When it comes to skincare order, how do we know which products go where? Is there a specific routine we should follow? Or is it a free-for-all? And what’s the first stop after cleanser?
Most of us have the basics down: cleanse, maybe tone and moisturise. But, as for the extra steps in between, it’s hard to know where they fit in. Like, if we have two serums to apply, what’s the sitch?
It’s all well and good us building a decent skincare collection, but if we’re not applying them in the right order, we could be wasting our time and money.
According to A-list dermatologist, Dr Lancer (who works with Beyonce, Margot Robbie and Kim Kardashian), the correct skincare order is essential for healthy skin. “Everyone has unique skin needs, and creating your own skincare ‘cocktail’ will give you the results you are looking for,” he says. “Properly applying and layering products means better, more noticeable results in the long run. If you have been using a product and not seeing the results you were hoping for, you could be applying it at the wrong time of day, or in the incorrect order.”
We asked Dr Lancer, Daniel Isaacs, Director of Research at Medik8 and Lucy Hilson, co-founder of SKN Rehab for their top tips on layering skincare correctly to coax the very best out of our stash.
How to establish a good skincare routine from scratch if you’re feeling a little lost
Skincare routine steps, order and products.
Why should we be layering our skincare products?
A customised skincare routine is a good idea because there’s no single product that has all the required components to suit all skin types and skin concerns. Your skin might benefit from Vitamin C every day and a retinol every few days for instance, whereas someone else might want to apply these more or less. “Layering up your skincare is a great way to address multiple concerns at once,” confirms Lucy.
Are there any golden rules around which order we should apply our skincare in?
The golden rule is to apply your products from the thinnest texture to the thickest. “My general recommendation is that any thin products like serums or liquid treatments, go first” explains Dr Lancer. This way they can be fully absorbed by the skin before any heavier creams are applied. “Thinner products can’t penetrate through the barrier of thicker products. If you use this way of application you will get the most out of each product and its ingredients. If not applied in the correct way, you could essentially be cancelling out the benefits of the previous product you’ve applied,” says Lucy.
Your skincare routine should always end with SPF in the morning. No matter the consistency, your SPF should be applied after the rest of your skincare so that it’s the first layer the sun hits.
If we have more than one serum, which should be applied first and which should be applied second?
The same rule around texture applies here, too. Look at the consistency of both serums. “Always apply water based products before oil based products, e.g. hyaluronic acid first over an oil-based vitamin C, vitamin A or active product,” explains Daniel. If you’re unsure, apply both textures on your hand to see which is thicker.
If the consistencies are both the same, the second thing to remember is to apply the most active ingredient first. “When applying serums apply the most active first, and go with the ingredient that you want your skin to benefit from most,” says Lucy. For instance, “if your biggest concerns are acne and blemishes, go for a salicylic acid serum – if it’s pigmentation, opt for vitamin C first,” she says.
And thirdly, some serums work better in the evening than the morning and vice versa. The two main ones to remember are vitamin C and retinol. “Vitamin C is best applied in the morning as it offers skin protecting properties which can help protect cells against pollution and other environmental factors that you may come across during the day,” says Lucy. “When vitamin C is used with other antioxidants like vitamin E, it can boost results and efficiency.” Retinol works best in the evening as it can increase your skin’s sensitivity to sunlight, so rather than applying them both together, you’d apply them at different times of the day.
Are there any ingredients that shouldn’t be layered together?
This really depends on the formulas you’re using. The technology and innovation around formulating means that brands are able to effectively combine ingredients that might previously neutralise or sensitise each other. This is thanks to solutions like drone technology and encapsulation, which keep opposing ingredients separated in micro capsules and only release their contents once they reach the correct destination in your skin.
This will also very much depend upon how reactive your skin is and what it can tolerate. But in general, retinol and acids can irritate skin when combined as they’re both very powerful ingredients.
“Retinol (vitamin A) is the holy grail of skincare ingredients, and most skin types can benefits from its amazing skin rejuvenating properties – but, it doesn’t combine well with acids such as AHAs and BHAs,” says Lucy. “This is because they both exfoliate the outer layer of skin. Mixing the two can cause skin irritation and dryness, it can also damage the skin’s moisture barrier.”
Likewise, benzoyl peroxide and retinol can be an overly aggressive combination. “Benzoyl peroxide works by killing the bacteria that causes acne and blemishes, it can however dry out the skin with its anti-blemish properties. Benzoyl peroxide oxidises retinol, meaning it cancels out its benefits to the skin – if applied together it can also be irritating to the skin,” adds Lucy. If a product is tingly but tolerable and effective, combine it with gentle next steps, like a nourishing vitamin E moisturiser rather than doubling up the ouch-factor.
Drone technology and micro-encapsulation: How skincare got SO much smarter
Are there any exceptions to the rules, for instance, if we have sensitive skin?
“Every skin is different and skincare isn’t ‘one size fits all,” says Daniel. “Try introducing active ingredients in the evening first, and when you’re able to tolerate them (e.g. you have no signs of sensitivity or irritation) you can potentially add a second active in the morning or evening, too. When introducing new ingredients and actives go low in strength and slowly introduce it into your regime, e.g. twice a week, followed by every other night and go steady.”
