By Sara M, Founder

The Ultimate Guide to Layering Your Skin-Care Products for Maximum Results

Did you know? Almost 60% of consumers admit they're in the dark about how to cleanse their skin, let alone layering skin-care products!

The great sea of products in containers, such as serums, facial oil, creams, and many other things, often forms a big headache for men and women when it comes to when to use what.

But, the primary concern of layering your skin care products should be the correct order of using them to get the best effects and maximum absorption.

The idea of the layering method, although it may appear complex, is clear-cut, from the thinnest to the thickest products. In this article, let’s take the steps together to acquaint you with the right techniques for a glow-up of your skin regimen.

This time, your skin should be radiant and healthy-looking.

The Wisdom of Dermatology on Skincare Layering

To begin with, it is important to know why the precise layering of your skincare products is more than just a matter of vanity.

According to top dermatologists, the golden rule, or, in this context, the gold standard, lies in understanding the formulation and the intended function of each product. Dr. Idi Idriss, a board-certified dermatologist, asserts that "The molecular size of skincare products, as well as their intended function, really determines their application order."

For instance, water-based products should typically be applied before heavier, oil-based treatments to ensure efficient penetration. Additionally, active ingredients like retinol or acids should be closer to the skin for more intense results.

Dermatologists also often state that correct layering lets active substances get through the skin and offers personalized therapy against multiple skin issues. They stress that the best way to apply products is by layering them, starting with serums and treatments and finishing with heavier and thicker creams like moisturizers.

This makes resurface agents like Vitamin C, retinoids, glycolic acid, and alpha hydroxy acids more efficiently delivered into the skin. Also, layering products correctly can also prevent reactions between ingredients and allow for better absorption.

Dr. Heather Rogers stresses, "The order of application is incredibly important. If you don’t apply products in the correct order, you will not see the best results from your skincare regimen."

The skin barrier protects, but by design, it also sometimes hinders complete absorption. A well-thought-out application technique becomes important to overcoming this barrier, ensuring ingredients reach their intended destination within the skin.

Besides just looking stylish, layering is a smart move to keep the cold at bay. Ever heard a dermatologist suggest a step-wise layered skincare routine for the best results?

That's because when done right, everything works better together. It's like creating a super team that makes each other stronger.

Think of it this way: Instead of throwing on whatever skincare product you find, use a strategy.

Your skin will be all the happier for it.

Why the order Matters in the first place?

Starting with the thinnest consistency product and transitioning to the thickest one allows ingredients to be absorbed in a much more controlled manner.

According to Dr. Rogers, "In general, think thin-to-thick, but you also want to first use the products with the ingredients that are most important to penetrate into the skin (like antioxidants in serums) and finish with the products that need to sit on top of the skin (like emollients and humectants in moisturizers)."

This approach prioritizes the 'star' ingredients that necessitate deeper penetration and are known to bring forth radical changes to your skin.

How to Layer Your Skincare Products in the Correct Order

The morning routine is not only about cleansing the night away but also about gearing up your skin to combat daily environmental stressors. Establishing a fortified barrier with the right products safeguards your skin throughout the day.

Cleanse with an Oil-based Formula

Cleaning your face first thing in the morning might feel superfluous, but NOT when it’s an oil-based cleanser that gently washes away the night’s residual oily skin and skincare products.

Created to dissolve pore-clogging oils without harming the skin, oil cleansers are perfect for almost all skin types, particularly dry, sensitive skin and dehydration-prone skin types.

Turns out, a little study from 2019 found that oil cleansers might just be the champs at taking off waterproof sunblock better than other methods!

The Double Cleanse with Water-based Formulas

To ensure a thorough cleanse, follow up with a water-based cleanser. This second step is especially crucial if you apply heavier products before bed, and it preempts the absorption of your morning serums and creams.

Remember, a clean base ensures that your next products can work at their best, skin-deep levels.

Tone to Restore Balance

Toners get a bad rap, but in recent years, they’ve undergone a reform.

They’re not the drying astringents of yore; rather, they're now hydrating lotions loaded with skin balancing, soothing, and for uneven skin tone ingredients.

The aim here is to rebalance your skin after cleansing, restore pH levels, and prepare it to soak up the antioxidant goodness that follows.

Introduce Antioxidants

After toning, it’s prime antioxidant territory.

These serums are your frontline defense against the free radicals that bombard your skin daily. These microscopic warriors, like our Vitamin C mixed with Vitamin E & Hyaluronic acid, protect your skin from environmental damage, treat acne-prone skin, enhance the efficacy of your sunscreen, and combat premature aging signs.

