A skincare routine is an investment many of us make with the expectation of seeing our skin improve in one way or another. So it only makes sense to want to get the most out of your products, and the best way to achieve the results you're hoping for is to use your products correctly.
While the directions on the package are most frequently helpful, you may sometimes find yourself scratching your head and wondering how to introduce the product you just purchased into your skincare routine and whether combining it with other products you already own will be beneficial.
That's why it's essential to understand the order of application when constructing a skincare routine and to have a basic understanding of which products don't mix well to avoid a disaster – and lucky you, that’s what we’re talking about today!
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Why the Order of Application Is So Important for Skincare
The order in which you apply your skincare products can impact how well they work and how your skin responds to them. The correct order of applying your products will maximize absorption, prevent product interference, minimize irritation, support the skin barrier, and effectively target any specific skin concern you aim to address.
Conversely, applying your products in the wrong order can cause them to become less effective and even counterproductive and leave you disappointed and frustrated at the results. In short, applying your products in the correct order is key to a successful skincare routine!
Your Skincare Routine Order and Steps
The correct order to apply your skincare routine is to always start with the thinnest, least concentrated product and progress to thicker formulas – essentially layering your products from thinnest to thickest. This ensures the ingredients that make up your skincare routine can be absorbed into your skin, and the product that goes on top of each layer is able to penetrate through and do its job.
But if you're still confused about what should go where, here's what a correct product order looks like in a skincare routine:
Cleansing is an essential step in every skincare routine, as it helps remove makeup, last night's products, impurities, and environmental pollutants accumulated on your skin throughout the day. Cleansing will also prep your skin for the rest of the products in your skincare routine, ensuring that any impurities on the skin's surface don't get reabsorbed into the skin with the products you apply.
After you cleanse your skin, the ingredients in the other products you use will penetrate deeper and target specific receptors to ensure maximum effect. So, cleansing should always be the first step in your morning and evening routine, as it will help ensure that the follow-up products are able to do their job.
Your morning cleanser should be lightweight, gentle, and non-drying. Its main purpose is to remove sweat, oil, and accumulation of last night's products, so a gel-based facial cleanser is generally recommended.
Product To Try: Youth To The People Superfood Antioxidant Refillable Cleanser, $39
Your evening cleanser should focus more on removing the day from your skin. For this purpose, don't hesitate to invest in an excellent makeup-removing oil or balm that will break down stubborn makeup and other impurities your lightweight cleanser won't be able to remove.
Product To Try: Farmacy Green Clean Cleansing Balm, $36
After cleansing, and while your skin is still damp, it's time to apply toner. Toner has a variety of functions and benefits depending on the type you use – it can be used to refresh your skin, add a layer of hydration, balance the pH level so that the skin is brought back to normal after cleansing, or act as an antioxidant and neutralize free radical activity that damages the skin cells.
A toner can be applied with a cotton pad or pressed into the skin with your fingers.
The perfect morning toner should be hydrating, refreshing, and rich in antioxidants. This will help keep your skin hydrated throughout the day and give it a subtle glow while also protecting it from environmental pollutants and free radicals.
Product To Try: First Aid Beauty Hydrating Toner with Squalane and Oats, $24
Your evening toner should focus more on exfoliating the skin and removing the buildup of dead skin cells on its surface to reveal a clearer, brighter, and more uniform complexion from underneath.
Product To Try: Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant, $34
While your skin is still damp from applying a toner, it's time to follow up with your serum. Serums are often formulated with smaller molecules than traditional creams and lotions, making them more easily absorbed into the skin. As such, serums can be a great way to target specific skin concerns, such as acne, hyperpigmentation, uneven skin tone, enlarged pores, and skin texture.
Serums best for morning use are those that contain hydrating and mildly active components that help plump up the skin and even out the complexion. Two perfect ingredients for this are hydrating hyaluronic acid and brightening vitamin C, an antioxidant that will protect the skin from free radical activity throughout the day.
