How to Layer Skincare Products: The Ultimate Guide for Best Results

How to layer skincare products

Setting up the perfect skincare regime is not always an easy task. Especially when it comes to knowing how to layer skincare products, getting it right is tricky to say the least.

Surely, we all want to achieve the best possible results with the products we use. Your skin deserves the love and care it needs to look and feel its best, right?

So what’s the correct way to layer skincare products?

How can you make sure you’re not combining the wrong products that may irritate your skin or even cancel each other out?

We’ve done the research for you and put together this guide for layering your skincare products the correct way.

By the end of this post, you will know exactly which products to use in the AM and PM, what order to apply them in, and which product combinations to avoid.

Let’s jump right in!

Why the order of your skincare products is important

First things first:

Why is it even that important to get it right with layering your skincare products?

After all, they all end up on your face, right?

Different products have different consistencies, ingredients, and purposes. Certain products can block others from absorbing into your skin if you apply them too early.

Layering them in the wrong order is one of the most common skincare mistakes these days. Getting the layering wrong means that they won’t work the way you expect. When that happens, you won’t get the results you wish to see.

Furthermore, it’s important to remember that not all products are suitable for layering.

Some active ingredients need a “clean” environment to work their magic. When combined with other products, the active ingredients can counteract each other, making them less effective overall.

Or the opposite may happen: some ingredients may intensify each other, resulting in irritation, redness, and even hyperpigmentation.

Luckily, layering your skincare products doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, you don’t even need that many products to begin with.

Choosing your skincare products: What products do you need?

Whether you are new to skincare or have a long history of taking care of your biggest organ, you want to be mindful of the products in your skincare routine.

It all starts with identifying what your skin really needs.

What’s your skin type?

Do you have dry skin, oily skin, or combination skin? Is your skin prone to acne or hyperpigmentation, for example?

What particular skin concerns do you want to address?

Do you want to get rid of acne, sun spots, or dull skin, for instance?

It’s super important to know exactly what you want to achieve with your skincare routine.

Once you know the outcome you want, it’s easier to learn how to layer skincare products for the best possible results.

Moreover, remember that your skin has different needs depending on the time of the year and your age.

Most people experience little to no problems with their skin when it’s warm and humid outside – in the summer. But during cold winter months, your skin can feel tight and itchy, and it may even develop irritation.

Hence, you should adjust your skincare routine accordingly to give your skin some extra love and care when it’s needed.

The bottom line is:

Before you start layering your skincare products, make sure you’re 100% aware of your skin type and any particular skin concerns you want to address.

Order of skincare products: Go from lightest to heaviest formulations

The most important rule for layering skincare products is:

You should always start with the lightest formulations.

Double-check your products’ consistencies, and work your way from light-weight, water-based products towards heavier, richer products.

This way, your skin can absorb all active ingredients one by one, getting you the best results.

The heavier the product, the more difficult it is to penetrate. If you start with a facial oil, it acts like a barrier that lighter products can’t get through.

Therefore, the only way to help all products do their job is to start with light formulations. Applying richer products on top of them will lock them in and help your skin look and feel even more radiant and beautiful.

So after you’ve cleansed your skin, move on to a toner. It’s the thinnest, most water-like formulation out of all your products.

Choose a toner that suits your skin type. Dry skin will love hydrating toners, while oily skin may benefit from a little extra exfoliation. If you’re battling blackheads or acne, try a toner with salicylic acid to loosen any dead skin cells and keep your pores clean.

When using serums, water-based, runny products should always come first. Then, move on to heavier products and finally apply your moisturizer and SPF.

The basics of skincare: Keep it simple

I know skincare may feel complicated with so many ingredients, products, and advice to remember.

But skincare doesn’t have to be difficult. Luckily, there are a few key guidelines you can follow to make things easier for yourself.

First of all, all skincare starts with keeping it as simple as you can.

If your skincare routine consists of 30 products and it takes 45 minutes to get through, chances are it’ll feel too complicated after a while.

