While it’s true there isn’t one exact morning routine that will work for everyone, there is an order in which to apply your face products that makes them work their best and do what they’re supposed to do. Some people opt for a “less is more” routine, minimizing the products in their cabinet and reducing what goes on their faces, and some go all out and use every product they believe makes their skin look and feel its best. Whatever you choose, know that the way you layer each product has a major impact on its efficacy.
Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Heather Rogers says, “The order of application is incredibly important. The skin’s job is to keep things out, but many of the skincare products we use have ingredients we want to get in. Only a very small amount of these key ingredients can penetrate the skin, even when perfectly formulated and perfectly applied. If you don’t apply products in the correct order, you will not see the best results from your skin care regimen.”
In short, it doesn’t make any sense to drop cash on a dreamy eye cream just to use it incorrectly and wind up not seeing the results you paid for.
From dermatologists themselves, this is the optimal skin routine to start off each morning with.
The cleanser should be the first step in your morning skincare routine in order to best prep your skin to absorb the key ingredients in the other products you apply afterward. Cleansing gets rid of any dead skin, oils, and bacteria that build up on your face overnight.
Since not all cleansers are created equally, you should look at the ingredients to see which cleanser will be best for your skin type. Avoid cleansers with harsh sulfates as these tend to strip your face of the oils it needs. For normal or dry skin, a hydrating cleanser with peptides is best. For oily or acne-prone skin, a mild exfoliating cleanser with salicylic acid with help remove any dead skin cells that can clog pores and exacerbate your acne.
- Apply eye cream
Since this step can be so often missed, it should be done first after cleansing. Depending on your under-eye skin’s needs, you can opt for either a hydrating cream or a more lightweight hydrating gel, the latter of which may be best under concealer or eye makeup.
Morgan Rabach, M.D., dermatologist and co-founder of LM Medical NYC, recommends gently patting eye cream on using your ring finger all the way around your eyes. This will reduce the amount of tugging on the delicate skin in that area. Rabach also says the most effective eye creams will contain ingredients such as peptides, which tighten and depuff your skin, as well as formulas containing hydrating hyaluronic acid, brightening caffeine, and ceramides.
- Apply a toner or essence
Some may be unfamiliar with the difference between a toner and an essence. Toner is best for oily or acne-prone skin that requires gentle exfoliation, and essence is best for dry skin in need of additional hydration.
For those with acne-prone or oily skin, look for a toner that has ingredients such as glycolic or salicylic acid. For those in need of more hydration, look for an essence that contains hyaluronic acid. Both products can be applied by soaking a cotton pad and gently patting the product on your face, avoiding the eye area.
- Apply a serum
Now that your skin has been primed to receive more active ingredients, you can apply a serum. Serums contain ingredients that cannot be absorbed if applied after thicker products such as moisturizers.
Dr. Rabach suggests applying a serum with antioxidants that protect skin from free radicals such as UV rays and pollutants. For dehydrated skin, look for ingredients such as vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, and alpha and beta hydroxy acids (also known as AHAs and BHAs). For more acne-prone skin, look for serums that contain stem cells, retinol, and green tea.
Moisturizers work to both hydrate and seal in hydration. This is why it’s best to apply the aforementioned products first since the moisturizer will block their key ingredients from penetrating your skin. Moisturizers formulated with glycerin and hyaluronic will help pull in water, and ceramides will help seal the outer layers of skin.
The moisturizer you use in the morning should be different than what you use in your nighttime routine. If you wear makeup, it’s best to use a daily moisturizer with a lightweight formula that won’t affect how your makeup sits on your face. Reserve the heavier, creamy formulas for the evening.
- Apply spot treatment
This step is for active breakouts only and can be skipped if you aren’t experiencing any acne. It may feel counter-intuitive, but spot treatment should be applied after your moisturizer has taken some time to set into your skin.
After applying your moisturizer, wait a few minutes until you feel your skin has absorbed it and then apply a spot treatment to just the pimple itself. This ensures the product stays on top of that one area and won’t get diluted. If applied prior to moisturizer, you risk spreading those chemicals all over your face and onto sensitive areas.
There are two common spot treatments you can use: benzoyl peroxide will help kill acne-causing bacteria, and salicylic acid will gently exfoliate the area and dry out the oil glands.
- Apply face oil
The most common recommendation by dermatologists is to apply a face oil after moisturizing and before applying any sunscreen, according to Mona Gohara, M.D., dermatologist and associate clinical professor at Yale School of Medicine. This is because oils are occlusive, meaning they help trap moisture into your skin. It’s the last step in ensuring your face retains the right amount of moisture throughout the day.
Some oils are meant to hydrate while others brighten and strengthen skin. If you prefer, you can actually just mix the oil into your moisturizer and apply it. Whatever you decide, you only need two to three drops as oil tends to go a long way.
- Apply sunscreen
In recent years, we’ve learned just how important it is to wear sunscreen in order to maintain skin health. Pretty much any dermatologist will tell you sunscreen should be worn every single day. Even on a cold or cloudy day, UV rays can deeply penetrate and damage your skin. In order for sunscreen to be effective, it needs to be applied after any moisturizers or face oils. Applying sunscreen prior to oil can reduce the efficacy of the sunscreen.
Sunscreen comes in two forms: physical and chemical. Physical sunscreens are formulated with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which are minerals that work reflect light away from your skin. Chemical sunscreen will absorb light and prevent it from penetrating skin by turning it into heat. If you have more sensitive skin, you should choose a mineral-based sunscreen as chemical sunscreens are usually thinner and spread more easily.
Whatever you choose and whatever type of sunscreen is best for your skin, the goal is to wear it every day.
Of course, not every single step in this routine will be right for everyone. For instance, as mentioned above, some skin types don’t require any spot treatment, and some people may choose to opt-out of using a serum or oil here and there. What you should focus on is creating a routine that works best for your skin’s needs and remember that the order of application is necessary in order for each product to work its best— and don’t forget to finish with SPF!
Is this the order in which you apply your products? Is there an additional step you swear by that isn’t listed above? Let us know your morning routine by commenting below.