Skin Science, How To

Layering Skincare Products Like a Pro

by Tyshia Ingram
December 2, 2019

You've done your research, consulted your best friend and spent countless hours reading product reviews. It's safe to say you officially have everything you could possibly need to achieve your skincare goals. As you look over the collection of bottles and jars on your bathroom shelf, there's just one question left: What product do you use first?

Layering Skincare: What, When and Why

How you layer your skincare products might not seem like a huge deal. After all, it's all going to end up on your face anyway, right? But when you devote time (and money) to improving your skin, the order you apply things in matters.

Luckily, this is less of a guessing game than you might think. No matter which products have caught your eye, there's a science behind how to layer your products. Keep the following guidelines in mind:

  • Check the consistency. You should always apply products in order of thin to thick. Start with liquids and move on to lightweight serums. Follow that up with creams, then oils.
  • Prioritize your products. The more important the ingredient is, the earlier in your routine it should go! Many active ingredients need to penetrate deep into the skin to be effective.
  • Watch your combos. Some products don't play well together. For example, glycolic acid and salicylic acid can both help treat acne — but put them together and you might end up with red and irritated skin. Also check out what acts as the base for your products. Layer your water-based and oil-based products separately to make sure each has time to penetrate your skin.
  • Finish with some sun protection. You want your sunscreen to stay on for as long as possible, so it should be the last step in your routine, whether you're using three products or 10.

How to Develop a Routine, Step by Step

Now that you've got the general idea, it's time to dig into the details and design a routine for layering skincare products. Don't worry too much about following every step listed below to the letter — the goal is to develop a routine that works well with your skin type and is unique to you. Here are seven steps to guide you:

  1. Clean. Always start with a cleanser. Skincare products work best on a clean canvas, after all!

  2. Tone. If you use a toner, put it directly on clean skin. It'll help remove anything left over after cleansing and work to balance your skin's pH level.

  3. Eye cream. The skin around the eyes is incredibly thin and delicate, making it one of the easiest areas to damage. Introducing an eye cream into your routine as early as your 20s will help protect your skin from harm and maintain elasticity around your eyes. Put your eye cream on before any actives or treatments, so you don't accidentally rub your actives into the more sensitive eye area when you apply your eye cream.

  4. Treatment or Serum. These products address specific skincare concerns, like dry skin, spots, or wrinkles. They contain high concentrations of active ingredients, and you want those ingredients as close to your skin as possible so they have a chance to penetrate it.

  5. Moisturizer. Don't skip this step just because your skin doesn't feel dry — it's important to lock hydration into the skin no matter your skin type.

  6. Sunscreen. Finish your routine off strong with a layer of protection. Sunscreen acts as a barrier between you and the UVA and UVB rays that can wreak havoc on your skin. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, you should apply sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to your skin every single day, even when it's cloudy, and even in the winter.

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