There’s an order of operations when it comes to skincare. Similar to how multiplying before adding gives you the right answer when following a math equation, applying one product before another gives you a better result when following a skin care routine. When you learn how to layer skincare properly and find the best skin care routine for your skin, you’ll realize the benefits of each individual product more fully. Generally, you'll want to start with applying products in the order of thinnest formula to thickest formula. This is because thinner formulas can’t penetrate thicker formulas, so they’ll be rendered useless if applied on top.
But with so many formulas out there that are similar in consistency and so many steps to follow, it can get confusing quickly. Don’t worry, we’re here to help. We’ll show you how to layer serums with creams, how to incorporate masks, and what to apply at night versus what to apply in the morning. We’ll also recommend our favorite clean skincare products to reach for at each step in the process. Plus, try our skincare quiz today for additional personalized picks. Read on to get healthy and clean skin.
Keep in mind, this routine includes the products that many people will use on a regular basis, however, your skincare routine may include more or fewer products depending on your lifestyle and your skin type. For instance, you may follow a specific skin routine for dry skin or oily skin, but even if you’re using different products, you can follow the same order when applying those products. Let’s dive in.
How To Layer Skincare At Morning
Whether you slept like a baby or you hardly slept because of your baby, your morning skin care routine can help you look and feel brighter and more wide awake. Follow this order when you apply skin care products in the morning:
First, cleanse. There’s nothing like a splash of cool water to jolt you awake, but that’s not the only reason to cleanse in the morning. In order for all the products you’re about to apply to sink in, your skin needs to be free from excess oil and anything that could stand between it and the beneficial ingredients to come. Typically, you don’t need to double cleanse in the morning (unless you forgot to remove your makeup the night before) so reach for a gentle cleansing milk or gel-based cleanser and give yourself a little massage to get your blood pumping.
After cleansing and patting your face dry, tone the skin. A toner is light and water-like, so it will easily and quickly be absorbed by your skin, which is why it should come right after cleansing. For all skin types, we recommend Ready Steady Glow Daily AHA Tonic. This cult-status tonic exfoliates, brightens, tightens, and hydrates for a smooth, even, and energized complexion. That’s the way to start your day.
After toning the skin, it’s time to supply it with specific ingredients depending on your unique skin concerns. That’s where serum comes in. Serums typically contain a highly concentrated amount of active ingredients, which makes them the superheroes of the skincare world; they’re just a little bit stronger and a little bit fancier than everything else. Plus, because of their lightweight consistency and potency, serums tend to be absorbed and work quickly. This is why it’s important to apply them before the rest of your skincare products. So pump or drop your serum into your palm and pat pat pat all over your face and neck.
To maximize the benefits of the serum you applied, it’s important to follow with moisturizer. This will seal the serum and ensure it doesn’t evaporate. Moisturizer is good for more than just sealing serum, though. It’s also critical for maintaining hydrated skin. So whether you apply a serum in the morning or not, you should still apply a moisturizer. For daytime, opt for a lightweight formula like the Glow Daily Vitamin C Gel Cream Moisturizer. Bonus: it will instantly brighten your complexion. Glow baby, glow. If you’re looking for more information on layering Vitamin C with your other skin care products, check out our blog on using niacinamide and Vitamin C together.
The final layer of product to apply during your morning skin care routine is non-negotiable. Sunscreen should be the last step because it provides a shield for your skin from external elements, namely UVA and UVB rays that can cause damage. Even if you’re planning to stay indoors, you need sunscreen (those rays penetrate windows!), so to stay protected, reapply throughout the day.
How To Layer Skincare At Night
At night, you can follow much the same routine that you did in the morning. However, there are a few steps you may want to add if you want to indulge in more self-care or address specific concerns that have popped up throughout the day, such as blemishes or dry spots. If it’s been a long day, there may be a few steps you decide to skip, and that’s OK too — as long as you cleanse and moisturize. Here’s the complete rundown of the order you should follow, whether your routine is two steps or seven.