Remember: when it comes to seeing results, consistency is key.

You don’t want to overwhelm yourself with too many steps and products. We’re all busy, so you want to keep things as easy and simple as possible.

Moreover, you should always listen to your skin. Take a few moments every day to see what your skin needs today. Your skin is unique, so it’s important to find what works for you.

Layering skincare products: The correct order for best results

So what’s the correct way to layer your skincare products?

Let’s go through the right order step-by-step:

1: Cleanse your skin first (AM and PM)

First things first: start by cleansing your skin.

No matter what your skin type is, you should always use a gentle cleanser. You don’t want to disrupt your skin’s own pH, strip away the beneficial oils and protective barrier on your skin by using an aggressive cleanser.

Whether you use a single cleanser or double cleanse your skin, choose a soap-free, fragrance-free product to avoid irritation.

If you wear make-up, use a cleanser that breaks down the oils and pigments. A gentle cleansing oil or balm works best for that. When double cleansing your skin, follow with a gentle cleanser designed for your skin type.

Here’s how to choose the best cleanser for your skin type:

  • Oily skin: Avoid too aggressive formulas and look for gel-based, gentle foaming cleansers.
  • Dry skin: Use creamy, rich cleansers that include ingredients supporting the skin barrier, such as hyaluronic acid and ceramides.
  • Acne-prone skin: Avoid harsh ingredients that may irritate your skin and look for gentle, creamy cleansers to minimize inflammation.
  • Sensitive skin: Use a gentle, creamy face cleanser with soothing ingredients like aloe vera or niacinamide.

2: Use a toner (AM and PM)

Now, using a toner isn’t 100% necessary. If you’re not using a toner, don’t worry. You can simply skip this step.

In our team of skincare fanatics, toners don’t really have a place in our skincare routines anymore. They simply don’t serve any specific purpose in skincare these days.

Back when cleansers used to be more aggressive, they disrupted the skin’s protective barrier and pH balance. Toners would help restore that delicate balance and prepare the skin for the next steps in your skincare routine.

But these days, most gentle cleansers are already pH-balanced, and toning isn’t really needed.

With that said, if you’ve found a toner you love and it’s helping your skin, then use it right after cleansing your skin.

Just stay away from toners that smell like nail polish or pure alcohol.

3: Apply serums (AM and PM)

Once you’re done with your toner, you may be asking:

What’s next – serum or moisturizer?

The answer is: serum, always.

Face serums are concentrated formulas that deliver active ingredients into the skin. Each ingredient addresses a specific need or concern, such as oiliness, fine lines, dark spots, or other complexion problems.

Therefore, pick two or three serums depending on what you want to achieve with your skincare routine.

  • Niacinamide, zinc, and salicylic acid are great for oily and acne-prone skin.
  • Peptides and hyaluronic acid are perfect for diminishing lines and wrinkles.
  • Alpha arbutin reduces the appearance of dark spots.
  • Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant, helps diminish sun spots, and brighten the skin.

Apply your serum right after the toner while your skill is still damp. A few drops is enough – simply dab them onto your face and gently press them into your skin.

Read next: 35 Best Face Serums for Glowing Skin (2023 Guide)

4: Use a retinoid (PM)

Retinoids are powerful vitamin A derivatives that are proven to fight signs of ageing in the skin. It’s no wonder all dermatologists will recommend these ingredients to you, too.

Retinoids are not for daytime use, since they break down in the sun and make your skin more sensitive to UV rays.

Therefore, always apply your retinoids in the evening before going to sleep.

Retinoids often cause irritation and redness, so it’s best to introduce them into your routine slowly. Start with one application a week, and increase the frequency as your skin gets used to it.

When using retinoids, don’t pair them with the following ingredients to avoid excess irritation:

  • Vitamin C
  • Salicylic acid
  • AHA and BHA

5: Fight any blemishes (AM and PM)

If your skin is prone to acne and blemishes, now is the right time to apply any local, topical skincare products to fight blemishes.

