How to Layer Products in Your Skin-Care Routine Correctly

There is no such thing as a single “correct” skin-care routine, but there’s definitely an optimal way to apply your products. Whether you’re a minimalist who prefers sticking to a three-step routine or the type of person willing to undertake 11 steps daily in pursuit of glass skin, the way you layer your chosen products has a big impact on how well they work. The more product-intense you go, the more important this order becomes.

There’s a reason cleansing comes first, serum sits beneath moisturizer, and sunscreen goes on last. Understanding this order will ensure your favorite skin-care products work effectively—because no one wants to splurge on a luxury serum only to render it useless because of misapplication. If you’ve ever looked at a tube of retinol or a bottle of face oil and wondered exactly how (and when) to use it, wonder no more. Below, dermatologists and skin-care experts explain the most effective way to apply every single product in your routine.

The Best Order to Apply Skin-Care Products

The easiest way to break it down is to refer to the table above, which lays out the best order for your separate morning and night skin-care routines. “The principle behind ordering is to cleanse your skin, open your skin so products can soak in, add actives on, then seal with moisturizing products,” says Morgan Rabach, M.D., dermatologist and co-founder of LM Medical NYC. Below, the detailed breakdown of every single step in your daily skin care routine.

1. Makeup Remover/Cleansing Oil

Unless you went to bed with makeup on (please don’t), there’s no reason to do this step in the morning. But at night it makes your cleanser’s job a lot easier.

Removing all makeup from your skin should always be your first step at the end of the day,” says Loretta Ciraldo, M.D., dermatologist and founder of Dr. Loretta Skincare. Look for formulas that are effective enough to melt away waterproof mascara, but still gentle on your face—like micellar water. You can also double-cleanse with an emulsifying oil, which gets rid of the need to buy cotton rounds.

2. Cleanser

Do this step: Morning and night.

Now that your makeup layer is gone, you can proceed with washing your face. “A cleanser gets rid of dead skin, pollutants, oils, dirt, and bacteria,” says Rabach. Both she and Ciraldo recommend also doing this step when you first wake up in the morning, in order to prep your skin to absorb the active ingredients in your other products.

The best cleanser for you will depend on your skin type. “It’s important to pay attention to what’s in your cleanser and what’s not in it,” says Ciraldo. She recommends avoiding sulfates, which can have a harsh, stripping effect on your face, and looking for actives that suit your needs. “For normal or dry skin, I favor a hydrating cleanser with peptides,” she says. “If you’re oily or acne-prone, use a mild exfoliating cleanser with salicylic acid, which dislodges the dead cells that can clog pores.

3. Eye Cream

Do this step: Morning and night.

The first product to go on your face? Eye cream. The reason is simple—because you’ll probably forget to do it otherwise. Ciraldo recommends patting eye cream on gently with your ring finger (this way you’ll tug less at the delicate skin there) all the way around your eyes, not just underneath them. If you’re worried about eye cream causing your concealer or eye makeup to smear, choose a more lightweight option, like a hydrating gel that sinks in quickly and stays put.

For the best results, look for ingredients like peptides—which help tighten your skin and depuff—as well as antioxidants. Rabach recommends formulas that contain hydrating hyaluronic acid, brightening caffeine, and ceramides (these lock in moisture and help strengthen your skin barrier).

4. Toner/Essence

Do this step: Morning and night.

Both toners and essences are meant to help further prime your skin to absorb active ingredients, but the one you choose will depend on your skin type. Old-school toners were meant to balance skin pH and counteract alkaline soaps, before soap-free cleansers became popular. Now toner usually refers to liquid formulations geared toward oily skin that’s in need of gentle exfoliation and resurfacing. Ciraldo says those with oily or acne-prone skin should look for toners with ingredients like glycolic or salicylic acid.

Essences, on the other hand, tend to be more hydrating. Rabach recommends looking for actives like hyaluronic acid, which will flood your skin with moisture that you can lock in during subsequent steps. To apply, soak a cotton pad in liquid and gently pat it over your face. Alternatively, you can use your hands to do the same thing.

5. Serum

Do this step: Morning and night.

This is the step where you’ll deliver the bulk of active ingredients to your toner/essence-primed face, and it’s important to do it early on in your routine. “Serums are formulated with smaller molecular-weight actives so they penetrate into deeper skin layers,” says Ciraldo. “If you apply your serum after a thicker formulation, the active ingredients may not penetrate as well.

