Does it really matter if you apply your active products before your moisturiser? Or if you put on your vitamin C after your retinol?
The answer is YES.
You might be using the most amazing skincare products in the world, 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
AM + PM
It's important you are double cleansing with your cleanser to allow the following products you apply penetrate correctly!
25% Hyaluronic Acid
Low molecular weight to penetrate & hydrate from inside out
5.5% B5 to optimise skin function
Chemical exfoliants (a.k.a. acids) are the most effective way to remove dead skin cells and can be used as often as daily, if tolerated.
Choose from alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) like glycolic or lactic acid; beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs) like salicylic acid or betaine salicylate; or a combination.
All of them will exfoliate your skin surface, but BHAs
have the added bonus of deep-cleaning your pores.
AM + PM
Since the eye area doesn't have oil glands to help keep it moisturised, you'll want to give it some hydration right away—as soon as you're done cleansing and exfoliating.
(Since it's not going on top of the areas where you applied acid, you don't need to wait.)
Feel free to use either your regular moisturiser,
if you tolerate it around your eyes, or a
specialised eye cream or eye serum.
One of the most impressive
professional-strength rinse-off treatments.