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When it comes to skin care, most of us have a lot of products (yes, even guys). Like, drawers full of products. Shelves packed with all manner of potions and lotions, each designed to give that flawless look that only comes with taking care of our skin the right way.

From peels to serums, moisturizers to eye creams, and cleansers to toners, our bathrooms are filled to the brim with products promising eternal youth (or the appearance of it).

Here’s the thing: Do you know how to properly use all of these products? Specifically, are you familiar with the art of layering? There is an order to follow when applying skin care products, and there is science behind it. Skip a step, or mix up a step, and you may miss out on some of the greatest benefits from your products.

Layering Skincare Products: Avoiding the Pile-Up

Even if you have the best skin care products in the world, if you don’t know how to layer them, they might end up worthless. They’ll be stuck in the back of that drawer you hope none of your friends ever open when they come to visit, gathering dust.

The first rule of layering is this: Be patient with your skin care routine. Allow plenty of time to apply each product in the right order, and give the products time to penetrate your skin so you can reap all of the benefits. If you are pressed for time, don’t just slather on everything at once. This pile-up can result in a greasy mess on your face or, even worse, some serious skin irritation.

Let’s take a look at how to layer your skincare products from top to bottom, in order.

1. Cleansers

Before you can apply any special treatments, you need to be sure that your face is clean. Cleanse thoroughly, especially in the evenings, to remove makeup, oil, and dirt. Proper cleansing is a must. Find a cleanser that best suits your skin type. These days, you’ve got a ton of great options. If you have sensitive skin, or if you have a specific skin condition (acne, rosacea, etc.) be sure to shop carefully and don’t use any cleanser that’s too harsh.1

2. Exfoliants

Once you’ve finished cleansing your face, you’re essentially starting with a beautiful, blank canvas. Now is the time to add exfoliation. There are topical treatments you can use that offer a gentle, daily exfoliant to your skin regime. Look for products containing alpha or beta-hydroxy acids, or hydroxyl acid (HA). Our skin naturally exfoliates, but these kinds of products can help to speed things up just a bit.2

Tip: A few times each week, consider using an exfoliating scrub or cream to slough off dead skin cells and really get a deeper clean. Don’t scrub too hard!

3. Toners

Ah, toners! The right toner can help to decrease the appearance of pores. It may also help your skin get the proper PH balance, and some toners do help with moisturizing. Toners aren’t just for removing excess oil, though they can help for those with particularly oily skin tones.

They’re also really refreshing and revitalizing. Don’t skip this third step. Enjoy it!

4. Serum

A truly great serum can do a lot for your skin. This product is typically light, and it can penetrate deeply to do its work. Apply your serum at least once each day for optimal results. Serums may contain a variety of different ingredients, each designed to help a specific issue. Vitamin C serums, for example, may help with the appearance of acne. A serum loaded with antioxidants might help brighten up a dull complexion.3

Some serums can pull double-duty: they target certain skin problems or concerns and they moisturize. This is especially true if you have oily skin. Sometimes you don’t want a thick moisturizing cream. Find the right serum, and you’ll glow, not glisten.

Also, anti-aging serums that say ‘advanced’ in the name, like our serum, indicate it’s designed for anti-aging with ingredients specific to fighting dark spots, wrinkles, and crepey skin.

Add serum to your daily skin care regime, if you haven’t already.

Tip: Although tempting to slather it on in hopes of faster results, it’s actually designed to be used sparingly. A light layer will do the trick (plus save you money by making it last longer). Just make sure to give it a minute to absorb into the skin before applying another product.

5. Eye Cream

Every skin care regimen should always include a quality eye cream. The skin around our eyes is so delicate. It is easily damaged, and eyes are often one of the first places those fine lines will form. After you’ve applied your serum, reach for the eye cream.

You’ll want to wear an eye cream every single day. Did you stay up too late last night, binging on Netflix? Look closely in the mirror. Fatigue shows in and around the eyes. If the skin gets too dry, the lines only look more pronounced. Or worse, dark circles develop. Combat this with a moisturizing eye cream.

Tip: Carefully pat or tap on your eye cream. Be gentle with this area.  And try to allow a few minutes for the cream to set and dry before you start putting on makeup.

6. Moisturizer

You’re well on your way with this art of layering routine. Now comes the product which likely does the most heavy lifting (so to speak): moisturizer. Moisturizers hydrate the skin. They also help to lock in any serum you might’ve used, forming a protective barrier.

We all know moisturizers are a must in any skin care routine. Find one that works best with your skin type. Use it daily, and liberally, morning and night. If you really want to up your game another notch, add a nighttime moisturizer to the mix. You’ll wake up and wonder why you hadn’t done this before!

