Organizing your skincare routine can be just as satisfying as Marie Kondo-ing your home. And we don't just mean cleaning up your product stash—arranging your skincare steps in the right order counts, too! It can be a little overwhelming at first, but we guarantee that the results are worth it. Your products will immediately work better and you'll see the difference in your skin in no time! Ready for some rearranging?
Here's the basic order of skincare steps that you should follow:
Step 1: Makeup Remover
Includes: Cleansing oil, cleansing balm, micellar water, makeup removing microfiber cloths and wipes
The first few steps in skincare are all about removing all the makeup, dirt, and oil on the surface of our face. Makeup is the toughest to remove out of all three, which is why taking it off should be first on your list.
Although you can wash makeup off with a cleanser, that only applies when you're only wearing say, a bit of powder and non-waterproof mascara. But if you're wearing a full face—foundation, concealer, eyeshadow, etc.—a separate makeup remover like a cleansing oil or micellar water will make the process so much easier. These will allow you to thoroughly take everything off, too, because the last you want is for that makeup to clog your pores!
Step 2: Cleanser
Washing your face doesn't stop at removing your makeup. To achieve a perfectly clean canvas, you need to get rid of any excess debris that your previous step didn't, which is the job for a cleanser or facial wash. Simply massage the product all over your face and neck and rinse!
Cleansers come in many different shapes and forms, so it's important to use one that suits your skin's needs and preferences. For example, if you have dry skin, go for milk or cream cleansers to prevent that uncomfortable squeaky clean feel. For those with oily and combination skin, mild foaming cleansers are best for breaking down excess sebum without drying your skin out.
Step 3: Wash-Off Exfoliant/Mask
Includes: Face scrubs, clay masks
With all the makeup and dirt out of the way, your skin will be in the best state to receive all the goodness from your other skincare products.
The first in the post-cleansing sequence should be anything else that needs to be removed with water. This includes face scrubs, wash-off masks like clay masks, and other types of exfoliants that aren't meant to be left on.
Step 4: Toner, Essence, or Liquid Exfoliator
The rule of thumb with skincare is to work from thinnest to thickest. This will ensure that your products sit well on top of each other, preventing it from pilling or feeling uncomfortable in general.
With this in mind, you should always start with products with watery formulas like a toner or an essence. It's not necessary to use both (you can alternate or just pick one), but if you want that double-dose, apply the one with a thinner consistency first.
Here's where it gets a bit tricky: Some toners are formulated with acids (AHA, BHA, PHA), which technically makes them more of an exfoliator than a plain toner. If this is the kind you have, make sure to apply it on freshly-cleansed skin or right after your essence if your prefer.
Step 5: Retinoid/Benzyl Peroxide
Ideally, prescription creams like retinoids (tretinoin or adapalene) and benzoyl peroxide are applied nightly on clean skin after toning. The direct contact helps the active work better, although beginners may opt to apply it after moisturizer to reduce the active's side effects.
ICYDK, retinoids are a form of vitamin A can treat everything from acne, scarring, and fine lines and wrinkles. It's the prescription version of retinol, which also nudges our skin to continously renew itself to help it stay smooth, plump, and clear. Meanwhile, benzoyl peroxide targets acne by getting rid of bacteria and dead skin cells. BP creams can be bought over-the-counter or prescribed by a doctor.
For other prescription treatments, it's best to consult your dermatologist about where in your regimen you should be using that product.
Step 6: Sheet Mask
There are several reasons for this: 1) Your skin will receiving the mask essence properly, and 2) The sheet won't take your precious serum away by absorbing it. Ideally, you should wait a few minutes after a sheet mask before resuming the rest of your skincare. Some people even splash their face with a bit of water afterwards and start fresh from there!
Tip: Always give your skin ample time to absorb a product before moving on to the next step. It doesn't need to be completely set or dry, just not wet!
Step 7: Serum or Ampoule
Once your sheet mask or retinoid has settled, it's time to move on to a serum. Serums go on before moisturizer because these tend to have a lighter consistency. If you use an ampoule, this is also the time to apply it (again, go from thinnest to thickest!).
That said, you should also strategize about when you'll use specific serums. Vitamin C serums, for example, are best used during the day in order to maximize its antioxidant benefits. On the other hand, serums with retinol or AHAs like glycolic acid are advised to be used at night since their renewal properties make the skin more photosensitive.
Tip: Layer your actives strategically. Don't overload your routine with exfoliating ingredients (retinoids, chemical exfoliants) to prevent irritation. To avoid clashing, use one or two actives in the day and the others at night.
Step 8: Eye cream
Eye cream fits right in the middle of serum and moisturizer, mostly because it acts as those two things together. Putting it on before moisturizer also gives the cream better access to your peepers—which is a good thing because eye creams are specifically formulated for that area!
Step 9: Moisturizer
Includes: Sleeping masks, leave-on masks
Moisturizer acts not just as a vessel for hydration. Since they're often formulated as creams and gels instead of liquids, it secures all the products you applied beforehand. It also prevents your skin from drying out from lack of water—or in derm terms, it prevents transepidermal water loss.
However, it's also possible to skip moisturizer if you've already received ample juice from other skincare. Truth be told, moisturizer is a must only if your skin still feels dry or if you have a retinoid in your regimen. It's definitely still up to your personal preference, though, as long as you reach for a moisturizer that suits your skin type.
Step 10: Face Oil
Face oils have similar "sealing" benefits as moisturizer, but often more potent. The reason boilds down to basic chemistry: Oil and water don't mix. Meaning, the less that your face oil has to interact with the water-based formulas in your skincare routine, the better. What's more, when applied after moisturizer, the oil acts as a wall that'll secure hydration inside your skin.
One exception to this rule are face oils that are formulated as lightweight serums. These could be recommended to applied under moisturizer and work quite well. At the end of the day, you should use your judgment and follow the instructions on the label!
Step 11: Sunscreen
Sunscreen is your skin's first and best defense again the sun, so always, always apply it last to maximize protection. Using it under other skincare products will do nothing but dull sunscreen's potency. That's like going out in the rain holding an umbrella with holes, or wearing your socks over your shoes.
Because SPF should go on last, make sure that the rest of your routine jives with its texture and formula. This will help avoid pilling, or when products form small balls on your face from not mixing well.
Tip: Dermatologists recommend wearing broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least an SPF 30 daily!
Bonus: Face Mist/Facial Spray
You were probably wondering why we didn't mention face mists at all on the list above. That's because there's no set rule about when you can use them! A facial mist can be applied at any point of your skincare routine—if your skin needs a quick moisture boost, spray away!