Think of washing your face as the opening number to your skin care routine, day or night. It’s prepping your skin to fully absorb and enjoy the products that follow. Cleansing is especially necessary at night when you’re wearing a layer of makeup, and sweat and other impurities have collected throughout the day. Melt it all away with the Perfect Canvas Clean Jelly Oil Cleanser, proven to remove waterproof makeup, SPF, and pollution without stripping the skin of hydration. Additionally, if you’re a fan of double cleansing, follow up with a water-based cleanser such as our Evercalm™ Gentle Cleansing Gel. Now you’re ready to proceed.
If you plan to put on a face mask — you don’t need to, but it can be useful to target specific concerns from time to time, such as dryness, dullness, or blemishes — the time to apply it is after cleansing. Pick your potion, or two, or three and apply it all over or to targeted areas where you’re skin concerns have surfaced. Leave the mask on for the instructed amount of time and wash or wipe it away before moving on with the rest of your routine.
Then, apply toner, just as you did in the morning. If you have sensitive skin, start off by using Ready Steady Glow Daily AHA Tonic only in the morning or only at night, or, you can dilute it by saturating a cotton swab first with water and then with the solution. This will help rid your skin of any impurities left behind and gently exfoliate it too.
The skin around the eyes is more sensitive than the rest of the skin on your face, which is the entire reason for eye cream. Firm, lift, and nourish the area around the eyes with Keep Young And Beautiful™ Firm And Lift Eye Cream. Start with a small amount and gently massage it around the eye area until it’s absorbed.
Next up, serum. Remember, serums contain a super-dose of active ingredients, so if you want to reduce the signs of aging, reveal a more even skin tone, fight blemishes, or target any other skin-specific concerns, using a serum both morning and night can help. Serums aren’t one-size-fits-all; they are formulated to target specific concerns, so select and use a serum that is suitable for your skin type and the concern you want to target. Apply it after toning, if you’re using a toner.
If you’re getting overwhelmed, don’t be! Remember that all of these products take as little as 5 minutes to apply altogether (unless you’re using a mask), and you may not even need to apply all of them. A spot treatment, for instance, should only be used when you have blemishes you want to go away—far, far away.
When you do have blemishes, layer a spot treatment, such as Clearcalm Non-Drying Acne Treatment Gel, at this point in your routine, after all of the other products you plan to apply, but before moisturizer. After you apply the spot treatment, give it a minute to absorb before you move on to the next step to ensure it stays directly on the blemishes you want to target and doesn’t move.
A moisturizer is the critical final step in your PM skin care routine (unless you are battling dry skin and applying an oil as well). Moisturizer locks in all the wonderful ingredients you just worked so hard to apply (hopefully, you enjoyed it). Plus, as the name suggests, it supplies moisture to your skin, and moisturized skin is healthier skin, and healthier skin is smoother, plumper, and more radiant. TL;DR: don’t skip this step. There are so many wonderful moisturizers to choose from, formulated for every skin type and concern.
You don’t need to follow this exact regimen, but you should follow this order to layer your skincare products for the best results. Remember to have fun, this is all in the name of loving your skin — and yourself — well.
About the Author
Camille Poggi is a doctor in Pharmacy (PharmD.) and is passionate about skincare and how the skin works in general. She specializes in the cosmetic industry and worked for renowned companies in France like L’Oréal and Chanel before moving to London. After being a training manager for 4 years, Camille is at ease with explaining how products work in the skin and how to adapt her speech according to the audience.
She joined REN in January 2020 as International Training Manager and moved to the Research & Development team earlier this year to be the new Scientific Education Manager. A tailored-made role where she assesses and leads all technical communication and ensures scientific compliance is always met. She’s also involved in new product development from the earliest stages. Finding a way to create sustainable skincare products and making sure the message is properly delivered and understood is definitely a big challenge but also her favorite part working for REN.