Skin Care Routine Order: How To Layer Skincare Products

As someone who cares for their skin, your skincare routine is an important part of your day and night. There’s nothing better than the luxurious feeling of knowing your skin is drinking in powerful ingredients as you go about your day (or call it a night). You might be a 12-step skincare routine enthusiast, or maybe you keep it simple with a handful of carefully chosen products that achieve your goals.

However you like to love your skin, the order you apply your products in matters. There is a correct order to work through your beauty products — it’s not enough to have power-packed products that are curated for you, it’s also important to layer them correctly.

Let’s chat about the most effective way to layer your skincare products.

Why Is It Important To Apply Skincare in the Right Order?

It may seem arbitrary to apply your topicals in a particular order, but there’s a good reason why the way you use your skincare matters.

You want the most out of your products, and different forms of skincare are designed to work together based on their ingredients and formulas. When looking after your skin, whether in the morning or night, it’s important to follow a step-by-step routine.

The basic skincare order is cleanse, prepare, heal, and defend.

Think of it this way: your skin is made up of open pores, which are susceptible to impurities, debris, and free radicals, including makeup, dead skin, oil, sweat, and environmental pollution.

Your skincare routine serves to protect your complexion from damaging agents in the morning, and remove debris at night.

If you apply products in the wrong order, you won’t get the full benefits from your routine, which is a waste of your time and money. Plus, you could even damage your skin by trapping in dirt and grime. Therefore, your beauty products are only as effective as you allow them to be.

What Is the Proper Order for Skincare?

In that case, what is the right order to apply your skincare products? You should essentially follow the same steps for your morning skincare routine and nighttime routine, with a few minor adjustments. The same basic order still applies, but there are certain products you might only use in the morning or at night.

Cleanse First

Step one in any skincare is cleansing. Cleansing lifts impurities and irritants from the pores to provide a clean base for the next products. Using the right cleanser is especially important for sensitive, breakout-prone, oily, and combination skin.

If you’re not starting with a fresh face, start by removing your makeup. Then, choose a gentle cleanser based on your skin type. The right cleanser makes all the difference — a formula that is too harsh can cause irritation and dryness, but a formula that’s too light might not leave your skin as clean as it could be.

Make sure to massage the cleanser into your skin and let it sit for at least 30 seconds before washing it away. This gives the ingredients a chance to get to work.

Follow With Toner

Toners offer multiple key benefits that help prep your skin for the rest of your skincare routine. Toners draw excess impurities out of your skin that your cleanser doesn’t reach, and they can also help restore hydration back into the skin after cleansing.

Toning products help balance the skin’s pH for a healthy microbiome, and they can also help give your skin a lovely glow. After cleansing, your pores are open and clear, and a toner provides an immediate form of hydration and support that the skin drinks in.

Apply Serums

Once your face is prepped for the next step, apply your serums.

Facial serums offer specific, targeted results through highly concentrated products. They contribute to skin health in a handful of different ways, such as aiding in brightening, plumping, moisturizing, or firming.

Since serums are water-based, they’re fast-absorbing, and some ingredients work deep in the pores. However, they can also target the skin's surface to create visible results. A trademark of serums is they contain potent active ingredients that address your specific skin’s needs.

Some serums are gentle on the skin, like peptides, which are suitable for sensitive skin. Other serums include exfoliating acids to help turn over dead skin cells and restore skin tone and texture.

Alpha hydroxy acids (AHA), for example, include mandelic acid, glycolic acid, and lactic acid, a milder exfoliant that helps maintain the skin’s pH.

Beta hydroxy acids (BHA) include salicylic acid and citric acid. A vitamin C serum is generally a good starter, because it helps reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines and contains antioxidants that support skin during exposure to free radicals.

Use Spot Treatments and Eye Cream

If you’re battling a breakout using spot treatments or are a lover of eye care, these products are up next.

Salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide spot treatments are effective at clearing away the bacteria in and around blemishes. Eye creams often contain vitamin C or hyaluronic acid for a targeted treatment. Applying eye products and acne treatments after your serums but before your moisturizer helps make sure the product is able to sink into your skin right where you need it.