While you should apply serum twice a day, you shouldn’t be using the same formulation. “Serum actives differ for day and night,” says Rabach. During the day, she likes to choose serums with antioxidants that protect skin from daytime stressors like free radicals (caused by UV rays), pollutants, and blue light. The most popular ingredient for this is vitamin C, which you will have no problem finding in serum form. (Just make sure to choose one that’s properly stabilized for maximum effect.) At night, opt for a serum with peptides and growth factors to repair skin.

For both daytime and nighttime serums, Rabach also has a general list of ingredients she likes to look for across both formulations: Niacinamide to reduce redness, hyaluronic acid to pull moisture into your skin, and alpha and beta hydroxy acids (AHAs and BHAs), which help boost collagen and even out skin pigmentation. Ciraldo further splits up her preferred serum ingredients by skin type. “For acne-prone skin, look for stem cells, retinol, and green tea,” she says. “For dehydrated skin, look for lipids, hyaluronic acid, and peptides. And for hyperpigmented skin, look for vitamin C.”

6. Retinol

Do this step: At night only.

Retinol truly deserves its own essay, but the short version is this: The vitamin A derivative boosts collagen production and increases the rate of cellular turnover. “Retinol reduces fine lines, reduces pore size, increases collagen and elastin production, takes off dead skin, reduces oil production, unclogs pores, and evens out skin tone,” says Rabach. Whether you want to clear breakouts or fade fine lines—or basically do anything to your face—retinol is your friend.

On the flip side, this is a strong ingredient, and beginners should proceed with caution when adding to their routines. Potential side effects can include flaking, dryness, retinol burn, and increased sensitivity to the sun, which is why you should stick to applying it at night. Dermatologists often recommend easing into daily application slowly. “Start three times a week for the first week or two,” says Ciraldo. From there, you can gradually increase the frequency of application.

Most will apply their retinol layer after their serums and before moisturizer, but there is one exception. If your skin has trouble tolerating retinol and you want to minimize its side effects, you can buffer it instead. Retinol buffering refers to a technique whereby you mix your retinol with your moisturizer and apply it as a single step. This helps you still get the benefits, but decreases the potential for irritation. To take it a step further, you can also apply retinol over your moisturizer. Experiment with this step, and see where it fits best in your routine.

7. Moisturizer

Do this step: Morning and night.

Moisturizers are there to simultaneously hydrate and seal in hydration, which is why these formulas tend to be heavier than the layers that go underneath. “You should use moisturizers with humectants like glycerin and hyaluronic acid, which pull in water,” says Rabach. “I also recommend looking for ceramides, which seal the outer layers of skin.”

Ciraldo says that many of her patients prefer to use separate formulas for their morning and nighttime routines. This has more to do with how moisturizers feel than anything else. You can use a lightweight formula in the morning that blends better with your makeup and reserve a heavier cream for evening. Ciraldo’s additional tip is to double up on your serum and moisturizer actives. For example, if you use a vitamin C serum in the morning, you can layer a vitamin C moisturizer right on top to boost the benefits.

8. Spot Treatment

Do this step: Morning and night.

You need to use spot treatments on active breakouts only, but if you’re experiencing acne, you can apply a leave-on spot treatment both morning and night to speed up its healing cycle. According to Ciraldo, you should spot-treat after you’ve applied your moisturizer, not before. This helps make sure the product stays on top of the pimple, and doesn’t go on the rest of your face. “If you’re using a strong acid and then smear moisturizer all over your face, you run the risk of the product getting on more sensitive areas,” she says. You’ll also dilute its effectiveness. Wait for your a.m./p.m. moisturizer to sink in, then carefully pat over the affected areas.

The two most common over-the-counter ingredients for spot treatments are benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. Rabach differentiates them like this: Benzoyl peroxide helps kill acne-causing bacteria, while salicylic acid gently exfoliates and dries out your oil glands.

9. Face Oil

Do this step: Morning and night.

If there’s one step in your daily skin-care routine that surprisingly divides experts, it’s face oil. The most common recommendation is to apply it last at night and second-to-last before sunscreen in the morning. That’s because oils are occlusive, says Mona Gohara, M.D., dermatologist and associate clinical professor at Yale School of Medicine. Meaning, they help trap moisture in your skin. This is why Renée Rouleau, celebrity esthetician and founder of Renée Rouleau Skin Care, says you should think of face oils as a topcoat. “Oils provide a protective barrier to help prevent moisture from evaporating,” she says. “Anything applied over it may not be offering as much benefit to your skin because it can’t get through.”

However, some derms advise their patients to take this step earlier in their routines (usually before moisturizer), depending on the formulation of the oil they’re using. “Some oils are designed with ingredients that hydrate, others to brighten or even to strengthen your skin,” says Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Ciraldo also says it’s okay to mix oils with your moisturizer if you prefer.

