What’s Actually The Right Order To Use Your Products?

Routine 101

What’s Actually The Right Order To Use Your Products?

By Hanna Yowell

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Trying to figure out the order of your skincare routine may feel like a frantic, last-minute, Thanksgiving grocery run for the family. You’re probably receiving conflicting information, and you’ll inevitably end up forgetting the most important thing.

But now that you’ve figured out what products to use and how to introduce new ones to your routine, we’ll roundout this skincare starter kit with what order to apply your products.

This template will be a general guide to help you layer any product into your routine. Note: as you get to know your skin better, and with the help of an esthetician, you may learn to customize the order even further. For example, drier skin types may not like a morning cleanse—just a splash of water instead. Or, you might realize that a double cleanse works best for you. For now, here are the basics:

Routine Order: The Straightforward Approach
Morning Skincare Routine
  1. Cleanser: Remove anything that’s accumulated on your skin overnight, such as hair products stuck to your pillowcase.
  2. Toner: Hydrate and/or absorb oil, plus boost the efficacy of the following products.
  3. Serum: Treat specific skin conditions in the order of thinnest to thickest consistency.
    *Morning serums are commonly focused on hydration or giving skin an antioxidant boost.
  4. Moisturizer: Restore moisture and hydration to the skin barrier.
    *Morning moisturizers are commonly more lightweight and easily-absorbed.
  5. SPF: Protect skin from UVA/UVB rays and free radical damage.
Nighttime Skincare Routine
  1. Oil Cleanser: Remove impurities, grime, sunscreen, and makeup from the day.
    *All skin can benefit from a double cleanse, especially a dry skin type or acneic/oily skin types who may use an active second cleanse. Those who wear makeup should also double cleanse.
  2. Second Cleanser: Work deeper to clean out pores, while infusing skin with the cleanser’s other benefits, like hydration or acne-fighting ingredients.
  3. Toner: Hydrate and/or absorb oil, plus boost the efficacy of the following products
  4. Serum: Treat specific skin conditions in the order of thinnest to thickest consistency.
    *Nighttime serums are commonly focused on renewing, resurfacing and speeding up cell turnover, and hydrating.
  5. Moisturizer: Restore moisture and hydration to the skin barrier.
    *Evening moisturizers are commonly richer and thicker in consistency, especially during colder weather.
  6. Facial Oil: Seal in hydration to reinforce your moisture barrier.
Routine Order: The Slightly More Complicated Approach

Now let’s talk about products whose order placement isn’t as cut-and-dry.

For prescription retinols, you’ll typically apply this step onto dry skin before your moisturizer—but always check with your dermatologist. You may be advised to use it after a moisturizer, which buffers the retinol and lessens risk of irritation. If it’s a non-prescription retinol, apply it according to what type of product it is—a retinol moisturizer will act as the moisturizer step of your routine, while a retinol serum will act as the serum step. Note: we recommend only applying retinol at night due to photosensitivity.

For exfoliants, if it’s a product that exclusively exfoliates (like Eminence’s Dermafoliant) use it at night right after you cleanse. Exfoliating masks will also be applied right after you cleanse. If it’s a hybrid product like an exfoliating face wash, follow the non-exfoliant product’s order. For example, the Oat Cleansing Polish is an exfoliant and a cleanser, so you would use it as the first step in your routine. The frequency of exfoliation will depend on skin type and skin conditions, but we typically advise 1-2x per week.

If you’re using an essence, apply it between your toner and any serums. An essence functions as the middleman between these two steps—this product tends to be more nourishing and hydrating than toners, but not as concentrated as serums. However, its ultimate purpose is to add a moisturizing layer, enhancing the penetration of the next product you apply.

If you’re applying a mask, it will depend on the mask’s instructions, but it should also be applied onto cleansed skin. If the mask is supposed to be rinsed off (like an exfoliating or detoxifying mask), apply it right after cleansing. If the mask is supposed to be left on overnight, apply it right before your moisturizer. You can also “multi-mask” to target different areas—like applying a charcoal-based mask to an oily T-zone, versus a hydrating mask to your cheeks, forehead, and neck.

Spot treatments should be used as needed, generally as the last step in your evening routine. If you want to apply a pimple patch, you may want to blot the spot with a clean tissue so the patch is able to stick.

Not least, but sometimes last, the order of eye cream is a matter of personal preference. If you have more sensitive skin around your eyes, try applying your treatment right after your toner and before any serums. If not, this step can go either before or after your moisturizer. Just make sure to lightly tap it around your orbital bone—not too close to the eyes.

This template will be a general guide to help you layer any product into your routine. Note: as you get to know your skin better, and with the help of an esthetician, you may learn to customize the order even further.

Thou Shall Not Mix

When it comes to potent, hard-working ingredients like retinoids and exfoliants, it’s important to start low and slow. By recognizing (1) what time of day the product is recommended and (2) what ingredients have exfoliating properties, you can avoid irritating the skin and optimize your routine for best results.

“The ingredients you can use together will always depend on the person, their skin’s sensitivity level, the other products in their routine, and where they are in their skincare journey,” advises Heyday Skincare Educator Alexandra Serron. “If you’re a newbie, you won’t use retinols and AHAs/BHAs together, as it can cause irritation and flakiness. In the end, an esthetician can give you the most specific guidance for your skin type and its tolerance.”

Here are a few ingredient combinations we generally advise against:

Retinol + Vitamin C: Don’t use both in the same AM or PM routine. Vitamin C-based products should generally be used in the morning, whereas retinol products should always be used at night.

Retinol + Salicylic AcidYou should use both at night, but not on the same day.

Salicylic Acid + Benzoyl Peroxide: You should use both at night, but not on the same day.

How To Order Often Confusing Products

We’ve been there—some products are just downright befuddling. Let’s break down how to add some of our favorite, but slightly more nuanced, products into your daily or weekly lineup.

Hydrating Sheet Masks

In the evening after you’ve cleansed, exfoliated (1-2x per week), toned, and applied any serums, then it’s time for a hydrating sheet mask. Leave this ultra-nourishing, calming treatment on for 15-20 minutes before removing, and lightly massage any remaining serum into skin for instantly glowy, supple skin.

Exfoliating Jar Masks

You only need to exfoliate 1-2x per week, so when it’s time, this exfoliating mask comes right after your cleanse in the evening. In only 20 minutes, skin is refreshed and instantly revitalized—just rinse off and follow with any toners and serums you use.

Lightweight Serums

Directly after cleansing and toning, apply a thin, even layer of your lightweight serum to the skin. GA’s Instant Smoothing Serum is an ideal first serum thanks to sodium hyaluronate’s lower molecular weight which makes it easy for skin to absorb for maximum hydration.

Velvety Serums

After a lighter weight serum or toner, it’s time for any serums thicker in consistency. This luxurious, velvety serum targets wrinkles and dark spots by stimulating cell renewal and hydrating deeply.

Still Got A Q?

If you’re still unsure of your product order, or receive a new product and aren’t sure where to add it, we recommend chatting with one of our skin experts on our site—just click the chat bubble on our homepage.

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