Tip: Find a good moisturizer with SPF protection. Also, choose one that won’t clog pores, but will moisturize and soothe with ingredients like avocado oil, almond oil, and grapeseed oil. Moisturizers with vitamins and alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) can help improve skin texture, possibly reducing the appearance of wrinkles.4,5

Another great moisturizing option? Facial oil! If the world “oil” scares you off — don’t let it. Facial oils are lightweight and non-greasy and can do wonders for your skin. Besides moisturizing, facial oils can also use ingredients like vitamin C to lighten dark spots and encourage collagen formation.6

Last But Not Least: Sunscreen!

7. Sunscreen

Wearing sunscreen is a must. Wearing it on your face is especially important, but don’t miss your neck, hands and arms either. This is the final step in your layering routine, and it’s arguably the most important of all. Never leave the house without your sunscreen on, so you’ll be fully protected from the sun’s damaging ultraviolet rays.7 And always make sure to get the broad spectrum SPF 30 or higher if you haven’t already. It will protect you from both UVA and UVB rays.8,9

Applying a quality sunscreen should be the final step in this art of layering process. Sunscreen should always go on last. Putting another product over it might lessen its effectiveness.

Nighttime Skincare Routine

Okay, but what about your night skincare routine? Yep — there are a few tweaks to make. (After all, who needs sunscreen when you’re catching some zzz’s?)

Here’s a cheat sheet so you know how to apply skincare at night. As a night routine it includes a few additional steps.

  1. Cleanser
  2. Exfoliant
  3. Toner
  4. Spot treatments: So this is the first additional step. Spot treatments that address scars and dark spots have powerful ingredients — and you want to get these powerful ingredients as close to the skin as possible — before heavier products. This allows them to sink deeply in to repair the skin overnight. Before moving on to the next step — allow 5 minutes for any spot treatment to absorb.
  5. Serum
  6. Sheet mask: This is the second additional nighttime step — Layering Skincare | Beverly Hills MDand the most fun. Originating out of South Korea, sheet masks are made from cellulose or paper and are pre-saturated with age-fighting and moisturizing essences — like hyaluronic acid — which keep skin looking plump and youthful.10 You simply apply the mask to your face and smooth over to ensure even application. Leave on for 20-30 minutes, then discard mask. You can gently massage any remaining essence into your skin.
  7. Eye cream
  8. Moisturizer and/or facial oil

The Takeaway

Now that you’ve got the proper order down, enjoy knowing that you’re doing everything you possibly can to help your products work their magic on your skin. And, if you ever forget, just think of it this way: You’re essentially applying the products from lightest (cleansers, toners) to heaviest (moisturizers, sunscreens).

Article updated: March 27, 2018

Want more skincare tips? Check out some of my other blog posts:
5 Ways You May Be Using Your Face Mask All Wrong
19 Surprising Ways You Might Be Giving Yourself Wrinkles


Sources
1Mukhopadhyay P. Cleansers and their role in various dermatological disorders. Indian Journal of Dermatology. 2011;56(1):2. doi:10.4103/0019-5154.77542.

2Kornhauser A. Applications of hydroxy acids: classification, mechanisms, and photoactivity. CCID. 2010:135. doi:10.2147/ccid.s9042.
3Telang P. Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian Dermatology Online Journal. 2013;4(2):143. doi:10.4103/2229-5178.110593.
4Korać RKhambholja K. Potential of herbs in skin protection from ultraviolet radiation. Pharmacognosy Reviews. 2011;5(10):164. doi:10.4103/0973-7847.91114.
5Greive K, Tran D, Townley J, Barnes T. An antiaging skin care system containing alpha hydroxy acids and vitamins improves the biomechanical parameters of facial skin. CCID. 2014:9. doi:10.2147/ccid.s75439.
6Brummitte Dale Wilson F. Comprehensive Review of Ultraviolet Radiation and the Current Status on Sunscreens. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. 2012;5(9):18. Accessed October 20, 2016.
7Gasparro FP e. A review of sunscreen safety and efficacy. – PubMed – NCBI. Ncbinlmnihgov. 2016.  Accessed October 20, 2016.
8Brummitte Dale Wilson F. Comprehensive Review of Ultraviolet Radiation and the Current Status on Sunscreens. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. 2012;5(9):18. Accessed October 20, 2016.
9ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3460660. Accessed March 26, 2018.
10ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3583886. Accessed March 26, 2018.

About the Author

Dr. John Layke

Dr. John Layke grew up in Milwaukee, WI, where he knew from a young age that he wanted to practice medicine. After completing his undergraduate degree at Marquette University, Dr. Layke went on to attend medical school at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and trained in general surgery at the University of Illinois Metropolitan Group Hospitals in Chicago.