How to layer your skincare products right: A step-by-step rundown of what to use and when
Both morning and night
Throughout the monotony of successive lockdowns, many of us have had one saviour: embracing skincare. It's demonstrated that being bored now might be worth it for beauty later — and you can already see your skin improving. As the calls to 'drop your skincare routine' increase rapidly, so does your pride. But do you actually know how to layer skincare products correctly? Maybe you have been doing unspeakable things like applying face oil after SPF as though your face was an egg to be fried in the sun. Or mixing incompatible skincare ingredients and hoping for civility. That ends here.
So, what is the definitive order in which skincare products should be applied each morning?
"It's important to use products in the right order to enable them to do their job properly," says aesthetician Dija Ayodele, founder of West Room Aesthetics. Cleansers "prepare the skin for what's to come next by getting rid of makeup, sunscreen, germs and grime," while "exfoliating products help to shed old skin cells which create a barrier to the penetration of further products and also help to create a smooth surface with more clarity," she continues. "At this point you can then apply serum — which is usually your powerhouse product — and it will be able to penetrate and effect the skin more efficiently giving you better skin health results." Then, "moisturiser locks in the goodness of the serum, protects and fortifies the skin barrier with ceramides, peptides and essential fatty acids." Last of all, "SPF goes on top to protect the skin from UV rays" — "it's no good if layered underneath another product," Dija warns.
For cosmetic doctor and GP, Dr Rabia Malik, "an easy way to figure out what goes on when is to apply the runniest products first, followed by those that are thicker in texture." But "I think the most important steps are an antioxidant-based serum and sunscreen in the morning," she continues. Ultimately, the bare minimum for your morning skincare routine should be as follows:
2. Antioxidant serum
And what is the definitive order in which skincare products should be applied at night?
"At night you should always start with a double cleanse," advises Dija. "Begin with an oil-based cleanser to break down SPF and makeup, and then follow this up with an active cleanser," she specifies. "We favour cleansers with alpha hydroxy acid or enzyme exfoliants in them to really get your skin prepped for the rest of your routine." Afterwards, the choice is this: a serum or a vitamin A product (which may well be a vitamin A serum). Since vitamin A — also known as retinol — should be used cautiously to begin with, there will be nights in this part of your routine where you "just move straight from cleanser to night time moisturiser," says Dija. But "you can also use a moisturiser over your vitamin A if your skin is feeling slightly dry," she continues.
And so the bare minimum for your nightly skincare routine should be as follows:
1. Oil-based cleanser
2. Exfoliating cleanser
3. Serum or — a few nights a week — vitamin A
What's the biggest mistake I can make when it comes to the order in which I apply skincare products?
"The biggest issue I come across is overdoing it when it comes to skincare in general," says Dr Rabia. "My belief is that less is more and that you actually get the best results with a few products that have a high concentration of active ingredients," she explains. But "eye creams that are formulated with active ingredients tend to be in lighter formulations and should be applied first" after cleansing, she advises.
For Dija, issues mostly arise in conjunction with vitamin A. "It's most effective when applied and left alone, but sometimes we see people going to apply heavy moisturisers and oils over the top which can dilute its potency," she states. Other mistakes are simply an issue of timing: some people use "vitamin c at night, which is technically fine, but it's better used in the morning," she says.
Should each skincare product be left to sink in before applying the next step in my routine?
Here's where our experts differ in opinion. For Dr Rabia, "this really depends on the texture of the product and the formulation." Dija, however, doesn't see the need for a pause between each step "unless instructed by a specific product." But their guidance is as follows:
"I usually advise waiting for 1-2 minutes after applying serums to allow for optimal absorption, before applying any moisturiser or sunscreen on top," says Dr Rabia.
Acids and Vitamin A
"If you are using an acid-based product or prescription-strength vitamin A (such as tretinoin) at night, then it is advisable to wait 15-20 minutes before applying any moisturiser on top," she continues.
According to Dija, "some products even benefit from moving swiftly" — hyaluronic acid is one of them. It "works much better applied to damp skin so it has some hydration to cling to," she explains.