Eye Cream for Delicate Awakenings

The skin around your eyes can be the most expressive and, sometimes, the most stressed.

A targeted eye cream counters puffiness, dark circles, and the fine lines that start to speckle this delicate area. Ingredients like caffeine and hyaluronic acid work on a molecular level to de-puff, brighten, and hydrate.

Seal with Moisturizer and Sunscreen

This step completes the protective layer, preventing moisture from escaping throughout the day and shielding your skin from the sun's harmful UV rays.

The Nighttime Skin Care Routine

Bedtime is the conductor’s call to repair the damage of the day.

The absence of external stressors provides the optimal environment for restorative products to work their nocturnal wonders.

Begin with a Sensible Cleanse

A second cleansing session is non-negotiable each evening. This is the time to remove the day's grime before it infiltrates your pores. Forgo harsh cleansers that strip the skin of its natural oils, opting instead for gentle formulas with low pH levels and hydrating properties.

Exfoliation: Not Every Day, but Essential

Exfoliation renews the skin’s surface, revealing a smoother, brighter complexion by removing the dead skin cells that can accumulate. However, it's worth noting that exfoliating every day may be too aggressive for your skin. Aim for two to three times a week and on different days from when you use retinol or other potent actives.

Targeted Treatments: Serums are Stars

The evening is the perfect time to layer on those active ingredients, whether it's retinoids, alpha hydroxy acids, or anti-aging formulas. These potent serums should be applied directly to your skin after cleansing to ensure maximal effectiveness.

Moisturize for Restoration

Moisturizing at night is like giving your skin a big, cozy blanket to snuggle up with. Opt for rich, hydrating formulas that can infuse your skin with moisture overnight.

Last But Not Least – Overnight Mask or Oil

This is the optional step that elevates your skincare routine to the level of self-indulgent pampering.

For dull or particularly dry skin, an overnight mask is a fantastic means of restoring hydration. Oils can also seal in moisture and provide an additional barrier to prevent water loss, keeping your skin plump and luminous by morning.

Listening to your skin is a choreography in itself.

It's about being mindful of what it craves and responding in kind. By heeding these guidelines and learning how to layer your skincare products in the correct order, your skin will thank you for the extra care and attention it receives.

Common mistakes to avoid when layering products

Of course, layering is confusing, especially if you are just starting out. One of the most common mistakes is slathering on too many products at once without giving each one time to absorb properly.

But this is not the only mistake. Let's get into the details and uncover all the pitfalls to avoid when it comes to layering your skincare products.

Serums Before Moisturizers

Serums should always be applied before the moisturizer. Why?

According to Barton Schwartz, the active ingredients that are normally contained in serums have to be put on initially so that the products can get absorbed most efficiently.

“Cleanser, toner, serum, cream is a good order.” One small exception, Saddle Brook, NJ dermatologist Dr. Fredric Haberman calls out: “Apply creams and lotions after serums, except when using a bleaching cream, which should be applied as the first layer before all other creams.”

Retinol Rules

One of the most common mistakes people make with retinol is applying it too frequently. It's recommended to start slow and gradually increase usage as your skin gets accustomed to the ingredients.

A common error involves combining benzoyl peroxide products with tretinoin, which neutralizes the effectiveness of tretinoin.

Wipe Outs

As easy and comfortable as it is, do NOT apply serums or skincare products post-makeup wipes. You should rather cleanse your face properly.

Layering SPF

Sunscreen should always go on last as the final layer of your skincare routine. This allows it to fully protect your skin from harmful UV rays throughout the day. If you want to make your SPF work even better, then you should layer it over a Vitamin C serum.

The Bottom Line

Incorporating active ingredients into your skincare routine can be a game-changer for achieving clear and healthy skin. However, it's important to layer your skincare products correctly and avoid common mistakes in order to obtain the best results.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the correct order of layering skincare products?

Its important to remember to assemble your product from the lightest to heavy. The product order consists of cleansing, toning, applying serum, moisturizing, and finishing with sunscreen (SPF).

Do you put a serum on before or after moisturizer?

Serum should be applied before moisturizer. Moisturizer helps to seal in the serum and provide additional hydration to your skin.

Can you mix different brands of skincare products?

Yes, you can mix different brands of skincare products as long as they contain compatible active ingredients that won't react negatively when combined. 


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