The Expert's Guide To Applying Your Skin Care Products In The Right Order

December 11, 2018
Claudia Dimuro
By: Claudia Dimuro | by L'Oréal
The Expert's Guide To Applying Your Skin Care Products In The Right Order

When it comes to skin care concerns, there’s a ton of information on which products to incorporate into your routine to help address the issue(s). Excess oil on the surface? Remove it with blotting papers. Dry skin? Moisturize diligently. But for all the advice we receive on which products to use daily or weekly, it’s not always clear the order in which they should be applied onto the skin. 

What comes first: moisturizer or serum? Eye cream or sunscreen? If you’re not quite sure, you’ll want to keep reading. Below, board-certified dermatologist, and consultant, Dr. Elizabeth Houshmand (@houshmandmd), explains the order you should be applying your skin care products. Read on to learn the full chronology, as well as the reasoning behind each step.


The right order to apply skin care products has a lot to do with the products texture. According to Dr. Houshmand, you should always start with the thinnest product in your regimen and end with the heaviest. “It is important to follow this order to allow for the best absorption of active ingredients,” she explains.

Step #1: Cleanse Your Skin

Cleanser should be the first step in your skin care routine because it removes dirt, impurities, and oils and provides a clean slate upon which to layer the rest of your products. “In the morning, I recommend washing with water only, unless you have oily skin,” advises Dr. Houshmand. “Then, you can use a cleanser.” Come nighttime, Dr. Houshmand recommends that all skin types use a gentle, non-drying cleanser that works for them.

Step #2: Use a Serum

If you like to use toner, do so immediately after cleansing—before applying a serum. If you aren’t following up your cleansing routine with a toner, you can jump to the next step which is applying a serum. Since serums are often thin liquids, they should be applied earlier in your routine. “Pick serums that are specific to your skin concerns,” says Dr. Houshmand, “[For example], if you have acne, pick a serum with salicylic acid; if you notice fine lines and wrinkles, consider a serum with peptides.”

Serums are also able to deliver active ingredients to your skin’s surface. Be sure to carve yourself enough time out of your day to allow your skin to fully absorb the formula. “In the morning, [I like to] have my coffee after applying serum, then go to the next step,” states Dr. Houshmand.

Need a serum rec? Dr. Houshmand suggests an antioxidant serum. “My favorite is a potent vitamin C,” she elaborates. Try SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic, a cult-favorite vitamin C serum that can help reduce the appearance of discoloration and neutralize free radical damage.

Step #3: Moisturize Your Skin

skin care product order moisturize

Once it’s time to apply a moisturizer, you should notice your skin care products get heavier and heavier in texture. Dr. Houshmand explains that denser formulas, like moisturizers, can help to lock and seal moisture on your skin. “This is great in the cooler months,” she adds, since skin is typically dryer in winter compared to summer. Now would also be a good time to extend hydration to your eye contour with an eye cream. Depending on your concerns in that area—think: puffiness, crow’s feet, dark circles—pick an eye cream that’s formulated to help address your concerns.  

Step #4: End with Sunscreen

Save the best for last and apply broad-spectrum sunscreen. “Sunscreen should be your final step in the morning,” says Dr. Houshmand. If sunscreen isn’t applied and you head outdoors and expose your skin to harmful UV rays, you could damage your skin. What’s the point of following a meticulous skin care routine with well-formulated products if you neglect sunscreen day in and day out?

Editor’s note: Short on time? Combine the last two steps by using a moisturizer formulated with sunscreen. We share a handful of our favorite moisturizers with SPF here!

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