How To Layer Skincare Properly: Step By Step

How To Layer Skincare Properly: Step By Step

Putting together the perfect skincare routine can feel a bit like a puzzle. Which products do you need? What ingredients work well together — and which ones don’t? What brands are best suited for your skin? And lastly, but most importantly, what order do you apply everything in?

The way you layer your skincare products can make or break your results. Layering properly helps you get the most benefit from your whole routine!”

  • Shani Darden, Esthetician

If you’re looking at a lineup of skincare products on your shelf and have no idea what order you should be applying them in, don’t worry. I’m here to help you layer skincare products — the right way.

How Do You Layer Properly?

The main rule of thumb for layering your skincare products is to go from thinnest to thickest or lightest to heaviest. This is generally easy to work out using a tried and true tool: your eyes. With this in mind, you’ll be able to immediately know that your ultra-lush night cream goes on after your water-based essence. 

That said, there are some products that you may be unsure of, and there’s at least one major exception to the rule, and that’s sunscreen or SPF. 

Sunscreen should always, always, always be part of your morning skincare routine, but depending on the product you use, it could look like a cream, serum, or even a spray. Just remember, this is your shield against UV exposure, so it should always come last to protect your work and the skin beneath it.

Why Does Skincare Layering Matter?

You should layer products from thinnest to thickest to give them the best possible chance to absorb fully into your skin. Some products also perform functions that will specifically prevent other products from sinking in.

For instance, if you use a night cream, its magic is in its properties as an occlusive. Occlusives help your skin by creating a barrier, keeping moisture and essential nutrients in, while locking impurities out. If you were to apply a night cream before your serum, your serum would not absorb properly because of the occlusive properties of the night cream.

Another reason to be mindful of how you layer your products is that some active ingredients can have negative reactions when layered directly on top of one another. Some ingredients, like salicylic acid and retinol, may be too harsh on your skin when paired together.

Others may simply have opposite effects on your skin’s pH balance. This can either upset your skin’s microbiome and lead to breakouts or a damaged skin barrier, or it can render both products ineffective because it means neither will reach the pH level they need to be effective.

Now, in addition to the thinnest-to-thickest rule, there is a widely accepted “right” way to apply your products. So let’s break it down, step by step.

What Is the Proper Way To Layer Skincare Products?

The nice thing about skincare is that you can customize it to suit your needs, schedule, and skin. I’m going to lay out every possible product in order so you have the full step-by-step — but that doesn’t mean you need to have a million steps in your skincare regimen. At its core, all you need is a cleanser, moisturizer, and SPF to keep your skin basically healthy.

The other products come in when you have particular skincare concerns that you want to address, like breakouts, dark spots, or visible signs of aging. 

Taking some time out of your morning or before bed to get into a multi-step skincare regimen can be a great way to practice some self-care. Not only will it make you look better, but taking care of yourself by giving your skin a little extra love can be good for your mental health.

1. Cleanser

Always start with a gentle yet effective cleanser. No matter your skin type, the goal is to remove dirt, makeup, and impurities without stripping your skin of its natural oils. My Cleansing Serum fits the bill by seamlessly melting away makeup and pore-clogging impurities without drying you out, leaving your skin ultra-clean, silky soft, and never dry or tight. It’s a lifesaver for all skin types, including dry skin and blemish-prone skin. 

2. Toner or Essence

Toner is an ideal addition to your routine if you have oily skin, but in general, using a toner or essence is a good idea if you have a complicated skincare routine. It helps to provide essential nutrients to address specific skin concerns while creating the perfect blank slate for the rest of your routine.

3. Treatment or Mask

Next, you’ll want to apply any treatment or mask you want to work into your routine. This could be an exfoliating treatment to help slough away dead skin cells and keep your skin fresh and clean, whether that’s something simple like an alpha hydroxy acid such as glycolic acid or lactic acid. It could also be something stronger, like chemical peels targeted at visible signs of aging or blemishes. 

It could also be something targeted at breakouts or pimples, whether that’s a spot treatment or a benzoyl peroxide solution. Especially if you have sensitive skin, you won’t want to overdo it with any of these. Peels especially should only be applied sparingly and most likely not every day unless advised otherwise by a dermatologist.

4. Serum

While treatments or masks may be a once-or-twice-a-week step, you should have a go-to serum that you use every day. You may even want to have one serum you use in the morning and one in the evening.

For instance, retinol or retinoids are amazing when it comes to addressing fine lines, wrinkles, dark spots, and pretty much anything else that can negatively affect your complexion. My Retinol Reform Anti-Aging Serum is a game-changing treatment for firmer, more youthful-looking skin, but it’s best applied in the evening.

During the day, a vitamin C serum is the perfect antioxidant blast to brighten your skin while being gentle enough for daily use. You could also try a hydrating serum if dryness is an issue for you.

5. Eye Cream

Hydration is crucial, so don’t worry about doubling up. Apply my Intensive Eye Renewal Cream next to moisturize your sensitive eye area and prevent the visible signs of aging to which this particularly thin-skinned part of your face is so prone.

6. Moisturizer

Like I said earlier, moisturizer is one of your non-negotiables. It’s all-important when it comes to optimizing your skin barrier, which keeps moisture locked in and keeps bacteria and other damage-causing impurities out. If you want your complexion to stay as firm and youthful-looking as possible, hydrating as part of your morning and evening routine is the one.

Look for one enriched with ultra-hydrating ingredients, such as hyaluronic acid or ceramides, to ensure your skin is getting everything it needs to glow. I love my Hydration Peptide Cream for dry to normal skin. Featuring Hydrosella™, peptides, and niacinamdie, this cream delivers lasting hydration without clogging your pores.

For normal to oily skin, I love my Weightless Oil-Free Moisturizer. This formula features hyaluronic acid, hydrolyzed collagen, and red algae extract to provide a lift of moisture, but is designed not to trigger breakouts.

7. SPF

Even if you don’t remember the correct order for everything else, always apply sunscreen with at least SPF 30 as the last step of your morning routine. Sunscreen blocks harmful UV rays, which can cause damage to your skin over time.

In Conclusion

Knowing the right order to apply your skincare products can work wonders for your routine. If you’re using all the right things but not seeing results, it may just be because you’re applying them in a way that hinders their performance.

It’s also important to keep in mind if you want to build your routine. Layering skincare products properly helps minimize negative reactions while maximizing the benefits of your routine as a whole.


Caring for Your Mental Health | National Institute of Mental Health

A Comparative Histological Study on the Skin Occlusion Performance of a Cream Made of Solid Lipid Nanoparticles and Vaseline | National Library of Medicine

Natural Skin Surface pH is on Average Below 5, Which is Beneficial for Its Resident Flora | National Library of Medicine


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