The Perfect Order For Your Skincare Routine

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What's the perfect order for your skincare routine? When it comes to taking care of your skin, there always seems to be a new miracle face mask or life-changing serum to try. If you're anything like us, you probably have shelves and shelves filled with oils, creams, and peels for your skin — but you might be a little bit confused about how you're supposed to use them all! With so many different types of skincare products out there, it's important to understand how layering products correctly can make all the difference; put the wrong product on top of another, and you might risk canceling the two out, or even experiencing a bad reaction. Here are the signs your skincare is doing more harm than good.

In 2020, Vogue explored the importance of layering skin care products correctly. They spoke to skincare guru Marcia Kilgore of Beauty Pie, who explained that in general, you should layer products from lightest to heaviest. Nevertheless, the more products you add to your skincare routine, the more complicated this rule becomes. To that end, we did some more digging, and figured out the perfect order for your skincare routine.

In the evening, the perfect order for your skincare routine starts with a cleansing balm

According to Cosmopolitan, the general consensus in the beauty world is that the perfect order for your skincare routine starts with a cleanser. This certainly makes sense as far as we're concerned — you wouldn't want to start applying creams and serums onto oily, dirty skin! So, in both the morning and the evening, start your skincare routine by washing your face with a cleanser. "A cleansing balm is the perfect first step as the oils infused into it actually help to pull oil from the skin and unblock the pores," a skincare specialist explained to Look Fantastic

When it comes to your first cleanser, most professionals recommend using an oil-based balm that will remove any makeup you've been wearing. In the second stage, you'll see that professionals suggest using a second cleanser, too. 

What's the difference between oil-based cleansers and water-based cleansers? And what about those beloved quick-and-easy makeup wipes? According to Glamour, who spoke to Dr. Joshua Zeichner, makeup wipes are pretty inefficient. Zeichner explained that makeup wipes simply smear your makeup around your face and can even cause irritation and inflammation. Boo!

The perfect order for your skincare routine requires a second cleanser

Washing your face with a cleansing balm removes makeup, sunblock, and anything else lingering on your skin. However, most skincare professionals agree that a cleansing balm isn't quite enough to fully cleanse the skin of oils and makeup at the end of the day. To that end, after you wash your face with an oil-based cleanser, washing with a water-based cleanser comes next in the perfect order of your skincare routine. As Dr. Anjali Mahto explained to Elle, "A second round of cleansing will clean much deeper into the pores to remove any impurities."

Additionally, when washing with a cleanser, it's important to use the correct technique. According to skincare brand L'Oreal, there are actually quite a few mistakes that people tend to make. First, always wash your hands before using your cleanser. It sounds like a no-brainer, but plenty of folks forget that unwashed hands can transfer bacteria to your skin. Next, splash your face with water, then go ahead and wash it. Finally, L'Oreal explained that you should treat this stage as a facial massage as opposed to an aggressive scrub.

After washing your face, use toner in the perfect order for your skincare routine

Once you've finished cleansing your face, the next step in the perfect order for your skincare routine is toner. As Women's Health noted, toners have made a comeback. "Historically toners were used as a way to balance the pH of the skin after using an alkaline soap product for cleansing," Washington-based dermatologist Dr. Rebecca Kazin explained to the magazine. Of course, most of us no longer use alkaline soap in our routines; because of this, most modern-day toners are no longer made with alcohol.

These days, toners are designed to prepare the skin for more indulgent products like moisturizers and serums, while removing any leftover sebum or makeup after cleansing. Additionally, while some toners are made to keep oily skin at bay, others contain hydrating ingredients to keep dry skin hydrated. Indeed, toners really are for everyone, regardless of their skin type. This is how toner will completely transform your skin.

Toner should be applied to the face and neck with a cotton pad in both the morning and the evening.

Next come essences and boosters in the perfect order for your skincare routine

After the toner, things start to get a little more fun and interesting in the perfect order for your skincare routine. This is when you should apply essences and boosters, according to Cosmopolitan

So, what exactly is a facial essence? These products skyrocketed in popularity, thanks to the popularity of Korean skincare. Julia Marinkovich, a skincare brand Representative, explained to Elle that facial essences are similar to toners, with a few key differences. "Essences have similar benefits to a serum, and with a lower molecular weight than most daily creams," she revealed. "They work to penetrate the skin much deeper than your average moisturizer."

