How to Layer Skin Care for Optimal Results

Because you want maximum benefits, right?

When you follow a recipe or a set of instructions, it’s pretty crucial that you do so in order, right? Step one comes before step two, which comes before step three, and so on. It would be kind of odd to jump from one to five to four to seven to two — that cake you’re baking would turn out super weird. And not that your face is a cake (though I definitely wouldn’t be mad if that were the case for like, a day), it does require specific, thoughtful care. You could be using the best products in the world but, if you’re applying them haphazardly, they’re not going to be nearly as effective. Though it may vary a bit depending on the person and the products, there are a few general rules of thumb when it comes to the order in which you should be applying skin care so it’s as effective as possible. It’s not like the stuff won’t work if it’s not applied in the exact same order every single day, but you want maximum benefits, right?

Since your skin does most of its regenerating and restoring at night, let’s start with how you should be approaching your nighttime skin care routine. Take notes!

Step 1: Makeup Remover 

Because, duh. Take that stuff off and let your skin breathe. By removing that layer of cosmetics, dirt, pollution and general daily buildup, you’re priming your skin for everything that comes after, making it the ideal canvas to soak up subsequent products. (Hint hint: This is the perfect time to employ the double cleanse!)

Step 2: Cleanser

If you’re double cleansing, this is where the “double” comes in. If you’re ignoring my sage advice, you’re technically still double cleansing so HA, joke is on you. But seriously, this is the most basic step you can take when it comes to your skin. Now is the time to use a gentle foaming cleanser, so lather up, don’t skimp on product, and gently massage into your face, neck and chest for 30-6o seconds.

Step 3: Spot treatment

This may be a controversial choice for the third step, but hear me out. Any super-targeted treatments should be applied to skin that’s as close to bare as possible (aka free of makeup and any other products) to maximize their benefits. Most acne treatments work by drying up excess oil and targeting bacteria, and if you apply one over serums and oils, it’ll have a hard time getting through to the blemish and will likely just dry up the expensive face oil you just applied, not the excess sebum you’d like to target.

Step 4: Mist

Feel free to skip this step if you’re a monster, but if not, treat your face to a spritz of facial mist. (Figure out which is the right one for your skin here.) Face mist may seem indulgent, but many of today’s mists are formulated in such a way that they treat your face to good-for-you botanicals along with extra hydration before you even start applying curative products. And since they leave your face a bit damp, whatever you layer on top will have water molecules to grab onto, letting it travel that much further into the skin.

Step 5: Serum

Think of serum like a skin multivitamin: a concentrated blend of things that are good for your skin, depositing them all in one go. Because they’re so active, you want them on clean skin that’s as free as possible of dead skin cell buildup so they have the best chance of penetrating. Go ahead and treat your face to some serum goodness by gently pressing the stuff into your skin. (No rubbing! Those active ingredients are delicate and need to be released into your skin as such. Rubbing isn’t bad, but pressing is better. Plus, gently pressing ensures the serum actually sinks into skin instead of just chilling on top of it.) If you’re using more than one serum — which is totally ok — just make sure to apply the thinnest one first and give each a few minutes to really sink into your skin before moving onto the next.

Step 6: Moisturizer

Now we’re into the heavier portion of the evening, which means you should really double check to make sure all your serums have been applied. If you accidentally moisturize before you serum, the ingredients in the latter will have a really hard time penetrating through the moisturizer layer and your skin won’t benefit nearly as much.

Step 7: Oil

If you’re extra dry or just like using face oil, now is the time to do so. Unlike the more delicate serum, oil can penetrate moisturizer to get down into the skin. (But, moisturizer can’t penetrate oil, so again, make sure you’re going in the right order.) Face oil is also the ultimate barrier and will securely lock everything you’ve applied before it into your skin so it can get to work all night long.

Step 8: Eye Cream + Lip Treatment

I know, I know: I told you to apply the lightest stuff first and work your way up to heaviest, but eye cream is the exception. Most of the other stuff on this list shouldn’t really go near your eyes anyway as that skin is very thin and a lot of serums, oils and moisturizers are too intense. In a perfect world, the area on which you apply eye cream will be free of anything else, but it’s ok if that’s not the case. Either way, eye cream is an important step every night as — like I said before — this skin is super-thin (meaning less collagen) and will age faster than other parts of your face. You’ll want to apply a very small amount and do so very gently (I like using my ring finger to gently tap it on because my ring finger is weak and I don’t have to worry about my brute strength coming through and ruining the skin around my eyes). And of course, your lips are skin, too; don’t skimp on the moisture there either.


If you have super sensitive skin, try swapping steps 5 and 6: moisturizer, then serum. For very reactive skin, serums can be too potent if applied to bare skin. Applying them over a moisturizer will dampen the effect and hopefully reduce irritation. And maybe skip the oil, too, if you’re worried. You can always start with a very tiny drop, gently pressed into skin over everything else and work your way up to an amount that works with your skin.

+ Looking to show some more love to your skin? Shop all beauty here

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6 years ago

Love this post so much! Thanks :)

I’ve always wondered about the order of skincare products. Always thought mist was supposed to be last. This really clears things up!

Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

6 years ago

So helpful, thanks for sharing! :)


Luna Verjans
6 years ago

This is very helpful! Thanks so much.
x luna

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6 years ago

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