So, you just got into skincare. And you’re bopping along on your merry way.
Then, out of nowhere, your YouTube feed suggests a get-unready-with-me video. You click on it because you’re bored…and it looks at least semi-interesting. That’s when you realize that they’re layering their toners/serums/moisturizers in a weird order.
And ultimately, you’re left with a gnawing pit in your stomach:
Have I been doing it wrong…this entire time????
Well, there’s a good chance you haven’t. After all, YouTube isn’t the most reliable place to find facts.
But, then again, you could have been bamboozled somewhere in your hunt for the perfect routine.
Read through the article below to self-check your skincare routine order.
The Right Order
Before we get started, I want to warn you that you’re about to see the whole kit and caboodle of skincare steps. But, the truth of the matter is that you don’t need to submit to all of the steps listed below. Instead, use this article as a jumping off point. That is, determine the skin concern that you want to address and build a routine outwards from there.
Regardless of your skin concerns, the most important thing to do in any routine is to layer your products from thinnest to thickest. This promotes absorption, making each of your products more effective.
Alright, let’s go!
Step 1: Cleanse
No surprises here.
Cleansing is, in fact, the irrefutable first step in any decent skincare routine. Removing dirt, excess oil, sweat, pollution, and general grimy-ness actually preps your skin for maximum absorption. I mean, think about it. If your skin is clogged with a film of dirt and oil, products won’t be able to penetrate through it. But, if you clear-out the gunk, you’re opening up your pores to slurp-up your products.
In choosing a cleanser, It’s always best to pick something suited to your skin type. For example, oily skin usually does better with foaming cleansers. And dry skin usually does better with a milky/moisturizing cleanser.
Of course, you don’t necessarily need to use a cleanser in the morning, especially if you have dry or dehydrated skin. You can just splash water on your face and move onto the rest of your routine.
Whatever you do, make sure to use lukewarm water. I know it’s tempting to use hot water on a cold day (and vice versa), but subjecting your skin to extreme temperatures can irritate your barrier. So, you want to be careful.
Step 2: Toner
Okay, so you’ve cleansed your skin. Now what?
Yep, you guessed it. Use a toner!
As it turns out, soap and water can have a negative affect your skin’s ‘protective acid mantle’ (1). And, for the record, water has a pH of 7 while the ideal pH of skin sits at around 5.5. Adding water to your skin during the cleansing phase of your routine, can muck up your skin’s pH and lead to a drying effect.
A good toner rebalances your skin’s pH and preps it for what’s coming next. Plus, it’s refreshing as heck, particularly when you spritz it on with a spray bottle.
Step 3: Actives/Acids
Everything up until this point has been pretty cut and dry.
Well, get ready for it! Because here comes the tricky part.
Don’t get me wrong, acids are great. They slough off dead skin without the harsh, sandpapery mess of physical exfoliation.
But, it’s easy to get swept away with acids. And, when you get swept away, you start to suffer from over-exfoliation. Which sometimes leads to dehydrated skin. Or even worse—acid burns. Ugh.
If you choose to use acids, exfoliants, or any other actives in your routine, I recommend that you use just one at a time.
That being said, I know that my recommendation won’t deter some of you guys. So, I’m going to lay out a game plan for you anyway.
There are three types of acids/actives I’m going to cover in this section. These are:
- Vitamin C
If you must use all three, start off with Vitamin C. The good thing about Vitamin C is that it’s a potent antioxidant, so it can protect you from some of the nasty stuff in the environment, like UV rays. Not to mention, it kicks ass on the hyperpigmentation front.
Or wait 15-30 minutes. Then continue with acids.
Again, it’s not recommended to use BHA’s and AHA’s in the same routine. But, if you must, ALWAYS apply BHA’s before AHA’s.
BHA’s usually come in the form of salicylic acids. BHA’s clean out clogged pores, which makes them great acne fighters. At the same time, they’re super drying, so some skin types might want to look the other way.
