Skincare Layering Guide: The Perfect Sequence for Using Your Products

This article was last updated on: July 28, 2023
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When it comes to skincare, it can feel like there’s a never-ending list of products that promise to keep your skin looking radiant and youthful. But with so many choices, figuring out the correct order to apply them might seem overwhelming. Fret not, as this article is here to guide you on your skincare journey, helping you understand the proper sequence for applying various products to maximize their benefits.

Phase 1: Cleansing

Embarking on the path to flawless skin begins with the essential first step: cleansing and exfoliating. This phase sets the stage for the rest of your skincare routine by removing dirt, makeup, and excess oil, allowing your skin to fully absorb the products that follow.

Firstly, if you wear makeup, it’s important to start with a gentle makeup remover. Opt for an oil-based cleanser or micellar water, as these effectively dissolve makeup without irritating. Gently massage the product onto your face using circular motions and then wipe it away with a cotton pad or soft cloth.

After removing your makeup, it’s time to use a cleanser suitable for your skin type. Choose either a physical exfoliator (like a gentle scrub) or a chemical exfoliator (such as a product with alpha-hydroxy acids or beta-hydroxy acids). Keep in mind that over-exfoliating can lead to irritation, so always listen to your skin and adjust the frequency accordingly.

For oily or acne-prone skin, consider a gel or foaming cleanser with ingredients like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. If you have dry or sensitive skin, a creamy or milky cleanser with nourishing ingredients like ceramides or hyaluronic acid may be more suitable.

Massage the cleanser onto your face for about 30 seconds before rinsing with lukewarm water.

By properly cleansing and exfoliating your skin, you’re creating a clean canvas for the rest of your skincare routine. This foundation ensures that your skin is ready to absorb the full benefits of the products to come.

Phase 2: Toners

After thoroughly cleansing and exfoliating, the next step in your skincare routine is applying a toner. Toners play a vital role in balancing your skin’s pH levels, which can be disrupted during the cleansing process. They also help to remove any lingering impurities and prep your skin to absorb the following treatments more effectively.

To select the right toner for your skin, consider your specific concerns and skin type. If you have oily or acne-prone skin, look for a toner containing ingredients like witch hazel or salicylic acid to help control oil production and prevent breakouts. For dry or sensitive skin, hydrating toner with soothing ingredients like chamomile, aloe vera, or rosewater might be a better fit.

To apply your toner, follow these steps:

  1. Pour a small amount of toner onto a cotton pad or the palm of your hand.
  2. Gently sweep the product across your face and neck, avoiding the delicate eye area.
  3. Allow the toner to absorb fully into your skin before moving on to the next step in your routine.

Remember that the goal is to restore balance to your skin, so avoid toners with harsh ingredients like alcohol, which can strip away your skin’s natural moisture barrier. By incorporating the right toner into your routine, you’ll be well on your way to achieving a more balanced, glowing complexion.

Phase 3: Targeted Treatments

Now that your skin is cleansed, exfoliated, and toned, it’s time to address specific concerns with targeted treatments. These treatments, which often include serums, ampoules, or spot treatments, are designed to tackle various issues such as fine lines, wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, or acne.

When choosing targeted treatments, focus on your primary skin concerns and select products with active ingredients that address those issues. Some examples include:

  • Fine lines and wrinkles: Opt for products containing retinol, peptides, or vitamin C to boost collagen production and smooth out your skin’s texture.
  • Hyperpigmentation: Look for treatments with ingredients like niacinamide, azelaic acid, or licorice root extract to help fade dark spots and even out your skin tone.
  • Acne: Select products with salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, or tea tree oil to unclog pores and reduce inflammation.

To apply targeted treatments, follow these tips:

  1. Start with the thinnest consistency first: If you’re using multiple treatments, begin with the lightest texture and work your way up to the thickest. This ensures that each product has a chance to penetrate your skin effectively.
  2. Use a gentle touch: Apply a small amount of the product to your fingertips and gently pat it onto your skin, focusing on areas of concern.
  3. Allow time for absorption: Give each treatment a moment to absorb fully into your skin before moving on to the next step. This helps to maximize the effectiveness of each product.

By carefully selecting and applying targeted treatments, you can address specific skin issues and work towards achieving a healthier, more radiant complexion.

Phase 4: Moisturizer

As you progress through your skincare routine, the next crucial step is to lock in all the goodness from your targeted treatments by moisturizing. Moisturizers are essential for maintaining your skin’s hydration levels and reinforcing its natural moisture barrier. Regardless of your skin type, incorporating a moisturizer into your routine is key to keeping your skin healthy, plump, and glowing.

When selecting a moisturizer, consider your skin type and specific needs:

  • Oily skin: Opt for a lightweight, oil-free gel or lotion that hydrates without clogging pores. Look for ingredients like hyaluronic acid or glycerin to provide hydration without adding excess oil.
  • Dry skin: Choose a richer cream or balm that contains nourishing ingredients like ceramides, shea butter, or oils to replenish and lock in moisture.
  • Combination skin: Pick a versatile moisturizer that provides a balance between hydration and oil control. A gel-cream formula might be the ideal option for this skin type.
  • Sensitive skin: Seek out a gentle, fragrance-free moisturizer with soothing ingredients like aloe vera, chamomile, or colloidal oatmeal.

By sealing in the benefits of your targeted treatments with a suitable moisturizer, you’re providing your skin with the necessary hydration and protection it needs to stay healthy and vibrant.