How should we structure our daytime skincare regime?
During the day, your beauty regime should focus on protecting your skin from harsh UV light and environmental aggressors, such as pollution. Dr Lancer insists that sun protection should always be the final step in your skincare routine, even if you plan to wear cosmetics that have an SPF rating. This is especially important if you’ve been using exfoliating ingredients like retinol and glycolic acid at night. He also says that a treatment cream with powerful antioxidants is an excellent way to protect your skin during the day.
“At Medik8 we like to keep it super simple,” says Daniel. “Vitamin C and sunscreen by day. Vitamin A by night. Then, additional products and active ingredients can then be added alongside this holy grail combination to treat specific skin types and concerns.”
An example of a good morning routine:
“Cleansing is the first step of any good skincare routine,” says Lucy. “Cleanse each morning with a cream or oil based cleanser to remove any dead skin that may have built up overnight. I’d recommend Emma Hardie’s Moringa Cleansing Balm. Not only does this smell amazing, it literally melts away impurities.
2. Tone (optional)
“Toners balance the skin’s pH, hydrate, and remove any remaining product from he skin,” says Lucy. It can also offer up some exfoliating benefits. “If you want to incorporate acids into your skincare a toner containing them is a great way to start. I would recommend a lactic acid or a mild glycolic. However, if you plan to use a retinol at night, you may want to skip using acid toners and go for a balancing or calming toner instead.” Pixi Glow Tonic is a brilliant glycolic acid toner that really helps brighten the complexion as well as minimise pores and blackheads, while La Roche Posay’s Serozinc soothes and balances skin.
3. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is an absolute skin superfood. The high levels of antioxidants in vitamin C means it’s able to protect skin against pollution and neutralise free radicals. It’s also excellent at diminishing pigmentation and adding glow to dull skin.
4. Active Ingredient (optional)
If you wanted to add an extra active, for instance niacinamide to treat breakouts, you could add it in here.
“A good moisturiser will improve the barrier function of the skin and lock in all those active ingredients that are working to give you a beautiful and healthy complexion. You can use the same one each morning and at night but some will be lighter weight than others, allowing the skin to breathe. I’d recommend using a lighter one in the morning, then a thicker one at night. Often night creams also contain ingredients that help the skin’s overnight repair process,” says Lucy.
“SPF should always be applied last every day – even during the winter months. A makeup product containing SPF does’t count. Always use a broad spectrum sunscreen to ensure you are protecting the skin from UVA and UVB rays. This is particularly important when using high potency ingredients such as AHA/BHA acids and retinol as the skin is more prone to sun damage,” says Lucy. “I’d recommend SKN Rehab SPF30. This a broad spectrum protection that protects against UVA and UVB rays. It also contains a powerful combination of vitamins and antioxidants ( Vitamin E and Vitamin C) to not only protect the skin but to target and treat the damaging effects of the sun.”
How to structure your nighttime skincare regime
Your nightly skincare regimen should follow the same order as your daytime regimen. However, there is no need for sunscreen. In the evening, your routine should focus on rejuvenating and repairing the skin. Powerful anti-agers and skin smoothers like retinol and glycolic acid are best used at night since they increase photosensitivity in the skin.
An example of a good evening routine:
1. Double Cleanse
“In the evening it’s always a good to double cleanse, this will ensure you remove any makeup and impurities from the skin. Start with an oil or cream based cleanser, then follow up with a second cleanser to make sure your skin is really clean,” says Lucy.
2. Active Ingredient (optional)
If you wanted to add an extra active, for instance salicylic acid to treat breakouts, or hyaluronic acid for extra hydration, you could add it in here. But if your skin is sensitive it’s a better idea to stick to just one powerful active e.g salicylic or retinol.
3. Vitamin A
Vitamin A (or retinol) is the gold standard of anti-ageing. It’s one of, if not the, only proven ingredient to produce visible anti-ageing benefits and it’s a skilful multi-tasker. It can increase cell turnover and stimulate collagen and elastin production. It helps to increase the appearance of firmness, diminish the look of fine lines and wrinkles, improve uneven skin tone and smooth the surface of skin. Medik8 offers a range of different options, from gentler solutions like the Intelligent Retinol 3TR to get you started and the more powerful upgrade, Intelligent Retinol 6RT Intense, for when you want to up the ante.
You might want to use a richer cream in the evening to give it plenty of time to absorb.
Is it OK to skip a day?
Alternating days is most relevant when it comes to weather, climate and location. “On more humid days you may want to cut back on the daytime application numbers because there’s potential for some skin congestion,” explains Dr Lancer. In which case, you might find that your SPF has enough moisturising action to forgo your moisturiser or morning serum.
Similarly, if your skin suffers from sensitivity, you may find that using high strength ingredients like retinol and glycolic every other day, or every few days is enough for you.
Now you know how to layer your skincare products, read our ultimate guide to layering your makeup products.
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