Healthy skin is definitely “in.” More and more people are taking their skincare seriously, hoping to choose the right products for everything from sun protection to anti-aging regimens. Once you find the right products, you want to be sure you’re using them correctly. What is the correct order of skin care products?
Conventional wisdom always brings it down to the brass tacks of “cleanse, tone, and moisturize.” Yet in this day and age of specialized products with intriguing active ingredients and skin care as self-care, it seems the proper order of skincare products is slightly more complex.
Why Layering Your Skin-Care Products Correctly Matters
Unless you’re using a prescription program, knowing what product to put on (and in what order) can get confusing. But if you ask a dermatologist, it appears the order really comes down to basic chemistry.
You see, water and oil-based products don’t mix, so they’ll interfere with each other’s ability to penetrate the skin.
For example, if your moisturizer is oil-based, then you layer on a water-based retinol product or sunscreen over it, you’re undermining your water-based products’ chances of working.
If you truly want to maximize the effectiveness of your skincare products, you’ll want to apply them in a way that allows for maximum absorption. This means water-based products must go on first, before oil-based products, since water won’t be able to penetrate the layers of oil.1
Skin Care Step 1: Use the Right Cleanser For Your Skin Type
If you wear makeup, gently wipe it off using micellar water or your chosen makeup remover. Following this step, cleansing your skin is important to rid it of makeup residue, dirt, and excess oil that can cause clogged pores and breakouts.
Some cleansers also gently slough off dead skin cells to help renew and revitalize your skin. This is essential before you apply moisturizer — your face needs to be fresh and clean.
With so many cleansing products and formulations on the market, it’s imperative to select the one most beneficial to your skin type. Some formulations or active ingredients can aggravate skin problems you might already have, so it’s best to find one that works with the type of facial skin you have.2
Figuring Out Your Skin Type
Your skin type is often most directly related to how much oil your skin produces and retains:
Oily Skin – If you have oily skin, your face will often show a slight sheen even a couple of hours after washing. Oily skin might also be more prone to breakouts. Also, makeup might have trouble staying put longer.
Dry Skin – People with dry skin often experience tightness in their face after washing if they don’t moisturize properly. They could also be prone to flakiness or dry patches.
Sensitive Skin – If you have sensitive skin, you may have experienced adverse reactions to skin care products in the past. You may also be extra-sensitive to UV rays, resulting in red and itchy skin. You should also talk to a dermatologist if you have eczema, hay fever, and other allergies, as these might be related.
Combination Skin – People with combination skin might experience more oiliness and shine in the T-zone (forehead, nose, and chin), but will have drier or more sensitive skin on their cheeks.
Normal Skin – If you’re one of the lucky few who don’t produce too much oil, don’t experience dryness or sensitivity to other products or the sun, and generally don’t break out, you may be labeled as a “normal” skin type. Limitations to what products you can and should use are few, if there are any at all.3
Finding The Right Cleanser Formulation
If you have…
- Oily Skin or Combination Skin – Choose a gel-based or foam-type cleanser that can gently but effectively rid your skin of excess oil. Beneficial active ingredients include salicylic acid, glycolic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and tea tree oil.
- Dry, Sensitive, or Normal Skin – A cream-based cleanser can offer the cleansing and moisturizing properties your skin type needs. However, the thick formulation can clog your pores, so make sure you follow up with a good swipe of a toner-soaked cotton pad. Good active ingredients to look out for include vitamin E and jojoba butter.4
Should You Use Cleansing Oil?
Cleansing oil has recently gained popularity as a great way to remove makeup and impurities from the skin. While it can feel strange adding even more oil to your face, the science behind it is sound. Cleansing oil binds the “bad” oils and rinses them away, leaving your face soft and well-moisturized.
For some, it functions as a multi-purpose product: cleanser and moisturizer in one, effectively shortening their skincare routine.
Even those with oily skin can benefit from cleansing oil, because they don’t have to worry about the product clogging their pores.
As it turns out, cleansing oils may also include other skin-boosting ingredients for added benefits, like:
- Antioxidants that may help to reduce damage caused by free radicals on the skin.
- Hydrating, anti-aging botanical elements that could replace your usual retinol-based products.5
Skin Care Step 2: Tone Or Exfoliate To Prep Skin
Toners used to get a bad rap for being overly astringent, but today’s formulations contain several skin benefits and help prep the skin to reap the full rewards of your product lineup’s active ingredients.
Depending on the type you use, some toners are meant to exfoliate or rid the skin on further pore-clogging dirt and residue, while others can add more hydrating, brightening, and skin-plumping benefits.6
Skincare Step 3: Special Treatments (Serum, Eye Cream, Spot Treatment)
With skin properly cleansed and prepped, moisturizers and special serums and eye creams can now be layered on.
Should You Use A Serum?
Serums are like booster shots for the face. They are usually water-based and are intended to target specific skin concerns such as:
- Lightening dark spots and pigmentation (one popular choice is a vitamin C serum)
- Improving skin tone and firmness
- Amplifying moisture and hydrating your skin7
Choosing An Eye Cream
Eye creams specifically target the needs of your sensitive under-eye area. If your eye cream is thinner than your moisturizer, it should be applied first. It it is thicker or denser than your moisturizer, it can be applied after.
The right eye cream should be able to address a host of complaints, like:
- Lightening dark circles
- Smoothing out fine lines and crow’s feet
- Smoothing rough or patchy skin
Make sure you gently apply eye cream by tapping on a small amount of product.
Step 4: Spot Treatment
If you have skin that is prone to breakouts or just notice a few zits here and there you might try a spot treatment. These usually contain blemish-fighting ingredients like benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid.
Step 4: Moisturizer And Face Oil
For moisturizer, retinol and facial oils, apply the water water-based products first. If they are all oil-based they can be applied interchangeably or can even be mixed.
For moisturizer, you may want to opt for lighter, more easily-absorbed products for daytime, so you can layer your sunscreen on without feeling too sticky. For nighttime skincare, a richer night cream or moisturizer might be more preferable.
Step 5: Sunscreen
Sunscreen should be a crucial step in your morning skincare line up and shouldn’t be skipped. Although sunscreen works to protect your skin from harmful UV rays, many sunscreens contain harsh chemicals.
To avoid these skin-damaging chemicals, look for a mineral-based sunscreen that contains an SPF of 30 or higher.
Mineral sunscreens sit on top of the skin to reflect away UV light, and work best when applied last in your skincare routine as a protective coating.
Talk To Your Dermatologist
Knowing how to properly apply your skincare products just might mean the difference between seeing great results or feeling like you’re wasting a ton of time and money.
You might also like to look into probiotic skin care products.
When in doubt, talk to an expert. Consult with your dermatologist. They can help explain the right types of creams, lotions, serums, moisturizer, and other products you should use – and the order you need to use them.
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