How to Layer Skincare Products: What to Use & When for the Best Results
Picture this: you're standing in your bathroom, staring at your counter lined with the product after product you've collected based on friend recommendations, label claims, and TikTok trends.
But the question is: how do you use all of these products together in order to get the results you wanted when you bought them?
When it comes to skincare, there's an ideal order of operations you should follow to not only help address your skin concerns but to also help prevent additional irritation and problems.
If we're being honest, learning how to layer skincare products is an art and a science. So grab your paintbrushes -- or face mask brushes -- you're about to master the art of skincare layering.
Why the Order of Your Skincare Products Matters
You might be thinking, “They all end up in the same place, does it really matter what order I apply my products?”
The answer is an absolute yes!
Different products have different weights, ingredients, and purposes. When you don't use them in the order they were created to be used, they're not going to work in the way you thought they would when you bought them.
Think of it this way: Your skin is a sponge and absorbs what you put on it.
A fresh, clean face -- sorry, sponge! -- has the ability to soak up as much as possible. After that first soak-up, the sponge's pores start to fill up more and more with each new clean-up the sponge takes on, eventually getting to the point where the sponge is completely full and it's served its purpose.
Like messes a sponge is meant to clean up, products have different weights, different ingredients and different properties that fill your pores, so it's important to figure out the most efficient way to fill your face's pores.
It's also important to note that some products actually should not be layered.
Dermatologist Dr. Mamima explains,
“Layering products can sometimes backfire if the active ingredients counteract each other. Sometimes, layering two actives simply makes them less effective, while in certain cases, they can interact and trigger inflammation or allergic reactions. Either try to avoid layering products or make sure to patch test for five nights on the jawline before applying widely to the face.”
Even if the products you use have compatible active ingredients, you still might experience irritation or skin purging with one or more of them.
While it’s important to know how to layer your skincare products, it’s also important to give your skin time to adjust to new products before adding in another one. Five days of patch testing, as Dr. Mamima suggests.
Oh, and don’t forget – you’ll also want to use healthy products that are good for you – and the planet!
Clean skincare products tend to be safer and more gentle on your skin without compromising effectiveness. Whether you’re learning how to start a skincare routine or are diving deeper into how to layer face products – we’ve got you covered!
Setting the Lineup: Best Products to Have in Your Skincare Routine
Now that you know why it’s so important to layer your skincare goodies correctly, it’s time to head back to the bathroom counter and take inventory of what you have so that you can keep them in mind as you become a layering expert.
We'll cover all your bases here with the top products you hopefully have or should add to your list:
- Eye cream
- Spot treatment
- Face oil
When applying products, you have to give them a little bit of time to let them work their magic. Even the most basic skincare routine can be optimized if you wait about 30 seconds between products so that the first one can set or dry.
The most expert skincare layer-er still requires an extra ingredient – consistency! Remember that in order for your products to work their best, being consistent is one of the biggest pieces to the puzzle.
Your Step-By-Step Guide to Layering Skincare Products
You’ve got your lineup, you understand the why now it’s time to get down to details. If you’re a daytime, night time or both skincare beauty, here’s your step-by-step guide to get the beautiful skin you’re looking for!
This is a long list, but don’t worry if you don’t have some of these products – they’re not for everyone!
If you don’t already own one of these products, simply skip over it until you get to the next product you do have.
And if you're the type of person who uses a certain product only once in a while, not to worry! We understand there’s a time and a place for different products -- some you might use once in a while, or during certain seasons. Just go ahead and skip over it as well if that specific product is out of the rotation for the time being.
This might feel a bit overwhelming at first, especially if you’ve struggled with skin problems, but your skincare routine is an opportunity to give yourself the TLC that you deserve.
It’s an opportunity to have your own home-spa moment once (or twice) a day. You deserve it, along with a little guidance to help you along your way.
Ready to learn how to layer skincare products like a pro? Grab your products, and let's get going!
Step 1: Cleanser
It likely goes without saying, but you’d be surprised how many people skip this vital piece. The first step to your skincare is starting with a clean face (remember that fresh sponge).
When it comes to cleansing, people often go to one extreme or the other. They either obsessively scrub and clean their skin, or they don’t clean it at all.