Retinol, or vitamin A, is incredible for textured, aging, and acne-prone skin, but it should be applied as a separate step. Retinoids promote a healthy rate of skin cell turnover, which can help reduce the appearance of redness, wrinkles, and fine lines. It can also make pores appear smaller.

Removing dead skin cells helps prevent breakouts, which are often caused by clogged pores. Those with breakout-prone skin often find retinol to be a wonder product, as it helps fade the appearance of blemishes and the dark marks left behind.

Retinol can be prescribed by a board-certified dermatologist or purchased as topical skincare. Apply retinol to your whole face and let it fully dry before moving to the next step. Because retinol is a high-strength topical, it’s best to cycle your retinol every second or third day and only use it at night to minimize irritation.


Moisturizing is an essential step to keep your skin looking supple, young, and even-toned. Even if you have a minimalist skincare routine, make sure moisturizer is one of the steps.

Why is moisturizing so beneficial? Not only does dryness exacerbate the look of fine lines and texture, but it can also cause discomfort and prevent makeup from going on smoothly.

Dry skin can even lead to breakouts in two main ways. First, flaky skin cells can get trapped in the pores and clog them. Second, overly-dry skin produces excess sebum to compensate, which clogs pores and leads to breakouts. Those with dry and breakout-prone skin especially require moisturizer, with studies showing ceramide-enriched lotions are beneficial for breakouts.

Moisturizer soothes skin, which is especially important after using strong actives. It traps water in the skin for a continual restorative effect throughout the hours. In turn, this helps strengthen the skin barrier and promotes supple-looking skin.

Use Face Oil

Follow moisturizer with a facial oil to further hydrate the skin.

Yes, you can use both! The trick is applying them in the right order. As a general rule of thumb, always apply your skincare from thinnest to thickest, following hydrating gels and creams with oil products.

Facial oils are similar to serums but heavier, being oil-based rather than water-based. They should be applied after moisturizer because they create a barrier over the skin. When your facial oil follows moisturization, you effectively lock in your other products and help the ingredients penetrate better.

Different oils offer different benefits. Oils mainly target the surface of skin to aid in the appearance of firm and glowing skin. Because they’re packed with vitamins, nutrients, antioxidants, and essential fatty acids, they can do wonders to help restore the skin barrier.

Facial oils are suitable for all skin types — even oily. It’s a misconception that applying oil is a no-go for oily skin. The key lies in using plant-based oils rather than synthetics. Plant oils are similar in composition to your skin’s natural oil production, which means they help strike the fine balance of just enough (beneficial) oil.

If you’re applying your skincare routine at night, finish up with a night cream designed to repair and replenish while you sleep. If you’re applying your routine in the morning, make sure you’re ending with protective SPF.

Finish With SPF During the Day

Include sunscreen as your final step and reapply throughout the day. You should apply a new layer every two hours. To stay safe and remove the hassle of reapplying SPF over your makeup, try a tinted broad-spectrum sunscreen in place of foundation. You can also use a tinted sunscreen powder that offers coverage and SPF.

Make sure SPF is the last step of your routine. If you’re applying makeup after your skincare, finish with an SPF product like a setting spray mist with SPF 30.

Why Should SPF Be Your Last Skincare Step?

Sun damage is no joke. It’s immensely important to finish your beauty ritual with sunscreen because it creates a protective barrier over your skin. UV rays penetrate the skin and damage its DNA, leading to harsh aging effects and the risk of skin cancers.

Look for a broad-spectrum SPF, as this means it protects against both UVA and UVB rays. They create differing damage to the skin but are equally harmful. Mineral sunscreens stay on the surface and reflect UV light so it can’t penetrate.

It’s impossible to have healthy, beautiful skin without incorporating sunscreen as the last step in your routine because of the damage the sun causes over time. Daily, frequent SPF application provides lasting protection to your skin, which will equal less noticeable skin aging or dullness.

The Bottom Line

Skincare is simple when you have expertly-curated skincare products. Having Bluemercury with you on your personal beauty journey removes the stress from filtering through the hundreds of products on the market.

Arrange your morning and night ritual for the best absorption of products and they’ll keep your skin healthy, hydrated, and fresh.