Ever wonder why we layer skincare products, and whether the order of products matter? Most of us use multiple products and steps in our skincare routine. Growing up in Japan and watching my mother, I learned at a young age that skincare was a meticulous ritual, layer by layer in a specific order, step-by-step. But is layering just a question of habit or preference, or, are there benefits to it?
LAYERING WITH PURPOSE
Layering products facilitates flexibility and allows for each product and step to maximize its purpose and the delivery of its skincare benefits, from cleansing all the way to moisturizing and nourishing. There are also questions about ingredient compatibility. There are ingredients that simply don’t go together in the same formulation. Some ingredients are water-soluble, others are fat soluble. Certain active ingredients may work best in certain types of formulations, while others would not. Applying a multitude of actives can benefit our skin, but trying to pack them all into one single lotion might compromise the long-term stability of the formulation. This is where it makes sense to layer separate products. Certain targeted ingredients especially, should only be applied where needed, either because it would be a waste otherwise, or worse, because it might irritate skin unnecessarily. Most of us to a greater or lesser degree have combination skin with some areas drier or oilier than others, some areas more than others prone to break-outs, age spots, sensitivities and wrinkles, etc.etc. Our faces are puzzles, composed of areas that often have a life of their own. Layering products allows us to give all puzzle pieces the right TLC.
WHY PRODUCT ORDER MATTERS
As a general rule of thumb, lighter texture products should be applied before heavier products, humectants (water binding ingredients) before an occlusive (“sealants” like oils, butters, creams, ointments) to allow for maximum results and benefits. This is not to say that skin would reap zero benefits if the order was reversed, but the effect would be slower and weaker. Scroll down for recommended order in more detail.
WHY CHOOSE A SYSTEM
A lot of the guesswork can be taken out of layering and product order by choosing a core skincare system by one brand. We’re talking daily staples like cleanser, toner, moisturizer, etc. Most skincare systems are designed and formulated to ensure ingredient compatibility, overall efficacy and layering safety within the same system. This is not to say that you should never mix & match from different brands. Especially when it comes to items like masks and exfoliators which fall outside of your daily system, it can be nice way to personalize your program. Respect your skin’s balance and unique needs, read up on ingredients, plus good old trial & error, and you’ll be layering like a pro in no time!
STEP 1 (AM & PM):
Make-up remover & Cleanser
If you wear make up, the first step is to remove make-up and cleanse skin with a gentle cleanser. Thorough but non-stripping is key, no matter what your skin type. If you use a separate oil or oil-based make-up remover, be sure to wipe and wash off any excess residue that could interfere with the treatment steps that follow.
STEP 2 (AM or PM, weekly or monthly depending on skin type and product):
Whether it’s a classic scrub, enzyme or glycolic treatment or a combination product, exfoliating should generally follow after cleansing (or coincide with it, if it is a 2-in-1 cleansing scrub). Keep in mind that skin tends to be more sensitive after exfoliating, so you might want to avoid applying products then that might be too irritating on newly-exfoliated skin. If you have very sensitive skin, stick to exfoliating in the evening, so you’re your skin can rest and recover overnight.
STEP 3 (AM & PM):
Whether your toner is just a hydrosol mist or a hydrating treatment, it should be applied after cleansing (and exfoliating). Especially if it’s a humectant-rich(e.g. contains hyaluronic acid), soothing toner, it will help counter the drying effects of tap water and draw hydration to skin quickly and efficiently.
STEP 4 (AM and/or PM, depending on skin and product):
Anti-acne actives should be applied only to affected areas and spots, to bare skin after toning but before other products are layered on top, in order to allow full acne-fighting efficacy. Depending on severity of break-outs, this step is often reserved for night-time only.
STEP 5 (AM & PM)
Whether your serum is a gel or an oil or something in between, benefits are delivered efficiently to skin that is still relatively bare. If you don’t have break-outs, you can skip right to your serum. Anti-aging serums containing Retinol, should not be applied on top of anti-acne treatments, because they are too irritating together (salicylic acid) or because they deactivate each other (benzoyl peroxide). If you are not sure, either avoid the area where you applied the anti-acne treatment, or wait until the treatment has fully absorbed before applying the serum.
STEP 6 (AM & PM):
Eye creams are formulated specifically for the delicate eye areas to address issues like dark circles , puffiness and fine lines, as well as dryness and dehydration.
STEP 7 (AM & PM):
Depending on your skin type, your all-over moisturizer should lock in moisture or balance oil, strengthen your protective barrier and ensure continuous hydration. You can switch the order of Step 6 & 7, and apply your moisturizer before the eye cream, however, make sure you spare the eye area. This is because a lot of all-over moisturizers are not formulated for the sensitive eye area, and also because you don’t want the moisturizer to weaken absorption of the eye cream.
STEP 8 (AM):
During daytime, your last step should always be an all-over, broad-spectrum sunscreen to give you that protective shield from the damaging UVA and UVB rays. If your daytime face moisturizer contains sun protection, you can skip this step, as long as you apply it evenly all over your face and neck. Foundation should go on top of the sunscreen, after allowing it time to set and penetrate skin.