What Order Do You Apply Skincare Products?

Why spend money on a skincare routine without knowing the best way to use it? A lot of people seem to have questions about what order to use skincare products. Well, skincare routines are broken down into three main categories: cleanse, consistency, and complete.

Within each category, you can use different products, and these products will mostly depend on your skin’s needs.

Step #1: Cleanse

Photocred: Getty images/stockphoto


Should I wash my face at night or in the morning?

Cleansing is the first step. This step can be completed both in the morning or evening,  but it especially needs to be done in the evening. That way, you can remove makeup, sunscreen, and debris. Cleansing is important. It not only purifies the skin, but it removes build-up. For example, wearing makeup overnight can cause issues and acne breakouts. Even if you don’t wear makeup, you should really be cleansing at night because there is still dirt and oil that builds up throughout the day. But, if you do wear makeup, the best way to remove makeup is oil-based products.

What should I use to remove makeup?

Oil-based products break down makeup molecules. It's important to find cleansers that break down makeup because if it doesn't, you’re just kind of wiping around makeup residue. Likewise, you can double cleanse to first remove makeup, and then, wash the skin’s bare surface.

Do I exfoliate or cleanse first?

Exfoliating ingredients are also in the cleanse category. Some cleansers are exfoliating, but if you are referring to a scrub or a chemical exfoliant, you would use that second. Exfoliation can be physical, or it can be chemical. Physical exfoliants have grains like rice or sandy texture. Then, chemical exfoliants are acids like salicylic acid. If you are using an exfoliant or scrub one to three times a week, do this after cleansing because you’re removing that top layer of the skin. The skin has multiple layers, and they turnover naturally but sometimes we want it to come off faster. 

Step #2: Consistency


photo cred: WELLNEST

After the cleansing part, we get into consistency. This is Cassandra’s favorite part because these products stay on the skin and penetrate it. Step 2 or the “consistency” step includes serums, moisturizers, and toners. These impact our skin positively and give us some good actives. They are the products that offer the most treatment outcomes because they stay on your face.

We call this step consistency because any products included this step should be applied from lightest to thickest consistency. If you put a thick cream on your face first, and then, a water emulsion or a lightweight oil, the ingredients will penetrate well. That’s why we apply from the lightest to heaviest consistency. 

Should I apply toners or serums first?

During step 2, you can apply toners first. The purpose of a toner is to tone the skin and balance the pH so that your other products penetrate deeper and rebalance the skin. A toner is very lightweight and almost watery. Since some cleansers can be too harsh and strip away, the toner gives some of that back. However, some toners can be dangerous, drying, and stripping to the pores.

What do toners do?

Sometimes toners have moisturizing or active ingredients such as vitamin C. However, Cassandra likes her serums or moisturizers to do this type of hydrating/moisturizing work. In addition, toners can also get rid of blackheads like serums. 

What do serums do?

Then, you’ll want to apply a serum. A lightweight moisturizer or serum is great because they have small molecules that can penetrate the skin deeply. You can find actives (treatment/skin concern solving ingredients) salicylic acid, ferulic acid, vitamin C, glycolic acid, peptides and niacinamide in serums. Serums primarily treat skin concerns.

Should I apply a moisturizer last?

Once that serum is on your face, your skin might still feel dry or like your face needs moisture, or maybe you just seal it in. That’s where your moisturizer comes in. 

After a serum, you’ll want to apply a moisturizer. Moisturizers sit on top of the skin and hydrates the outer layers of the skin whereas serums penetrate into the lower layers of the skin. Moisturizers can have beneficial ingredients too, but overall, they hydrate the skin, and protect it from the outside world. Especially if it’s super dry outside, the moisturizer is going to deflect against. The moisturizing step is very important, even for oily prone skin. On the other hand, you can even have have oily skin because your skin is super dry. If your skin is super dry, the body might be producing to much oil.

Whereas some need a heavy moisturizers, others need moisturizers that are more light weight and hydrating. Moisturizers go on top of everything, locks all of the products in, and prepares you to complete your skincare routine. 

Step 3: Complete

photocred: Idivia

Your “complete” step is going to be different depending on if it’s day or night. In the day time, you will use SPF or makeup whereas at night you might use a mask or a cream. 

How often should I apply sunscreen?

During the day, you should not be going outside without SPF. Even if you’re sitting inside of a car, UVB rays and UVA rays can be very damaging, UVA rays penetrate through glass windows but UVB doesn’t. That’s why you can sit in your car for a long time and not get sunburned. However, you could still be damaging your skin on a cellular level and cause some DNA damage. This DNA damage can cause aging and degrade the collagen in your skin. Collagen and elastin are the rubber bands in your skin that hold everything together.

Sunscreen should be apart of every routine, and it should work with everything else you’re using. If you’re using a sunscreen that acts a moisturizer, you’re going to need a lightweight moisturizer or none at all. Some sunscreens may peel or ball up once you apply makeup.

Another complete the step might be makeup, but it’s not necessary. We should have days where we don’t feel obviated to use it and be okay with that. However, if makeup is apart of your routine, this is where you would apply it. The general consensus on sunscreen is that you need to apply it every 2-4 hours. However, this also depends on your Fitzpatrick level. Richly melanated people are naturally more protected from the sun than those who have lower Fitzpatrick levels.

If you’re doing your skincare routine at night, the very last thing is face masks. Face masks can do a lot of amazing things when it comes to your pores and how it impacts them, penetrates them, and different types of mask. Just remember though, not all masks are masks. If you have a peel off mask, that’s actually more of an exfoliator. If you have a sheet mask, that’s more of a serum. Clay masks are going to sit on the skin and act a little more like a cleanser. And finally, moisturizing and rejuvenating overnight cream masks can complete a nighttime skincare routine. Specifically, overnight masks would be step 3.