Essentially, essences are designed to help the other products in your routine work effectively. According to facialist Michaella Bolder, who spoke to Vogue in 2019, boosters are "a powerhouse of active ingredients, or often one single concentrated ingredient, [that] target specific skin conditions where you need an extra hit." While these products aren't essential in a skincare routine, they may help you to get better results and target your unique skin concerns.

If you're in the mood to pamper yourself, a face mask is next in the perfect order for your skincare routine

According to skincare company Bioelements, there's some debate about whether face masks should be used before or after the toner stage in the perfect order for your skincare routine. "Spritzing the skin with the appropriate toner for your skin type and skin concerns balances the pH of the skin, and maximizes absorption of the key ingredients of whichever mask you will apply next," the company's director of education explained. Essentially, toners are great primers for masks. If you use a facial essence or booster, this product can also prep the mask to do its job effectively.

Of course, if you want to use your face mask before the toner stage, that's fine too! Toner can also help to soothe any irritation from the mask and prep the skin for serums and moisturizers. 

According to Refinery29, you should only use a mask once a week, or you could risk redness, acne, itching, or dryness. That's a skincare mistake that can make you look older, too.

Up to three serums come next in the perfect order of your skincare routine

If you're a skincare nerd, you've probably come across a wide range of serums on the market. As dermatologist Dr. Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin told Women's Health, "a serum is essentially a highly concentrated amount or percentage of an active ingredient used for the benefit of skin health." So, these products are potent, targeted solutions designed to tackle specific skin concerns. Popular serum ingredients include vitamin C serum — which will completely transform your skin — vitamin E, niacinamide, AHA, BHA, collagen, and more. Each ingredient reportedly targets different skin conditions, so you should choose your serums based on your individual skin type.

Additionally, you may choose to use multiple serums in one go in the perfect order for your skincare routine. According to dermatologist Craig Austin, who spoke to Dermstore, serums "can be mixed and work well together, especially if you have a number of skincare woes that need addressing." He went on to say that serums should ideally be used at night. However, esthetician Enrique Ramirez added that you should probably stop at three serums, as more may risk reducing your skin's absorption levels.

Once or twice a day, add an eye cream to the perfect order of your skincare routine

What's the truth about crow's feet, and how can you avoid them? If you're concerned about developing them, or eye bags or puffiness for that matter, eye creams can target the delicate skin around your eyes, and keep you looking young and healthy. However, eye creams are often left out of skincare routines because many people assume that moisturizers can cover the eye area too (via an expert Medium post). That's not usually the case, though, as eye creams tend to have more specialized ingredients for tackling specific eye area concerns. Plus, they are less likely to irritate the sensitive skin around the eye. 

In terms of when to apply the eye cream, make up artist Bobbi Brown told Women's Health that this product should come after serums and before moisturizer. And according to Birch Box, many folks make the mistake of putting eye cream on after everything else, which isn't the perfect order for your skincare routine. By applying the product prior to your thicker creams and oils, it will have a better chance of absorbing into the skin because there will be less of a barrier.

Use any spot treatments in this stage of the perfect order for your skincare routine

One of the worst parts about growing up is realizing that acne isn't just a teen thing. In fact, dealing with adult acne can be frustrating and downright depressing. What's the real reason you're still getting acne as an adult, anyway?

So if you need to spot treat your acne, use treatments after your serums and before your moisturizer in the perfect order for your skincare routine. According to Cosmopolitan, spot treatments are best used at night, when the skin works hard to repair itself. However, if you have a longer skincare routine that includes toners and a retinol layer, it may be best to avoid spot treatments in the evening, and use them in the morning to avoid irritation.

If you're using a spot cream like benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, it's wise to apply moisturizer to all areas of the skin that don't need spot treatment. Then, dab on the spot treatment, before sealing off the area with a dab of moisturizer on top. This process helps you to avoid spreading harsh chemicals around the whole face when you moisturize later.

Moisturizer is an important step in the perfect order for your skincare routine

Of all of the steps in the perfect order for your skincare routine, it's safe to say that the moisturizing is one of the most important. It's crucial to moisturize at least once, and usually twice a day, according to the University of Tennessee Medical Center, especially after a hot shower or a skin exfoliation. Moisturizing also keeps the skin balanced and stops it from becoming too oily or too dry.

Moisturizers are often the final stage of a skincare routine, as they seal in all of the other products you've used, and create a protective barrier against pollutants and bacteria (via Cosmopolitan). Additionally, according to Harvard Medical School, moisturizers contain three main ingredients: occlusives, humectants, and emollients. Occlusives hold in water, keeping the skin from becoming dry. Humectants draw in water from the outer layers of skin and the air. Finally, emollients effectively fill in textured areas, giving the skin a smoother, plumper appearance.