Product To Try: REN Clean Skincare Radiance Vitamin C Glow Serum, $69
The evening is when you should pull out your potent actives, such as exfoliating acids, retinoids, peptides, and advanced age-fighting ingredients, to help target your skin concerns and repair your skin while you sleep.
Product To Try: L'Oréal Revitalift Night Serum with 0.3% Pure Retinol, $40
Moving on to the thicker portion of your skincare routine, a moisturizer is applied to create a seal on the skin's surface that will prevent the hydration delivered by your previous products from evaporating and leaving your skin completely dry.
Rich in barrier-repairing ingredients, moisturizers can also save your skin from premature aging by protecting it from environmental pollutants and softening the blows of harmful molecules, such as free radicals floating in the air.
Your morning moisturizer should be lightweight and non-greasy so that it doesn't leave any residue on your skin and turn you into a grease ball by midday. Look for gel-based formulas that contain hydrating and antioxidant ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and niacinamide.
Product To Try: Youth To The People Air-Whip Lightweight Moisturizer with Hyaluronic Acid, $48
Your night moisturizer, however, can be a little thicker and more hydrating, as your skin will be spending the whole night repairing itself and absorbing your products, so it needs a little extra help in that department. Rich creams packed with ceramides, shea butter, avocado oil, or jojoba oil are great for this.
Product To Try: First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Intense Hydration Moisturizer, $38
Oils are not necessary in a skincare routine; however, those with dry skin may find them helpful because they soften the outermost layer and reduce discomfort caused by excessive dryness.
Since oils are, well, oily, they are best used as part of your evening routine to help nourish and repair the skin while sleeping. Avoid using oils as part of your morning skincare routine, as they can interfere with your makeup and cause it to break down quicker, leaving you with a greasy complexion throughout the day.
Product To Try: REN Clean Skincare Evercalm Barrier Support Oil, $60
Sunscreen is the last step in a morning routine and should be applied shortly before going out into the sun. This protective layer of UV-repelling filters will ensure your products are not rendered ineffective by the sun's rays and will also do a fantastic job of keeping your skin protected, healthy, and youthful.
If you want to enjoy a glowing, wrinkle-less complexion for a long time and not waste money on your skincare products only for them to be degraded by the sun, make sure you are diligent about applying a mineral SPF of 30 or higher every single day.
Product To Try: La Roche-Posay Mineral Ultra Light Sunscreen Fluid SPF 50, $39
Skincare Products You Should Never Mix
We all want our skincare routine to be as effective as possible, but sometimes the combination of products we use can do more harm than good. This is why it's important to remember that some skincare components, although beneficial on their own, can be highly reactive when combined with the wrong ingredients.
To make the most out of your skincare routine and avoid adverse effects such as dryness, irritation, and breakouts, here are a few product combinations you should avoid at all costs:
Retinol and Vitamin C – While effective in fading hyperpigmentation, refining uneven texture, and reducing wrinkles, these two active ingredients can irritate the skin when used together.
Retinol and Exfoliating Acids – This combo can cause excessive cellular turnover, which can lead to flaking, peeling, and irritation.
Exfoliating Acids Combo – While using a product that contains a combination of exfoliating acids can be beneficial for the skin, using multiple products containing exfoliating acid in one routine can be too harsh for the skin and lead to redness, inflammation, and exacerbated breakouts due to barrier damage.
These are just a few common no-go combinations, so it's important to pay attention to how your skin reacts to different ingredients and adjust your skincare routine to benefit your skin's current needs. Even if a product combo is deemed safe, that doesn't guarantee your skin won't react to it. If you experience any adverse effects after using a product combo, don't hesitate to drop one of the products and give your skin a little break and time to heal.
Skincare routines can be daunting and overwhelming, as there are numerous factors to consider when finding what works best for you. But by taking the time to understand the core benefits of each product, how to use them, and how they react with one another, you can ensure your skincare routine is effective and beneficial for the unique state of your skin and the concerns you want to address.
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