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How to Layer Skincare Products

How to Layer Skincare Products

You might be surprised to hear this, but there is a right and wrong way to layer skincare products. In fact, layering your products incorrectly can prevent your favorite serums, oils, and spot treatments from working their best.

You probably already know to apply cleanser first and then moisturizer and SPF, but where do products like serums, face oils, eye cream, exfoliators, and blemish treatments come in? It can definitely get confusing — especially if you have an extravagant skincare regimen.

Here’s the right way to layer skincare products to get the most out of your skincare routine.


#1: Cleanser

As a rule of thumb, skincare products should be layered from thinnest to thickest — starting light and ending with thicker, richer formulas like face creams and oils.

Cleansing should always come first — before everything. You need to wash away dirt, oil, and dead skin cells (and makeup, if you’re wearing any) to create a nice clean canvas in order for active ingredients to absorb properly.

The face wash you use depends on your skin type. Opt for a gentle cleanser if you have sensitive skin, a hydrating cleanser if you have dry skin, and a salicylic acid-based cleanser if you have oily skin or acne-prone skin. Or try a double cleanse using a cleansing oil and BHA-based cleanser to thoroughly clean your skin and unclog pores without drying out your skin.


#2: Toner

Toners are no longer the drying, alcohol-based liquids they once were. You know, the ones that irritated the heck out of your skin! Today, toners are either chock full of soothing, hydrating ingredients to nourish dry skin or with chemical exfoliants to clear away breakouts.

Toners essentially prime your face so that ingredients can be better absorbed when they’re applied later on in your routine. It’s an optional step, but absolutely worth implementing if you’re looking to maximize the benefits from your beauty products.

Once again, choose a toner that best suits your skin type and your skin’s needs.


#3: Serums

Next comes serums, the true gamechangers in your routine that can treat all kinds of skin concerns such as fine lines and wrinkles, acne, dryness, uneven skin tone, and dark spots. They work so well because they contain a high concentration of active ingredients that deeply penetrate skin and target specific issues.

Retinol, vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, and hydroxy acids are some of the most common active ingredients found in serums.

Even with serums, though, you still need to apply according to each formula’s consistency. According to dermatologists, always apply water based serums before oil based ones. If both consistencies are the same, 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 Hilson, co-founder of SKN Rehab. “If your biggest concerns are acne and blemishes, go for a salicylic acid serum - if its pigmentation, opt for vitamin C first.”

Try Rainbow’s Hydrate Serum to boost skin’s hydration. If you’re looking for a good vitamin C serum, look no further than Rainbow’s Smooth Serum, a skin refining formula of antioxidants and vegan collagen. For brightening effects, try Rainbow’s Glow Serum, which contains an illuminating blend of glycolic acid and bakuchiol. And for firming and smoothing effects, opt for Rainbow’s Tighten Serum, which contains a blend of red microalgae, lactic acid and glycolic acid.


#4: Eye Cream

Eye creams are typically lighter than lotions and creams, so apply them before putting on your moisturizers. If you apply your eye cream afterwards, it won’t be able to penetrate the thicker products, and that means it won’t really do much for your dark circles and puffiness.

Eye cream is another optional step, but it can be extremely beneficial for those experiencing creases, dark circles, or bags in the eye area.


#5: Spot Treatments

It’s best to apply acne treatments at night, after your serums and eye creams but before your moisturizer so it can really penetrate your skin. It’s a common mistake for people to dab on their spot treatments as the last step of their routine. The problem is, all those acne-fighting ingredients in your acne treatments won’t be able to penetrate your rich night creams, meaning they’ll have little effect on your blemishes.


#6: Moisturizer

Moisturizer is an important stop for adding hydration and locking in moisture. But that’s not all it does. According to cosmetic chemist Ni'Kita Wilson, it also “seals in serums on your skin, which can make them more effective.”


#7: Facial Oil

Oils really should be the final step in your night-time skincare routine. It’s fine to skip them in your morning routine, but applying them at night can provide intense hydration and nourishment — especially to dry, irritated skin types.

“Oils can easily penetrate moisturizers, serums, and treatments, but no products can penetrate an oil, which means they need to be applied last,” says dermatologist Dr. Mona Gohara.


#8: Sunscreen

The final step of your am routine should always be sunscreen. It even works over your oils since SPF isn’t trying to penetrate anything. The purpose of sunscreen is primarily to protect your skin from environmental aggressors like UV rays and pollution. Invest in a mineral sunscreen and apply it every two hours during the day. It really is one of the best anti-aging products since sun exposure is the leading cause of fine lines, wrinkles, and dark spots.

Make sure you wear SPF 30 or higher to get the most protection from your sunscreen and prevent issues like sunburn, discoloration, and even skin cancer.


Applying your skincare products in the right order can make a huge difference to your skin. Always try to remember to go from lightest to heaviest so that every product in your routine can fully penetrate the skin. You could have the most luxurious products available, but if you’re not applying them in the correct order, they really won’t do much good for your skin.


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