Essences, sheet masks, exfoliators, actives? We get it. It can be confusing to know what order to apply products in your skincare routine. We'll break it down for you here -- the order of your skincare routine and general rules of thumb you can keep in mind.
THE ORDER OF YOUR SKINCARE ROUTINE
Here's the quick summary for those who want a quick cheat sheet. We're also indicating whether to apply AM and/or PM, but please keep in mind that these are general rules of thumb for each product category, but it may differ based on the specific formula.
1. Oil-based cleanser - to remove oil-based impurities like makeup, SPF, and sebum (PM; AM optional)
2. Water-based cleanser - to remove water-based impurities like dirt, grime and sweat (PM cleansing step 2; AM)
3. Prescription topicals - best applied on clean, dry skin unless otherwise instructed. For example, the prescription topical is a moisturizer and should be applied during your moisturizer step or your prescription topical is best buffered after applying moisturizer if it's too harsh. There should be specific instructions on when to apply, and applying after cleansing is a general rule of thumb. (AM and/or PM based on instructions and if this step is relevant for you)
4. Toner - helps balance the skin's pH level (AM and PM)
5. Essence - helps to drench skin with hydration and enhances absorption of next steps in your skincare routine (AM and PM)
6. Vitamin C - helps leave dark spots, hyperpigmentation and scarring looking brighter, more even-toned and more transparent (AM)
7. Serums / ampoules - concentrated treatments that contain specific ingredients designed to target specific skin concerns (AM and PM)
8. Eye creams / eye essences - treatments to benefit the eye area; sometimes, the preference is to apply your eye cream prior to your serum/ampoule if your serum/ampoule is particularly action-packed and you may want a buffer around your eye area (AM and PM)
9. Blemish spot treatments - some blemish treatments are best applied in step 3. However, if the blemish spot treatment is designed to be a protective covering on skin to help the blemish disappear like the Acne Spot Dots, it's best applied at this step. (AM and PM or as preferred)
10. Moisturizers / sleeping masks / oils - moisturizers and sleeping masks (ie. concentrated night creams that work intensively like masks) can be oil-free or oil-based. If this is the case, it's best to apply an oil after your moisturizer. If your moisturizer/sleeping mask oil-based, still the general rule of thumb is to apply your oil afterwards to get the most of your moisturizer/night cream. However, if you prefer the feeling or results of applying your oil first, that's also OK! (AM and PM)
11. SPF - helps protect our skin from the sun's UV rays. We recommend using SPFs that offer broad spectrum coverage, and to reapply every 2-3 hours throughout the day. (AM and throughout the day)
11. Exfoliators - helps slough off dead skin cells and keeps cell turnover high for glowing skin, better product absorption, minimized breakouts, and diminished look of lines and wrinkles. There are physical/manual exfoliators and chemical exfoliators. They key is to exfoliate the right amount -- not too little and not too much. We prefer exfoliating in the evenings as in the mornings, makeup, SPF, sun, pollution can be a bit more aggressive on just-exfoliated skin. The evenings are still just mere hours away from facing the day's potential aggressors on skin, so it's recommended to be gentle with skin and keep it protected with SPF (which we should wear regardless of exfoliating) after exfoliating. Some gentle exfoliators are meant to be used daily and some are meant to be used weekly or up to a few times a week. Typically, exfoliators will come after cleansing - and would become Step 2 of your evening routine on the days you're exfoliating. (PM)
12. Sheet masks / wash-off masks / other treatment masks - treatments that are typically more concentrated to boost intended results for specific skincare concerns. Depending on the formula, these masks can be used anywhere from daily to weekly to a few times a month. These treatments are usually best applied after cleansing and exfoliating (if you're exfoliating that day). Often times, they can also be applied after toning, essence or even after serums as well. If you prefer applying your essence and serum prior to these masks, that can work; and if you prefer applying your essence and serum after these masks, that can also work. After masking, you can opt to use just a moisturizer or apply your serum, eye cream and moisturizer. It comes down to individual formulas, but in general, we love this step because it allows you to play it by ear in terms of what your skin is craving that day. If you want a more intensive facial-like experience, cleanse, tone, mask, then apply your essence, serums and moisturizer, for example. If you want a pared down masking session, cleanse, tone, mask, then moisturize. (AM or PM)
13. Mists - hydrating, nourishing sprays that can be applied as needed throughout the day typically (use as preferred)
Now that you have the summary of steps, here are some general rules of thumb that might be helpful as you think about your skincare routine order.
First, why does your routine order matter?
One of the main reasons is to maximize results and get the most out of your routine. Skincare efficacy and achieving results is about the formula, but it's also about the ability for ingredients to be absorbed into skin. And paying attention to the order of your skincare routine can help in the absorption of your products. To achieve better absorption, here are some general aspects to keep in mind --
Thinner to thicker
Typically, oils or oil-based products are thicker than water-based products. Oils/oil-based products can act as a sort of barrier for water/water-based products. So, it would only follow that we want to put those water-based products (toners, essences, water-based serums) underneath oil-based products (moisturizers/oils).
Now, if you're debating two water-based serums that you're applying in one routine, thinner to thicker still applies, but mostly it's for how it feels on skin rather than molecular-size of the formula (which isn't always the most relevant way to thick about skincare order).
Mind your active ingredients
Active ingredients as defined as your acids, retinol, vitamin C, prescription topicals are best applied as closely on skin as possible for maximizing results. There's always a caveat though! Sometimes, if you find the active to harsh on skin, it's helpful to buffer the potency of the active with a layer between the active and your skin.
So, if you have a hyaluronic acid serum and a vitamin C serum, you might consider applying the vitamin C serum on skin and then following up with the hyaluronic acid serum.
When it comes to the order of your actives, a note on this:
- Vitamin C first, then BHA (salicylic acid), then AHA is generally the order for enhancing results. Why? Because the pH level of formulas containing these actives (if they're well formulated) are lowest for vitamin C, then BHA, then AHA and applying lower pH products prior to higher pH products can help in absorption. However, there are caveats here, too! It depends on the rest of the formula. Additionally, just because you have a higher pH product prior to a lower pH product, it doesn't negate all the effects and if you prefer a different order as you're seeing better results or your skin feels less irritated that way, that's OK. Always assess how your skin is feeling and reacting -- that'll be your most important guide. And finally, if you're in fact using vitamin C, BHA and AHA all in one routine, keep an eye out for reactions as that can be too much for skin depending on the concentration and your skin.
Do I need to wait a certain time period in between steps?
The main aspect to keep in mind comes back to absorption. You want to give your skin time to absorb the products -- and sometimes that can be within a minute and sometimes longer. Typically, light, faster-absorbing products can be patted in and you can move onto the next step without worrying about extensive wait times in between application. It's also about keeping your skincare routine practical, which means it's not prohibitive in terms of how much time it takes. And consistency is key when it comes to skincare. So, our recommendation is to pat and massage products in to help with absorption, and to move right onto the next step so that your whole routine is completed in a matter of minutes -- this way you'll be able to actually be consistent with your skincare. The only elements that may require a bit more patience is your prescription topicals if there are instructions for wait time or to ensure it's fully dry; and with SPF to give it time to settle into skin before applying your makeup
We hope this was helpful in answering one of the most frequently asked questions we receive! If you have additional questions, you can always email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to reach one of our skin therapists (our in-house licensed estheticians) or find us on social media @peachandlily.
As always, cheers to radiance, Peaches!