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How to Apply Your Skincare Products in the Correct Order

Follow these steps now and your skin will thank you for years to come.

Contributing Writer
skincare regimen bottles
Photography by: Getty Images

A normal skincare regimen used to consist of washing your face and moisturizing, then applying sunscreen in the morning if you were really scrupulous. Now, being conscientious about your skin involves much more—in fact, there are several steps involved. That's a good thing, though, because the more preventative action you take now, the better your skin will look in the long run, regardless of your age. Of course, it can get confusing trying to figure out how to layer serums and lotions and essences and ampoules. What do you use, and when?

 

Luckily, we have Peach & Lily founder, Alicia Yoon, on hand to break it down. (If you've never been on Peach & Lily's site before, it's a one-stop shop for all things Korean skincare. Unsurprisingly, Yoon really knows her stuff. Here, she shares the order to apply your products for an effective, fuss-free regimen.

 

Related: Daily Skincare Tips

 

Oil-based cleanser.

Every night (and morning, if your skin is oily, Yoon says), start with an oil-based cleanser—it easily picks up sebum, makeup, sunscreen, and grime from the day, which a traditional mild cleanser just can't do quite as effectively.

 

Water-based cleanser.

Follow up with a gentle, water-based cleanser to refresh and cleanse your complexion without stripping it dry.  

 

Exfoliator.

A few times a week (or less, if your skin is sensitive), use an exfoliator to deep clean your pores and remove the top layer of dead skin cells. Doing so will let the workhorses of your regimen that follow (serums, for example) really penetrate to work their best.

 

Face mask.

Your face is thoroughly cleansed and your pores are clear, so for those days you feel like masking, do it now. Those healthy, rejuvenating ingredients will be readily absorbed into your skin.

 

Toner.

"Toners help balance the skin's pH," Yoon says, "and a healthy pH is important for healthy skin." If your pH is out of balance, it can lead to sensitized skin, dryness, and increased oil production.  

 

Prescription topicals.

If you have a prescription from your dermatologist, whether for retinol or benzoyl peroxide, this is when you'd use it. "Wait until after the toner has really settled into your skin," Yoon says. "And after you apply your prescription, make sure the formula has really dried down before continuing to the next step."

 

Related: The Best New Skincare Products At The Drugstore

 

Essence.

This light product will hydrate and plump your skin, feed it with nutrients, and prep it for the next step, serum. (Some essences have serum-like benefits, Yoon says, but essences are typically more watery and not as concentrated as serums.)

 

Serums, face oils, and ampoules.

With these nutrient-rich products, the general rule of thumb is the lighter the viscosity, or texture, the earlier it should go in your regimen. (The thinner the texture, the deeper it can penetrate into your pores. If you put on a thicker oil before a watery serum, chances are that oil will block the serum from absorbing into your skin.) That said, this step can be personalized, Yoon says. "I find some people can get worried about 'the rules' and doing it right, but honestly, don't stress out," she says. "Have fun. You can even take your face oil and mix it in with a serum—skincare cocktail it a bit."

 

Eye cream.

Pat an eye cream around the eye area to protect and depuff, Yoon says, which is the most delicate skin on your face. (And it's usually the first area to show signs of aging.)

 

Moisturizer or sleep mask.

Now's the time for moisturizer—the step that seals everything in and acts as a barrier to protect from dryness and the outside elements. In the nighttime, if you occasionally use a sleep mask that absorbs into your skin like a moisturizer, you can use this in place of traditional moisturizer.  

 

Sunscreen.

In the mornings, sunscreen comes last. "Sunscreen needs to be well absorbed before your put makeup on top," Yoon says. "The integrity and effectiveness of it could be compromised if you immediately put makeup on top, because sunscreens aren't the most stable formulas." Yoon usually applies sunscreen, gets dressed, and puts on makeup. If you're pressed for time, use a tinted sunscreen or CC cream that's formulated to be blended with makeup.