Are You Applying Your Skincare Products in the Right Order?

We have it down to a science.

By Jenn Rose Smith
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It definitely matters what order you apply your skincare products,” says Camille’s dermatologist, Elizabeth Geddes-Bruce.

At Westlake Dermatology, Dr. Geddes-Bruce helps clients figure out  custom skincare routines based on their particular skin type. She also takes a close look at exactly which products her clients are using. “For example, certain moisturizers have properties that can block the absorption of other active ingredients, while other moisturizers actually enhance the penetration of skincare products,” says Dr. Geddes-Bruce. “So it all depends on what specific products you’re using.”

She says that consistency is key to getting great results (although a few products, such as exfoliators or heavy moisturizers, may not be suitable for everyday use.) And depending on your skin type, you may not be able to tolerate some products on a daily (or nightly) basis, such as vitamin A creams or gels. This is where consulting an expert can be really valuable. Read on for Dr. Geddes-Bruce’s expert advice on the right way to order your skincare routine.

Let’s start with the morning routine. What products work best for the morning, and in what order?

A skin care regimen is something that is tailored specifically to you. Keeping in mind that everyone’s skin care needs are different, an ideal morning skin care regimen may look a little like the following:

1. Cleanse

It’s important to gently remove the excess oil and debris that has accumulated on the skin overnight. Not only will this step prevent pesky acne breakouts, it’s a crucial step to optimize the results from the rest of your routine.

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2. Tone

Toning is an optional next step that comes after (or in place of) cleansing the skin. Some toners are used to remove residual soap or excess oil, while others claim to balance the skin pH and moisturize. If an extra step in the mornings doesn’t sound like a chore, go ahead and give it a try. Your skin will tell you if it’s worth it. 

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3. Prevent

Next you should apply an antioxidant such as topical vitamin C. Antioxidants often come in the form of a serum, or a very light lotion, and need to be applied before moisturizers to enhance skin uptake. Antioxidants prevent damage from oxidative stress in the world around us – things like pollution and infrared or UV radiation. That’s why it’s important that they are part of your morning routine. Don’t waste them at bedtime.

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4. Moisturize and Hydrate

This should be one of the next to last steps in your morning routine.

In general, think about applying your products from thinnest to thickest.

Thicker moisturizers work by creating a barrier to prevent water loss. This barrier also can prevent the penetration of key active ingredients, like those in your antioxidant. And depending on your skin type, this may be a step you skip. For example, if you are very oily and battling hormonal acne breakouts, you may only need to moisturize at bedtime.

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5. Protect

The last step (before make up) should be the application of your sunscreen. This is especially important if you choose a physical blocking sunscreen with mineral particles like titanium, iron or zinc. Protecting your skin from daily ultraviolet radiation exposure will not only prevent the formation of skin cancers, but will also help you age gracefully. Some sunscreens contain moisturizers, which allow you to combine the last two steps in this morning regimen.

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Does water temp matter when washing your face?

Hot water can be terribly irritating and lead to over-drying the skin, so don’t do it. And while a splash of cold water can be invigorating, it’s not ideal for cleansing or the application of your skin care products. Cleansing your face with lukewarm water is best. This goes for acne-prone skin as well.

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What about the nighttime routine? How should it be different than the morning?

An ideal nighttime skin care routine begins with the basics of cleansing, toning, and moisturizing, but then focuses on repairing damage with vitamin A products (example, retinoids), growth factors and peptides. These reparative products, in general, should be applied before your nightly moisturizer in order to optimize their absorption.

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Are there certain products that should only be applied once or twice a week? Which ones and why?

Depending on your skin type, you may only be able to tolerate applying a topical vitamin A product once or twice a week. These products are frequently irritating for individuals with normal to sensitive skin, but less irritating versions do exist and your board-certified dermatologist can help guide you on which one is best.

Other products that are good to frequently use, but not necessarily on a daily basis, are exfoliators. These come in physical (think scrubs) or chemical versions. The chemical exfoliators are often more gentle and rely on different acids (alpha and beta hydroxy acids) to help loosen dead skin cells. It’s best to do your exfoliation in the morning, after (or in place of) cleansing. On those days make sure you don’t skip the moisturizer as your skin can be more sensitive.