The Best Order to Apply Skin Care Products

Over the past years, my skincare routine transformed from two products to almost ten. It’s getting a little overwhelming, imo. I guess that just happens with aging and learning. More recently, I learned that I was applying a lot of my skincare in the wrong order, ugh. Can there please be an instruction manual, PLZ?! So, we did the research and found the best order to apply skin care products. We also broke it down into morning and nighttime routines too. You’re welcome.

Okay, so a common skincare routine might have a cleanser, vitamin c serum, retinol, eye cream, sunscreen, moisturizer, toner and maybe more. Wtf do you put on first. AND then what?! What’s last?! These are the questions that keep me up at night, and I promise it’s important and will make a difference.

The Best Order to Apply Skin Care Products

The Why

Let’s start with why it’s important to apply your skincare products in the right order. For one, if you combine the wrong products together, you can end up with an adverse reaction that could destroy your skin. Did someone say chemical burn?! (okay I might be a little dramatic, but you never know!!) That’s reason enough to be mindful about the order of application.

Alternatively, the different products can also negate each others effects making application useless. We already spend SO much money on skincare; the last thing you want is for your efforts to get diluted.

The Best Order to Apply Skin Care Products

Here’s a graphic to help you remember what to use when. Screenshot it, save it, print it out, pin it; whatever it takes to remember the order!

The Best Order to Apply Skin Care Products

What you need to know about layering products

There are a few general rules to follow when layering on your skincare products:

  • After cleansing, apply water based products first, then oil based. In science class we learned that oils are hydrophobic, which means oil based products will repel the water based products. It’s a good idea to layer on your water based products before adding the oil based ones.
  • Layer based on texture. More liquidy products should go on first and then heavier, thicker products should go on afterward.
  • More science for you, pay attention to the pH levels of your products. A high pH can neutralize a low one, so don’t layer a high pH product with a low pH product. Typically, start with acids which have a lower pH and work up towards moisturizers and sunscreen which have a higher pH.
  • Let each layer absorb fully. Some products, such as a retinol may take longer than say a hyaluronic acid, so give it some time to do it’s magic.
The Best Order to Apply Skin Care Products

Best Order to Apply Skin Care Morning Edition

The morning skincare routine can be as short as two steps (cleanse + sunscreen) or as long as ten steps. Pay attention to the texture of your skin as you’re applying products and adjust accordingly. If you have oily skin, don’t use extra moisturizers or face oils, but if you have dry skin, don’t skip those steps.


Depending on your skin type, wash your face with a gentle cleanser before starting your day. We also like using a Clarisonic or cleansing towel to get a deep clean in the morning. Some days you won’t even need a cleanser, water will do; you know your skin’s needs the best!

Best Selling Cleansers that are Gentle


A toner will help get the last bit on impurities off your skin. Not an essential step in the morning, but it is helpful if you have oily, acne-prone skin. Skip it if your skin is on the dry side.

Best Selling Tones


If you’re a fan of the Korean skincare method, an essence is an essential step because it penetrates the skin and treats issues deeply. This facial essence completely transformed my skin after regular use!

Brightening Serum

Popular morning serums are Vitamin C serums or Vitamin E because their antioxidant properties protect the skin from damage from free radicals. Vitamin C serums that have a higher concentration can help with hyperpigmentation, dullness, redness, wrinkles, etc. More info on that here. If you’re layering on serums, start with lightweight ones before adding heavier ones!

Best Selling Brightening Serums

The Best Order to Apply Skin Care Products

Eye Cream

The eyes, the window to your soul. It’s crucial to keep the delicate under eye area moisturized, so find your favorite firming eye cream and gently slather it on. If you don’t have an eye cream, your moisturizer will work too. Don’t neglect the undereye area, it’s most prone to aging and darkness so some care goes a long way.

Hydrating Eye Creams

Spot Treatment

Now’s the time to dab on any acne spot treatment that you may need. Let this absorb fully before moving on to the next step. There are tons of spot treatments on the market, but we like to us targeted and concentrated ones like the Kate Somerville EradiKate Acne Treatment or the Peter Thomas Roth Potent-C™ Vitamin C Targeted Spot Brightener.


Now we’re gradually moving toward thicker products that your skin may or may not need. If the essences and serums didn’t provide enough hydration, add on a moisturizer to further hydrate your skin. Our favorite drugstore moisturizer is this Neutrogena one.

Face Oil

Another non-essential, but if you do need this, add it on after the moisturizer. Mainly because moisturizers tend to be water based so we want that to fully absorb before adding an oil based product to your skin. This one has 6000+ great reviews!


The most important step. Don’t leave the house without it. Sunscreen protects your skin from UVB and UVA rays and we like opting for mineral sunscreens. More on it here.

The Correct Order to Apply Skincare Products

Ideal Order to Apply Skin Care Evening Edition

The evening version will look a little different. Spend extra time letting the products fully absorb to get their full benefits.

Oil Based Cleanser/ Makeup Remover

After a long day of exposure to sunlight, pollution and all kinds of stuff, it’s time to get a deep cleanse in. Start with a makeup remover or oil based cleanser to get as much of the dirt and makeup off as possible.

Water Based Cleanser

Another cleanser? Yep, the benefits of double cleansing outweigh the time restrictions, so if you can, cleanse again with a water based cleanser to get rid of all of the impurities. More on double cleansing here.

Great Cleansers for Double Cleansing

Exfoliating Mask

Note, this is not a daily thing. But if you’re masking, now’s the time to put it on, relax, and let it work. Read the directions of your mask to make sure there aren’t negative interactions with your other nighttime skincare products. To be safe, lay off the retinol for a night or two when you’re masking. This mask is a cult favorite that we swear by!

The Correct Order to Apply Skincare Products
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The toner will remove the last bit of the mask or dirt and grim left on your face so it’s clean and ready to absorb the good stuff.

Serums/ Essences/Treatments

Now it’s time to treat, prevent and prep your skin. At night, you skin has the time to drink whatever you put on it, so pick the best serums for your needs. Popular nighttime treatments include overnight resurfacing serums (via Farmacy or Drunk Elephant), hyaluronic acid, acne patches or acids.

Eye Cream

Find a rich and firming nighttime eye cream to add extra moisture to the tired under-eye area. Because the eye area loses elasticity, adding a layer or eye cream can combat this and reduce the effects of aging.


Some call it the holy grail of skincare products. This anti-aging elixir is a potent product that greatly combats wrinkles, fine lines and more. Whether you like retinol, retin-a, retinoids, or any other vitamin A derivative, it’s a game changer. If you’re just starting out, we recommend that you gradually increase the potency to avoid adverse reactions. IF you have sensitive skin, try the retinol after your nighttime moisturizer so your skin has a protective barrier.

Night Cream/ Moisturizer

If your skin is still in need of hydration, now is the time to add a moisturizer. We’ve learned that waiting 20-30 minutes after your retinol is key to proper absorption. So give yourself some time, brush your teeth and then put on your night cream.

Face Oil/ Overnight Mask

To lock in all the hydration and moisture that you just put on your face, opt for a face oil. It’s the final step to soft and supple skin!

The Correct Order to Apply Skincare Products

And there you have it folks, the best order to apply skin care products for the best results.


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