Your skin has a delicate microbiome, basically, it’s its own whole ecosystem. This ecosystem is actually able to regulate and cleanse itself for the most part. So when you overly clean with harsh products, you actually aggravate it and disrupt its ecosystem.
That being said, we also live in a world with tons of environmental toxins, makeup, exhaust smog, and the dirt and grime of everyday life.
So while our skin does clean itself to a certain extent, it still needs a little extra help.
That’s where gentle cleansers come in.
Simply dampen your face and neck, massage in your cleanser for about thirty seconds, and rinse off or gently wipe away the suds with water.
Just try to avoid cleansers with fragrances and harsh chemicals, as they could add to the toll your skin may take, especially if you tend to have more sensitive skin.
Now you're all clean and you’re ready for the next step!
Step 2: Toner
Another often overlooked step is toner. You’ve heard of it, but do you really know what it does for your skin? Toner actually has two beneficial jobs, so keep reading to learn more.
The first job Toner assumes is to help balance the PH in your skin. This helps your skin maintain its delicate microbiome and reduces the risk of irritation.
Toner’s other job? To get the remaining dirt and grime out of your skin that your cleanser may have left behind.
You can find incredible, natural toners with simple ingredients like rose water and other herbs, apple cider vinegar, and witch hazel.
Many come in a spray bottle or a regular bottle. Simply spray on your face, or wipe on with a cotton swab or a clean reusable facial pad – you can find machine-washable ones made from bamboo.
Give that a few seconds to set and dry and then move along to the next step!
Step 3: Face Serum
Even the most basic skincare routine can benefit from a nourishing serum. A serum is a lightweight formula that carries high concentrations of certain active ingredients that are designed to target specific skin concerns like acne or anti-aging.
Okay okay, so you know why you need serum and what to look for in one, but how do you use facial serum?
First, lightly dampen your skin. Then, apply a few drops of the product directly onto your face or apply with your fingers. Finally, gently press the product into your skin and allow it to absorb.
Step 4: Eye Cream
Next on the skincare lineup is eye cream.
Eye cream often gets overlooked until you start to notice fine lines, wrinkles, and other signs of aging pop up.
And while aging is a beautiful, natural process our bodies are meant to go through, you can still give your skin extra nourishment so that you can things into your own hands and embrace the process as gracefully as possible.
Since the skin around your eyes is some of the thinnest on your body, it tends to be one of the first to show signs of fatigue and aging. That's why it’s important to take care of it with a healthy, nourishing eye cream.
Because this skin is so delicate, you want to be as gentle as possible with it. Use your ring finger as it has the lightest pressure and gently tap small dots of your eye cream product under your eyes, starting from the inside and working your way out. Then pat the rest of the product into your skin.
You may also need a bit more during the cold winter months if you tend to suffer from dry skin, since the skin around your eyes is so thin.
No matter how much product you use in your skin care routine, though, remember to be as gentle as possible with this step!
Step #5: Spot Treatment
This one is optional depending on your skin’s needs, but if you tend to get random breakouts or a pesky pimple pops up from time to time, a spot treatment may be a great product to work into your routine.
And if you're in the process of adding to your skincare or beauty routine and noticing pseudo breakouts, it could be a result of your skin getting used to the new product-- remember, this is called skin purging. If you've used them before, spot treatments could be great for helping these seemingly one-off breakouts.
How you apply your spot treatment depends on the product itself, though, so be sure to read the directions.
It’s also typically only used at night so that it has time to work itself in without interference from makeup and outside dirt and grime.
Use spot treatments as often as needed, but remember that you may need extra moisturizer, especially in the area you used the spot treatment since they tend to dry breakouts out in order to stop them.
Just remember, that with most products that help breakouts, there are a lot of different options, so it's best to always consult a dermatologist or doctor if you need help finding the best treatment for you, especially if you have more sensitive skin.
Step #6: Moisturizer
One of the most crucial steps for any skin care routine is moisturizing. Remember this motto, “Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!!!”
Your skin needs moisture to help keep it protected and beautiful, no matter what time of year it is. Those with oily skin sometimes tend to want to skip moisturizer as they feel their face is already hydrated enough, however, it's crucial for all to use a moisturizer.