If you're concerned, here's how to tell you're using the wrong moisturizer.

In the evening, you may wish to swap out your moisturizer for a night cream in the perfect order for your skincare routine

If you're concerned about the perfect order for your skincare routine, you may want to use a more intensive moisturizing product in the evening to really give your skin the hydration it needs. According to skincare company Mario Badescu, moisturizers are usually more lightweight than night creams. Night creams are made with nourishing ingredients that can kick in and help the skin repair and replenish overnight.

As Dr. Justin Kluk, a consultant dermatologist, told Marie Claire, "The skin blood flow rate has been shown to be affected by the circadian rhythm, increasing in the late afternoon and evening," making evening the ideal time to pamper your skin with some thicker moisturizing creams. Wearing night cream every night really is worth it!

Bear in mind that many night creams include additional active ingredients to improve the skin's glowiness and texture; be careful to find out if the ingredients in your night cream can be used alongside the ingredients in your serums and spot treatments to avoid irritating the skin.

If you use retinol, use it after your moisturizer in the perfect order for your skincare routine

Even though moisturizer is widely regarded as the final step of the perfect order for your skincare routine, there are a few caveats. One important exception is retinol, a product made using a derivative of vitamin A. It's often touted as a miracle ingredient that quickly combats both aging and acne (via InStyle). When you use retinol every day, this is what happens to your face.

As Dr. Mona Gohara told Cosmopolitan, retinol should be used after moisturizer. But other professionals suggest that the retinol is more effective when applied before the moisturizer, although it's also more likely to cause irritation (via Good Housekeeping).

However, in a 2020 Glamour article, Dr. Morgan Rabach suggested that newcomers to retinol use a technique called buffering to avoid dryness or irritation. The technique, which is called buffering, is to apply the retinol and the moisturizer at the same time. "Buffering dilutes the retinol and makes it more tolerable overall," Rabach explained. So if you find that retinol makes your skin too dry, try the buffering technique while you build up a tolerance.

Facial oils should come next in the perfect order for your skincare routine

With boosters, essences, serums, and oils, it can get pretty confusing trying to sort out which products fall into which category. But in addition to retinol, there's another facial product that should be applied post moisturizer: facial oil. As the skincare company Kiehl's explained, facial oils are made of oil-based ingredients "that work as an emollient moisturizer." These products help to seal in moisture and keep the skin extra hydrated.

Dr. Jennifer Lucas of the Cleveland Clinic spoke to Today about how to use facial oils effectively. "You can always add a few drops to your facial moisturizer or serum to achieve additive properties," she shared. She went on to explain that oils should be used once a day ,in either the morning or the evening, in the perfect order of your skincare routine. 

Apparently, facial oils can even be used as spot treatments to help with the appearance of wrinkles or dryness!

Every morning, protect your skin with an SPF in the perfect order of your skincare routine

Every day, an essential product to use on your skin is good old-fashioned sunscreen. According to Healthline, you should aim to use a sunscreen that is a broad spectrum, and that's at least SPF 30 or above. Skincare company La Roche-Posay explained that SPF should always be worn, and should be applied 20 minutes before going outside so that it has ample time to soak into the skin. For optimal coverage, you should aim to reapply your sunscreen every two hours. Here's what happens when you skip the sunscreen.

And why is SPF so crucial? Well, as dermatologist Dr. Shilesh Iyer explained to Forbes, harmful UV rays are always present, whatever the weather may be. Plus, the more intricate your skincare routine, the more likely your skin will be harmed by sun exposure. Products like exfoliating acids and retinol make you even more sensitive (via Cosmopolitan), so protecting your skin with an SPF is a must!

Don't forget lip balm, as it's the last step in the perfect order of your skincare routine

While it's not necessarily an essential step, we love sealing off our skincare routines with some lip balm. Many of us forget to moisturize our lips, especially in the evening, which can lead to dry, cracked lips the next day.

While lip balm is a great way to keep the lips moisturized, there are actually a few other products we can use to keep our lips soft and healthy. As Hello Giggles pointed out, we should all develop our own lip care routines to go along with our skincare routines!

Lip sleeping masks and lip serums are perfect for wearing overnight to re-hydrate and smooth out the lips. You can also find lip exfoliants and scrubs on the market that help to get rid of old dead skin cells, and prepare the lips for balms. Finally, in the daytime, we recommend wearing an SPF specifically made for the lips. Remember, lips can burn in the sun, too, so it's important to protect them!