How to Order Your Skin-Care Routine, According to a Dermatologist

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  • There’s a proper skin-care-routine order you should be following.
  • You can have the best skin-care routine in the world, but if you’re not applying products in the right sequence, you may not be getting the most out of it.
  • The order of your skin products depends on the formula’s texture.

In makeup, there aren’t too many rules. Apply your eyeshadow before or after your foundation, use lipstick as blush, comb your brows with hair gel – pretty much anything goes. Skin care, however, is different. There are some best practices and basic dos and don’ts you should follow when it comes to your skin products.

The reason is simple. You’re dealing with active ingredients like retinol, alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs), many of which don’t always mix well. There’s also a proper skin-care-routine order you should be following. Everyone knows that washing your face is step one, but the subsequent order that comes after that is a little murky. There are a couple of reasons the order of skin products matters. For one, some ingredients are more effective when applied at a certain time, while other textures may block the other ingredients from absorbing. (In fact, sometimes applying the formulations with the highest molecular weight first means it’s not absorbing at all.)

The bottom line? You can have the best skin-care routine in the world, but if you’re not layering products in the right sequence, you may not be getting the most out of each individual formula. To learn the best order of skin care once and for all, keep reading for a step-by-step breakdown from a board-certified dermatologist.

The Best Skin-Care-Routine Order

“As a general rule, you apply products from lightest to heaviest,” board-certified dermatologist Ramya Garlapati, MD, tells POPSUGAR. In other words, the thinnest consistency to the thickest. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Step 1: Cleanser
  • Step 2: Essence and/or toner
  • Step 3: Topical
  • Step 4: Serum
  • Step 5: Moisturizer
  • Step 6: Sunscreen (in the morning)

Why the Order of Skin Products Matters

The key reason you want to apply your skin-care products in the right order comes down to getting the most out of them. “Moisturizers or oils, which are heavier products, are formulated to protect the skin and lock in the ingredients from other lighter products applied before them,” Dr. Garlapati says. “If you were to apply a heavier product and then a lighter one after, the heavier product will actually prevent the lighter product from being absorbed by the skin, and you won’t get the benefits of this product.”

The Order to Apply Skin-Care Treatments and Masks

Once you have the order of your daily skin-care regimen down, you may be wondering where special treatments like face masks, sheet masks, and peels fit in. The answer depends on what that particular type of treatment is intended to do.

Leave-on masks and sheet masks that are meant to hydrate the skin can be used as a final step, similar to a moisturizer. “However, if you were to use a wash-off mask that contains an active ingredient like salicylic acid, you would want to use that after cleansing your face and before applying your serums and moisturizers,” in place of topicals, Dr. Garlapati says.

Once you know the rule of thinnest to thickest consistency, you should be able to slot products in and out with ease. For anything you’re unsure about, you can always ask your dermatologist to help you fill in the blanks.

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