Yes, even if you have naturally oily skin!
The cool thing about Moisturizer is that in addition to its hydrating abilities, it also serves as a barrier to protect your face and pores from outside pathogens and toxins, which can cause breakouts and irritation.
If you think about it, moisturizer is one of the best things to use for overall skin health and protection – they sit on the surface of the skin and block impurities and stressors that would otherwise seep into the skin, like dry air and environmental pollution.
Because they sit on the surface to block other things from getting into your pores, this is a great example as to why the order of skincare matters so much. If you put moisturizer on before something like a face serum, the serum wouldn't be able to effectively penetrate your pores and do the job it was meant to do!
Now, for a select group of people, a face serum may have enough moisturizing properties, but many need a moisturizer in addition to the serum, especially if you tend to have dry skin.
The best way to maximize the benefits of a moisturizer in your skin care routine is to first, apply all products listed above prior to your hydrating product of choice. Then, take your time to gently massage your moisturizer into your skin to set it up for success for the rest of the day or night.
Step #7: Face Oil (AM) or Retinol (PM)
When learning how to layer skincare, it’s also important to know which steps are for the morning, and which ones are for evening time. Your next step after moisturizing is face oil for the morning or retinol for nighttime.
So what’s the difference and why are there better times of day to use each? Let's dig in.
Face oils function similar to a moisturizer but are even more hydrating – they provide intense hydration when your skin is severely dry or tired.
They help strengthen the outer layer of your skin by softening and sealing it to prevent water loss, so face oils are great for everyone, whether you have oily skin or dry skin.
While face oil is good to incorporate in both your day and nighttime skin care routine, it tends to be more important for the day, as you’re running out and about, coming into contact with more toxins, and have a greater need to protect it more.
If you tend to have oily skin and still want to benefit from face oil, you likely only need a few drops.
If you tend to have more dry skin, a bit more face oil will definitely help keep your skin healthy and happy.
Just like your moisturizer, your skin will benefit more if you take the time to massage in your face oil, you may even use a facial massage tool.
For nighttime, on the other hand, retinoids help trigger collagen production in your skin to help keep it looking tight and young as you age.
Collagen production is also a part of the recovery process that your skin undergoes as you sleep, so adding some retinol to that process to give your skin an extra boost is why we recommend using this product in the evening.
Remember – we love aging, but we can all use a little extra support through the process.
Retinol is also a great night cream to help smooth scars and dark spots, clear pores, prevent breakouts, and more!
These products can make your skin more sensitive to the sun, though, so be sure to pay attention to the next, and final step.
Step #8: SPF or Face Oil
One of the most crucial steps of your daytime skin care routine is an SPF product.
It’s so important to protect yourself from the harsh UV rays from the sun!
While vitamin D is great, too much of it, especially unprotected, will cause damage that only gets worse over time.
You may be able to skip this step if your moisturizer has SPF in it, but doubling up never hurts, either!
Makeup with SPF typically doesn’t offer enough protection, though, so try not to rely on that alone or in addition to a moisturizer with SPF.
Oh, and don't forget to apply to your neck and décolletage as well!
At night time, of course, SPF isn’t necessary.
But, for your nighttime routine, you can substitute your SPF for a nice juicy face oil (after your retinol, of course) as the last step in your nightly skincare routine.
Again, you can really make this a self-care moment by massaging it gently into your skin, which also helps to boost circulation to give you a radiant glow!
Congrats! You’re Now a Layering Pro
We hope this helped give you some insight and a sense of empowerment when it comes to understanding how to layer face products to get the results you wanted when you first bought them.
And just a reminder, you may not need all of the products here! Everyone is different and has different needs for their skin. When learning how to start a skincare routine, the important thing is to find something that works for YOU!
Just be sure to pay attention to what your skin’s unique needs are, and if something feels like it’s not working, don’t be afraid to cut something out or add something in as needed.
Also make sure to create a routine that’s sustainable, something that you’ll actually be able to keep up with and doesn’t feel like a chore.
Now that you know how to layer like a pro, it’s time to get down to it and give yourself the skin you’ve always dreamed of.