time for more serious treatments like retinol and other photosensitizing AHAs like glycolic and lactic acids because a lot of these active ingredients break down in sunlight.

If you want to use both an AHA and retinol, it is best to alternate their application — use retinol one night and your AHA the next, and so on. A typical nighttime skincare routine will look relatively similar to a daytime routine with a few minor tweaks.


Step 1: Oil Cleanse

An oil cleanse is always necessary at night, as you will be removing the sebum your skin produced during the day, makeup, SPF, and environmental pollutants.


Step 2: Water Cleanse

You can use the same water-based cleanser that you use in the morning, obviously, but if you want to include a more indulgent step into your nighttime self-care routine, then look for a cleanser that doubles as an oxygenating mask for a deeper clean.


Step 3: Hydrating Toner or Essence

Using the same product you use in the morning, press a couple layers of toner or essence into your double cleansed skin.


Step 3: Acid treatment

This is where retinol starts to come into play. Using AHAs + BHAs at the same time as retinol can either be very beneficial or very irritating depending on your skin type. Using an acid exfoliation product that is formulated for daily use can make retinol more effective — see our recommended selections below. If you experience redness or peeling, you may need to alternate between the products. If you aren’t using retinol, this is where you might opt for a glycolic or lactic acid serum that will exfoliate your skin overnight. 


Step 4: Spot Treatment

If you have any active breakouts, this is where you would apply a benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid spot treatment. Do not apply any other skincare over a spot treatment, especially retinol.


Step 5: Retinol

Always wait until skin is completely dry before applying retinol — usually wait about 20 minutes and then allow your retinol product to fully absorb before moving on.


Step 6: Eye Cream

Opt for a heavier formula for nighttime use. 


Step 7: Moisturizer

Facial oil. If you’re not sure whether or not you should be using a facial oil, this article will help you decide.


Step 8: Sleeping Mask

Sleeping masks help create a barrier to seal in all of your products and keep your skin optimally hydrated throughout the night.


Source: Barefoot Blonde


Do These Things Go Together? A Cheat Sheet

When you begin to combine the skincare you already own with new things you want to purchase, you need to be careful about which active ingredients you are layering together. Always check to see what the main ingredients are in your products to avoid irritation.


The Don’ts

Retinol + Glycolic Acid = No… or maybe!

If you have sensitive or reactive skin, these two can be problematic when layered together. If you’re going to use any AHA alongside retinol, be sure to start slow to avoid redness and peeling. Opt for a product that combines small percentages of AHAs, BHA, and PHA, such as Tarte’s Knockout Tingling Treatment or Biologique Recherche’s Lotion P50, rather than using one single active AHA in tandem with retinol.

Retinol + Vitamin C = NO! 

It is often debated as to whether or not the pH of L-ascorbic acid destabilizes retinol and therefore renders it ineffective — so far the jury is still out. However, since retinol makes you more sensitive to sunlight and Vitamin C is best worn during the day, it’s best to keep these two separate.

Retinol + Acne Treatments = NO!

Technically retinol is an acne treatment, but it doesn’t play well with the actives in spot treatments, so be careful if you need to use both. Remember, putting retinol on an active breakout will do nothing to cure it, as retinol is working on the deeper layers of skin. Retinol is never to be used as a spot treatment! 

Benzoyl Peroxide + AHAs = NO!

These are two exfoliators from different ends of the spectrum, so be careful when combining them, as it is very easy to stress out your skin by over-exfoliating.


The Dos

Benzoyl Peroxide + Salicylic Acid = Yes, sometimes. 

For the acne prone, using these two together once a week can work wonders on active breakouts or congested pores. If you are not experiencing either, it’s best to leave these two alone. 

Vitamin C + Peptides = Yes!

These two go together like Champagne and OJ. Peptides are kind of like the hype man of skincare — they’re not that special on their own, but they really rev up the effectiveness of other active ingredients. These short chain amino acids are the building blocks of the protein that creates collagen and elastin, and they really love antioxidants like Vitamin C!

Vitamin C + SPF = Yes!

You have to have sun protection during the day, that is a given, but your SPF does nothing to protect you from environmental pollution and heat-activated free radicals — for this you need an effective antioxidant.

Retinol + Hyaluronic Acid = Yes!

You should always replenish moisture after applying retinol.