Once again, you can move onto the next step. Or wait 15-30 minutes and continue with AHA’s.
While BHA’s are better suited for acne, AHA’s are better suited for anti-aging concerns. They’re really great for fighting things like fine lines and hyperpigmentation. Some popular AHA’s are:
- Glycolic Acid
- Lactic Acid
- Malic Acid
But, be forewarned, AHA’s will make your skin extremely photosensitive. Don’t forget to pile on sunscreen after every use. Seriously. Even if you use it at night, make sure to apply sunscreen in the morning.
You don’t want to go too crazy with this step because you can mess with your skin’s outer layer. Apply exfoliants every few days if you suffer from sensitive (you know who you are!). Or just choose one (something gentle like Vitamin C) for everyday use.
Step 4: Serum
Serums get a lot of hate.
Sure, they’re usually just light moisturizers. But, that’s what makes them so great!
Sometimes globbing on a thick layer of creamy moisturizer isn’t what your skin needs. What it needs is a few light layers of a moisturizing serum.
Pro tip: Applying serums while the skin is still damp (maybe after cleansing or toning) to ensure maximum absorption.
Step 5: Eye Cream
Just like serums, eye creams get a bad rap too.
“It’s just moisturizer for your eye,” they say!
But hey, if you’re super worried about crow’s feet, it doesn’t hurt to indulge in something that might be able to combat it.
Then again, whenever I’ve tried using eye creams in the past, they were too oily for my already oily skin. Nobody wants bumpy under eye bags. So, opt for a gel-formula if you’re sensitive and oily like me.
The most important thing to remember is that you shouldn’t tug at your skin on application. The skin under your eyes is really (!!!) delicate, so apply your eye creams in a patting motion to avoid any disruptions.
Step 6: Moisturizer
At this point, you’re probably ready to lock-in the moisture.
Typically, moisturizers are made up of humectants, emollients, and/or occlusives. Humectants and occlusives will respectively draw-in and lock-in moisture. Emollients, however, indirectly affects moisture. You see, emollients help strengthen the stratum corneum. And a healthy stratum corneum is better at holding onto moisture.
Step 7: Retinol (PM ONLY)
I know that the directions on your tube of Retin-A say to apply the product right after cleansing. And, by doing that, you’ll definitely maximize its effects. But, you might also suffer from a crazy amount of peeling.
That’s why I prefer the buffer method. Apply retinoids after moisturizer to save your skin from excessive dryness.
Then, as your skin starts to acclimate to retinoids, you can slowly start to introduce it in an earlier step.
By the way retinoids, like acids, are also exfoliating. So, you don’t want to mix these two things in a routine. You can really irritate your skin that way.
Step 8: Sunscreen (AM ONLY)
I don’t want this to turn into a PSA, but you should ALWAYS APPLY SUNSCREEN IN THE AM. Even if you don’t have time to do anything else.
Sure you can cleanse and moisturizing will make your skin clearer. But, applying sunscreen will reduce your chance of getting skin cancer. That’s huge!
Apart from the acute health concern, UV exposure cause premature aging (hello, wrinkles). So, by applying sunscreen, you’re staving off the sun’s damaging effects.
To get sunscreen’s full effects, apply it to all your exposed parts. Yep, your ears and neck need some love too. And don’t go for a wimpy SPF 15. Instead, go for something that’s at least in the SPF 30 range, if not more.
Wrapping It Up
Like I said in the intro, you don’t need to use every step in this routine. And, as a wise man once said, “Nobody got time for that.”
But, it’s ultra-important to have some kind of daily routine to stave off things like pollution and premature aging. Something like a cleanser > moisturizer > sunscreen routine will pack a punch.
Plus, you wouldn’t want to add a bunch of products into your routine at one time. It’s better to introduce one product at a time. That way you’ll know which ones work and which ones are wreaking havoc.