How to Layer Skincare Products Like a Pro

Make your facialist proud
BY Sarah Lim
| Last updated Apr, 2023
layer skincare products like a pro

Who has 30 minutes in the morning and evening to properly layer their skincare products? Yeah, pretty much no one. But if you’re spending money on products that are supposed to NURTURE your skin, it’s worth it to look into the correct order to apply skincare products.

So why can’t you just slap all your products on at one time? Each product does something a little different. So, to layer skincare products correctly, you need to know the correct order and how long you should wait in between steps. Why? Because it will help you really leverage the maximum effect of your products, so you see better-looking skin!

Here’s how you can layer skincare products like a pro with a simple step-by-step process for ultimate benefits and total skincare finesse.

Layer Skincare After Cleansing: Toner and Serums

Layer Skincare After Cleansing - Toner and Serums

So, of course, your first step in your skincare routine is to cleanse your skin. Wash off all the excess oil, the makeup, and the bad day you had. And start with a fresh, clean face for your skincare routine!

Now that you have a clean canvas, it’s time to layer face products. Go ahead and use your toner next. Ideally, you want to use skin toner IMMEDIATELY after cleansing while your face is still just a little bit moist. It’s because your toner will fully absorb into your skin and prep it for all your skincare ingredients.

Put YOUR serum on next. Gently pat it onto your face, or otherwise follow your product’s specific instructions. Give the serum at least a minute to set. But if you have a few extra minutes, go make some coffee or throw a load of laundry in before moving on to the next step!

The only exception to using toners and serums IMMEDIATELY after cleansing is if you’re using a face mask. If you use any type of mask in your routine, go ahead and use it after cleansing. Remember to use it before toners and serums for maximum effect.

Then Eye Cream (Yes, You Need Eye Cream!)

Layer Eyecreams in Skincare - After Toner and Serum

According to celebrity skincare expert Renée Rouleau, the best time to start using an eye cream is before you actually need one—her opinion? “Start as early as age 20.” So even if you haven’t noticed any fine lines and wrinkles yet, trust us, you will! After a friend takes a picture of you at their 30th birthday party, and you see it later and go—when the heck did those wrinkles happen?!

Instead of getting Botox or just choosing not to smile, reach for an eye cream that suits YOUR skin type. And gently dab it on using your ring fingers without tugging at the skin. After your serum has at least a minute to set, and before you go on to your next step, apply your eye cream.

Spot Treatment for Blemishes (+ Your Acid Layering Guidelines)

Spot Treatment for Blemishes (+ Your Acid Layering Guidelines)

Before applying your moisturizer, YOU can use any spot treatment for blemishes if you need to. However, to layer skincare products correctly, don’t mix acids such as vitamin C and salicylic acid. So, in case you’re using a vitamin C serum in the morning, don’t use any acne treatment with salicylic acid afterwards. Combining these acids can work against each other, which means both products won’t have their full effect.

You also don’t want to layer acne products with niacinamide (vitamin B3) with vitamin C, as they can cancel each other out, too. And if you use a serum with glycolic acid, don’t layer it with a spot treatment with salicylic acid for the same reason!

Another pro tip for the best way to layer skincare? Never mix retinol (we’ll get to your retinol routine in a sec!) with any acne treatments. It’s best to use these products at different times of the day to help each retain their utmost effectiveness for your skin.

Next to Last To Layer Skincare: Moisturizer

Next to Last To Layer Skincare - Moisturizer

Now, we finally get to your moisturizer! Even if your skin is of oily type, moisturizer is still generally recommended by skincare pros. It is all about finding the right one for your skin type—oily skin types can usually go with a lighter moisturizer.

While dry skin types will need a more intensive product, your moisturizer goes on after you do your cleansing, toner, serums, and spot treatment. But it never goes on before your sunscreen.

Don’t Forget the Sunscreen!

Don’t Forget the Sunscreen!

In the morning, put on your sunscreen after your moisturizer. It is crucial because sunscreen needs to protect your skin, so you can’t layer face products on top of it. The final step of your skincare should always be sunscreen before YOU head out for the day (yes, even in the winter!). Aim to use an SPF of at least 15-30 every day to help prevent premature skin ageing and skin cancer.

Retinol: Only Use at Night as Your Last Step

Retinol - Only Use at Night as Your Last Step

At night, it’s time for retinol! So instead of doing your sunscreen as you did for your morning routine, you’ll do retinol. Retinol should come after your moisturizer (or maybe in your moisturizer) and be exclusively in your evening skincare routine.

Retinol is a derivative of vitamin A that can actually cause DNA damage when exposed to sunlight, so you always want to use this every night. You don’t need much retinol for it to be effective, so always follow the directions before applying!

Secret Last Step To Layer Skincare: Facial Oils

Secret Last Step To Layer Skincare - Facial Oils

If you use any type of facial oil as a moisturizer or as part of an anti-ageing skincare routine, you should use it at last instead of having your moisturizer as your last step. However, you do need to put sunblock over it. Also, don’t use retinol with facial oils, as it won’t penetrate the oil to work its magic on your skin.

What Does Your Skincare Routine Look Like?

The best order to apply skincare products generally goes from thinner products to thicker—so think of soap first, then oils last! So, what is in YOUR skincare routine when it comes to layering skincare products? Let us know in the comments below!

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