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How To Layer Your Skincare Correctly

Updated: Oct 21, 2021

Does it really matter if you apply your active products before your moisturiser? Or if you lock in hydration with a moisturiser after your retinol?

The answer is YES.

You might be using the most amazingly formulated skincare, but if you're applying them in the wrong order, you could be wasting your time and money—without getting the results you want!

Why the Order of Skincare Products Matters

When you don't follow the correct order to apply your skincare products, you can run into two problems:

They may not penetrate: This is a problem if you're putting thin, fluid or water-based products on top of thick, creamy or oily ones. The richer products will form a barrier on your skin that prevents anything else from getting through.

They may be less effective: If certain products aren't able to penetrate your skin properly, you obviously can't get their full benefits. Plus, when certain active ingredients are meant to be applied away from each other, using them together can deactivate them or even create a new, unwanted chemical reaction. In either case, your routine won't be as effective as it should be.

The 4 “Rules” of Product Layering

There are four general "rules" to keep in mind when determining what order to apply your skincare products:

  • Thinnest to thickest texture: Move in the direction of light to heavy. Start with your most watery products, such as serums. Heavier, more moisturising ones—like lotions, creams and then oils—come next, followed by sunscreen.

  • Water-based before oil-based: Oil and water don't mix, and oil can block water from penetrating. That means water-based products must be applied first. Let them absorb into your skin, and then apply oil-based products on top.

  • Lowest to highest pH: If you're using active ingredients, it's important to know their approximate pH levels, and go from lowest to highest. In other words, acidic products (pH 3.0 to 4.0) should always be applied before more neutral ones (pH 5.0 to 7.0).

  • Low and high pH products don't mix: If your routine includes products with active ingredients, you can apply them at the same time if their pH levels are similar. But if there's a gap in pH of more than, say, 1.0 to 2.0 (or if you don't know the pH at all), I suggest waiting 30 minutes in between them or using them at different times of day. That way, each product can work at its intended pH.

Sometimes, you'll have a dilemma because the thicker or oilier product will have a lower pH than the lighter, more watery one. In this case, I think it's best to use them at different times of day, rather than risk changing the pH or having the lighter product not penetrate.

Now, let's discuss each step in more detail - I will be giving you an example of a routine for acne prone skin.

Routine For Acne Prone Skin - Correct Order of Layering -

AM + PM Routine

Step 1



It's important you are double cleansing with your cleanser to allow the following products you apply to penetrate more effectively!