How Long to Wait Between Skincare Steps

Skin Care, Skin Health

How Long to Wait Between Skincare Steps

by Liz Thompson
September 22, 2023

When you've invested hours of research into setting up an effective skincare routine, you want to make the most of every step.

As it turns out, even your skin needs to take breathers. Rather than overwhelming your complexion with all of your products at once, here's how long to wait between skincare steps.


How Long Does It Take For Skin To Absorb Products?

Before we get into the actual application process and how long to wait between skincare steps, it's important to cover the absorption rate of different types of skincare products.

Some products absorb more readily than others — for instance, occlusive ingredients such as butters and beeswax sit on top of the skin, forming a barrier against moisture release. However, other factors also influence the rate of absorption: your skin type and age, the duration of exposure (products that are rinsed off, like cleansers, have less time to absorb into the skin) and the order of your skincare routine can all make a difference.

How long does it take for serum to absorb? It typically depends on whether it's oil- or gel-based, but most serums start absorbing immediately. Some skincare formulas can take up to 30 minutes to fully absorb — but that doesn't mean you have to wait that long between skincare steps. Most skincare products are designed to begin absorbing right away.




Should You Apply Your Products in a Specific Order?

Some ingredients may take longer to fully absorb than others, but the key is to layer them in the right order. A good rule of thumb is to apply the most lightweight formulas first (think toners and serums) and work your way up to thicker, heavier-weight products (oils and creams). Using a skin balm under a serum will prevent that topmost product from being absorbed.

Also consider which products you want closest to the skin: For instance, if your focus is dealing with breakouts, apply an acne-fighting product as one of the first steps in your lineup. No matter how you order your regimen, though, consistency is key. Sticking to a regular skincare routine will provide the biggest benefits for your skin.

It's also helpful to make sure you use skincare products that work together cohesively. For example, layering up too many acne products can irritate skin. Also check that your choice of sunscreen doesn't pill on top of your other products, making its coverage less effective.



How Long To Wait Between Skincare Steps

Although there are no strict guidelines here, here's how to schedule wait times in your skincare routine for best results.

  • Cleanse and tone. Start with freshly cleansed skin and apply a facial toner such as the Neutrogena® Alcohol-Free Daily toner. There's no need to wait between these two steps — your next skincare product may absorb more readily if your skin is a bit damp.
  • Layer treatments and serums. Pat a luxurious dollop of the Neutrogena® Hydro Boost Hyaluronic Acid Serum onto damp skin. If you're applying multiple layers of active ingredients, you can give each one a minute or two to absorb into the uppermost layers of your skin. Although you don't need to wait to apply moisturizer, this is also the perfect time to use your gua sha tool or facial roller.
  • Moisturize. After you're done grabbing your favorite moisturizer — the Neutrogena® Oil-Free Face Moisturizer for Sensitive Skin is a great choice for both day and night. There's no need to wait to apply sunscreen unless your moisturizer is on the oily side. In that case, you might want to give it a minute or two to set before moving on.
  • Apply sunscreen. Always finish your skincare routine with a layer of sunscreen, like the Neutrogena® Sheer Zinc Face Dry-Touch Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 50 For Sensitive Skin. Allowing your sunscreen to set for a few minutes before applying makeup will help to prevent any balling up.

That's it. No more wondering how long to wait between skincare steps. Perfect your routine and enjoy glowing skin, every single day.



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I’m a freelance copywriter for beauty and wellness brands and creative entrepreneur with an expertise in green beauty.

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