Whichever way you land, the important thing is that you don’t overdo it—with face oils, a little goes a long way. To apply, warm about two to three drops of oil in your palms and pat lightly over your face.

10. Sunscreen

Do this step: In the morning only.

What derms unanimously agree on is that you should wear sunscreen every single day to prevent UV damage—whether or not you go outside. Sunscreen needs to go over face oil in order to be most effective. “You do not want anything to stop the sunscreen from working, or making it less effective,” says Gohara. “Putting an oil on top of your sunscreen can decrease it’s efficacy.”

There are two types of sunscreens to choose from for your final step: physical and chemical. Physical blockers contain minerals like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide and work by reflecting light away from your skin. Chemical blockers, on the other hand, work by absorbing light and converting it into heat, preventing it from penetrating into your skin. Rouleau says that mineral formulas are often better for sensitive skin, while chemical formulations tend to be thinner and spread more easily.

Chemical formulas also come with the benefit of not leaving a white cast on darker skin tones. While mineral sunscreens traditionally cast an ashy tone, Zeichner points out that brands have begun formulating better physical sunscreens to counteract that. “The newest formulation technology has brought us micronized sunscreens that rub in to your skin much better than ever before,” he says. “So using a zinc-based sunscreen no longer necessarily means your face will have that white cast. No matter what your personal preference is, there are sunscreens for every need.”

GLAMOUR

The Best Face Oils For Every Concern — From Anti-Aging To Deeply Moisturizing

If you add one thing to your skincare routine this season, make it a high-quality oil.

It wasn’t so long ago that “oil” was a dirty word in skincare. The only time you’d see it on a label was when paired with the phrases “-free” or “-reducing.” Thankfully, conventional wisdom has reversed course to be inclusive of the millennia-old practice of treating skin ailments with nourishing oils.

With the season change upon us, there’s no better time than the present to supercharge your routine with a hydrating, oil-balancing, or anti-aging oil. Dermatologists tested countless oils and rounded up the best options for every concern and skin type, from brands like Sunday Riley, Tata Harper, Vintner’s Daughter, and more.

These are the best oils to buy for every need:

Keep scrolling to find out why each of these oils made best in class.

Best for Glowing Skin: Sunday Riley C.E.O Glow Vitamin C + Turmeric Face Oil

The secret to glowing skin is actually quite simple: It’s vitamin C. The powerful antioxidant fades pigmentation and lends an overall brightness to your complexion. This lightweight oil by Sunday Riley is chock-full of the stuff, in the form of THD ascorbate, a shelf-stable variety. Turmeric extract also imparts a warm radiance to the skin.

Shop now: $40; sephora.com

Best for Wrinkles: Tata Harper Retinoic Nutrient Face Oil

This luxurious, all-natural facial oil by Tata Harper is formulated with rosehip oil-derived retinol, one of the best-researched, most-proven anti-aging ingredients. This oil’s keystone ingredient, plus a cocktail of other antioxidants, will reduce the appearance of wrinkles and plump out fine lines while fighting free radicals and slowing signs of premature aging.

Shop now: $132; nordstrom.com

Best for Acne: Aesop Fabulous Face Oil

This non-greasy oil is a great choice for those with congested skin or clogged pores. A rich blend of carrier plant oils contains benzyl salicylate, a form of salicylic acid, an oil-soluble exfoliant that breaks down acne-causing bacteria. Those sensitive to smells should be forewarned: Effective though this product may be, it’s on the pungent side.

Shop now: $57; nordstrom.com

Best for Extremely Dry Skin: Vintner’s Daughter Active Botanical Serum

Whether you naturally suffer from dry skin or you’re gearing up for a long season of moisture-sapping winter air, this rich cult-loved oil from Vintner’s Daughter is the bottle you need on your vanity. A plush blend of 22 active ingredients found in natural oils like grapeseed, hazelnut, and bergamot peel work together to relieve tight, cracked, and thirsty skin.

Shop now: $185; net-a-porter.com

Best for Dehydrated Skin: Indie Lee Squalane Facial Oil

Dehydrated skin is first and foremost in need of hydration, then moisture. Prep your skin barrier with a watery toner like Indie Lee’s restorative CoQ-10 Toner, and then follow up with a non-irritating squalane oil from the same brand.

Shop now: $34; sephora.com

Best for Oily Skin: Biossance Squalane + Tea Tree Balancing Oil

Though using an oil to manage oil production may seem counterintuitive, sometimes it’s exactly what sebaceous skin types need the most. This elegant blend by Biossance puts squalane — a lightweight, fast-drying olive-derived oil — at the core of its formula, which will help manage shine. The oil also includes tea tree oil, an astringent and anti-inflammatory agent.