The sebaceous glands on acne-prone skin produce more sebum than usual, leading to oily skin, enlarged pores, and breakouts.

To balance things out, your entire skincare routine should be designed to exfoliate your skin and to keep your pores clean of excess sebum and dirt.

But when blemishes appear, you can put on an acne spot treatment. Ingredients like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide help keep your skin clear and fight bacteria and inflammation when breakouts happen.

Bear in mind: both salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide can lead to irritation. Introduce them into your skincare routine slowly and only apply to spots where they’re needed.

They also make your skin more sensitive to the sun. Hence, always wear broad-spectrum SPF – which we’ll cover in just a minute.

5: Moisturize thoroughly (AM and PM)

Once you’ve applied your serums and other active ingredients so far, it’s time to lock them in.

A good moisturizer will not just hydrate your skin, but it also forms a protective barrier. It will seal in all those helpful ingredients and protect your skin from drying out.

Thus, applying a moisturizer is one of the most important steps when it comes to layering skincare products. Do not skip this one!

When it comes to choosing the right moisturizer, it really boils down to what your skin needs.

You can choose from a wide range of formulations and consistencies. Light, gel-based moisturizers are best for oily skin, while rich, heavier formulations work best for dry skin.

As with all skincare products, it’s a good idea to steer clear of moisturizers that are heavily scented or contain essential oils. These ingredients usually tend to lead to irritation and redness, especially when exposed to sunlight.

Apply your moisturizer on damp skin. Spread it thoroughly over your face, ears, neck, and décolletage.

Most moisturizers are perfectly suitable for the area around your eyes, too. Thus, you don’t necessarily need a separate eye cream – but it’s really up to you. If you’ve found an eye cream you love using, just stick to it.

6: Apply facial oils (AM and PM)

Now that your face is moisturized, it’s time to apply any facial oils if you want to use any.

Facial oils provide a nice protective boost to your skincare routine, and they can help with dryness and irritation especially during colder seasons.

Also, facial oils usually contain active ingredients that can protect your skin against free radicals, too.

Apply a few drops of facial oil on the dryer areas of your face – usually that’s on the cheeks, around the mouth, and around the eye contour area. Use your fingertips to pat it gently on your skin.

7: Add SPF protection (AM)

Last but most certainly not least, you should apply sun protection in your daytime skincare routine.

The UV-A and UV-B rays from the sun are extremely harmful to your skin. They cause premature skin ageing, photo damage, and can even lead to skin cancer.

Thus, applying broad-spectrum sun protection every day is absolutely essential. It sits on top of your skin, and it’s your last skincare layer in the morning.

You can choose between chemical and physical sunscreens. Chemical ones have to be absorbed into the skin to become effective, so they’re not the best choice when layering skincare products.

Hence, when applying sunscreen after a moisturizer, it’s best to use a physical sunscreen with zinc in it. Zinc is safe, effective, and it provides solid protection against UV-A and UV-B rays.

Pick a product with an SPF of 30 or higher. Make sure that your sunscreen protects your skin against both UV-A and UV-B rays.

Of course, you should avoid spending time in the sun when the UV radiation is at its strongest, between 11 AM and 4PM. Wearing protective clothing is a good idea, too. A broad-rimmed hat and light, airy clothing with long sleeves will go a long way.

When spending time in the sun, remember to re-apply your SPF regularly, too. Re-applying is especially important if you’re sweating, swimming, and wiping your skin with a towel, for example.

Summing it up: Layering skincare products – The correct order

Learning how to layer skincare products doesn’t have to be difficult. Your skin is unique and the only way to take care of it the right way is to listen to it every day.

When designing your personal skincare routine, keep an eye on how your skin reacts to new products and ingredients.

If you are new to skincare, you may want to consult a dermatologist before setting up a full skincare routine.

With that said, please share your thoughts and tips in the comments below! How do you layer your skincare products in the AM and PM?

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