Phase 5: SPF Sunscreen

Last but certainly not least, the final and arguably most important step in any skincare routine is applying SPF sunscreen. Applying sunscreen may seem like an extra step in your morning routine, but it’s the most important step if you want to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays.

Many people think that they don’t need to worry about sunscreen because they don’t spend a lot of time in the sun, however, even small amounts of sun exposure can cause damage to your skin over time, so it’s important to always use sunscreen, even on cloudy days. And, if you’re going to be spending time outdoors, be sure to reapply every few hours to make sure you’re getting adequate protection.

Regardless of the weather or season, incorporating broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 into your daily routine is non-negotiable.

When selecting a sunscreen, look for a product that protects against both UVA and UVB rays. There are two types of sunscreens to choose from:

  1. Chemical sunscreens: These absorb UV rays and convert them into heat, which is then released from the skin. They typically offer a lightweight, non-greasy texture and are suitable for most skin types.
  2. Physical sunscreens: Also known as mineral sunscreens, these sit on top of the skin and physically block UV rays. They contain ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide and are often recommended for sensitive or reactive skin types.

While sunscreen might seem like an inconvenience, taking the time to apply it every day is an essential part of keeping your skin healthy and looking its best.

What happens if you mess up the order?

When you apply your skincare products in the wrong order, it might not be a complete disaster, but it could impact the effectiveness of your routine. The sequence of your skincare routine is designed to ensure that each product absorbs properly and works optimally with the other products in your regimen.

Reduced effectiveness: One issue that may arise from applying products out of order is that they may not penetrate the skin as well as they should, leading to diminished results. For example, applying a moisturizer before a serum could create a barrier that prevents the serum’s active ingredients from being fully absorbed.

Irritation: Another potential problem is that layering products in the wrong order might cause certain ingredients to interact poorly, potentially leading to skin irritation or breakouts.

Wasted product: Finally, when products don’t absorb correctly, they might not work as intended, resulting in a waste of both product and money.

While it’s essential to follow the recommended order for applying skincare products, it’s also worth noting that everyone’s skin is unique. You may need to experiment a bit to find the perfect sequence for your specific skin type and concerns. If you accidentally apply products out of order, don’t panic; just be mindful of the correct order moving forward to ensure you’re getting the most out of your skincare routine.

What Skincare Products Don’t Mix?

While you consider what order to use your skincare products in, it’s worth keeping in mind that certain products shouldn’t really be used together at all. Below we’ve broken it down so you can gain some further understanding:

  • Retinol and Alpha-Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) or Beta-Hydroxy Acids (BHAs): Retinol, a derivative of vitamin A, can cause sensitivity and irritation, especially when used with other potent exfoliants like AHAs (e.g., glycolic or lactic acid) or BHAs (e.g., salicylic acid). Using them together might exacerbate skin irritation or dryness. It’s best to use them on alternating days or as part of separate routines (e.g., retinol at night and acids in the morning).
  • Vitamin C and Retinol: Both vitamin C and retinol are powerful antioxidants that provide numerous benefits to the skin. However, using them together may cause irritation or reduce their effectiveness, as they work best at different pH levels. It’s advisable to use vitamin C in the morning to combat free radicals and retinol at night to promote cell turnover.
  • Benzoyl Peroxide and Retinol: Benzoyl peroxide is a common acne treatment, but when used alongside retinol, it can cause excessive dryness and irritation. If you need to use both ingredients, consider applying benzoyl peroxide in the morning and retinol at night to minimize the risk of irritation.
  • Vitamin C and AHAs/BHAs: Both vitamin C and AHAs/BHAs are acidic and can potentially irritate the skin when used together. To avoid over-exfoliation or irritation, apply vitamin C in the morning and AHAs/BHAs in the evening.
  • Niacinamide and Vitamin C: While not harmful, mixing niacinamide and vitamin C can cause the niacinamide to turn into niacin, which can lead to redness and flushing. To avoid this, apply them at different times of the day or look for formulations that have been specifically designed to be used together.

Remember that everyone’s skin is unique, and what may cause irritation for one person might not be an issue for another. It’s essential to pay attention to your skin’s reactions and adjust your routine accordingly. If you’re unsure about combining certain ingredients, consult a dermatologist or skincare expert for personalized advice.


Achieving the best results from your skincare routine depends not only on the quality of the products you use but also on the order in which you apply them. While it may seem meticulous, following the proper sequence is essential to ensuring that each product can deliver its full potential and work harmoniously with others in your regimen. Missteps in the order of application can hinder the effectiveness of your products, negating the benefits you aim to achieve.

Now that you’re well-informed about the correct order of skincare product application, it’s time to put this knowledge into practice. By following the guidelines outlined in this article, you’ll be on your way to creating a skincare routine that maximizes the potential of each product, paving the way for healthier, more radiant skin. Remember to listen to your skin and make adjustments as needed.

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Picture of About The Reviewer: Feyi Madamombe
About The Reviewer: Feyi Madamombe

With her unique perspective and commitment to uncovering the latest trends and innovations, Feyi has quickly become a beloved voice in the world of beauty journalism.

Feyi’s multicultural background and enthusiasm for the beauty industry inspire her to explore and celebrate the diversity of beauty across the globe. When she’s not crafting compelling articles or trying out the latest beauty products, Feyi loves to indulge in her passion for dance, attend music festivals, and explore London’s diverse culinary scene.

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