Shop now: $49; sephora.com

Best for Combination Skin: Supernal Cosmic Glow Oil

A newcomer to the scene, this emergent face oil by a former creative director is destined to be one of the most beautiful items on your shelf. But more than just a pretty face, Cosmic Glow Oil achieves the unachievable with a formula that is at once moisturizing and oil-balancing. The luxurious, pleasantly fragrant blend penetrates quickly, making it a great option for combination skin and daytime use.

Shop now: $108; credobeauty.com

Best With Makeup: Costa Brazil Kaya Anti-Aging Face Oil

Skincare freshman Costa Brazil isn’t playing around when it comes to moisture. With ingredients sustainably sourced from the Amazon Rainforest like Tucuma, Brazil Nut and Pataua extracts, the brand’s signature product, Kaya, takes on the aging process as naturally as it does powerfully. Better yet, this satin oil pairs excellently with makeup, and can even be mixed directly in with your foundation.

Shop now: $125; net-a-porter.com

Best Drugstore: Milani Prep+Soothe Camellia Face Oil

If you’re in between bottles, need a substitute while traveling, or just prefer to buy cosmetics while stocking up on other vanity essentials, this oil by Milani is a great, affordable drugstore choice. A blend of grapeseed, camellia seed, moringa seed, and six other oils, plus anti-aging ingredients like tocopherol, add up to make this weightless blend with a satin finish. The quick-drying formula makes this product appropriate to wear comfortably beneath makeup.

Shop now: $9 (Originally $14); amazon.com

Best for Sensitive Skin: Drunk Elephant Virgin Marula Antioxidant Face Oil

A general rule of thumb for sensitive skin is to use products with as few ingredients as possible — that way, you’re eliminating the number of triggers that may disagree with your skin. This best-selling oil from Drunk Elephant uses just one ingredient: high-quality virgin marula oil. This single-origin oil delivers omegas 6 and 9, and is absorbed quickly.

Shop now: $40; sephora.com

Best for Scars: Bio-Oil Multiuse Skincare Oil

If you’ve heard of Bio-Oil before, it was likely in a Kardashian kontext — Kim, Khloé, and Kourtney have all at one point or another extolled the virtues of this vaguely medicinal-looking bottle of skin oil. Anecdotally, reviewers tend to agree with the assessment of this product as a valid mechanism for fading scars.

Shop now: $15 (Originally $19); amazon.com

Best for Firming: Herbivore Botanicals Orchid Facial Oil

This elegant blend from Herbivore calls upon floral oils to fight signs of aging. Orchid extract hydrates skin, while camellia flower oil and jasmine sambac oil increase elasticity. The blend’s bouquet of botanical garden-worthy ingredients makes for an oil that’s as naturally fragrant as it is skin-strengthening.

Shop now: $64; nordstrom.com

Best for Rosacea: Cliganic USDA Organic Jojoba Oil

Jojoba oil is a solid choice for those with rosacea, and is even recommended by the Rosacea Foundation. The carrier oil contains anti-inflammatory agent myristic acid, which can reduce redness. This 100 percent pure jojoba has over 3,000 five-star ratings on Amazon, and is Amazon’s choice for “jojoba oil.”

Shop now: $10; amazon.com

Best Multi-Use: NOTO Botanics Rooted Body + Hair Oil

For the multi-tasking minimalist, we can’t recommend this versatile, all-natural oil from breakout brand NOTO enough. With palo santo wood oil as its hero ingredient, this face, body, and hair oil will re-energize your cells and soothe your mood at the same time.

Shop now: $55; needsupply.com

Best for Travel: F. Miller Necessity Kit

When you’re on the go, it’s most comfortable to pair down your routine to just the essentials, and finding a good oil will help you on your way. This three-piece kit from F.Miller includes a face oil, body oil, and moisturizing lip balm, each with just a handful of ingredients (that you can actually pronounce). Take this set in its included canvas satchel with you on the plane and reapply generously. By the time you land, your face will be glowing, and your lips and hands will feel totally nourished.

Shop now: $50 (Originally $72); needsupply.com

Best for Cleansing: Glossier Milky Oil

More of a micellar water than a conventional oil, this syrupy product harnesses the power of ingredients like castor oil as a cleanser. The suspension uses droplets of oil within a watery solution to attract grime away from the skin. Pair that with nourishing vitamins deposited on the skin, and you’ve got a gentle yet hardworking formula that’s nothing like conventional cleansers. Follow up with Glossier’s Milky Jelly for best results.

Shop now: $12; glossier.com

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