Am I the only one who spent years slapping on products, just kinda praying that they'd stack up in a semi-logical way? I wondered, "Do antioxidant serums go before acne treatments? Eye cream before moisturizer?" Does it matter? Read up to see what experts had to say about your morning and evening regimens:
Step one: cleanser
Obvious, yeah, but you must always start by washing your face to dissolve dirt, oil and grime, which can block pores and keep other products from getting in and doing their work.
Step two: exfoliant
Feel free to skip cleansing on days you exfoliate, since sloughing also removes dirt and oil, says Dr. Jeannette Graf, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at New York University School of Medicine.
Step three: toner
Many experts don't promote toning, but there are exceptions. "It's good as a post-rinse following at-home microdermabrasion to remove tiny crystals, or as a soothing step following makeup removal," Graf says.
Step four: prescription products
"Always apply prescription topicals first, on clean, dry skin, to enhance their penetration," says Graf. Many are designed to be used twice daily, so make sure they're at the top of the order at night, too.
Step five: antioxidant serum
Think of layering skincare products as you would layering clothes in winter. "Start with the thinnest item and end with the thickest," says Graf. Free radical-fighting serums are crucial for daytime wear when your skin needs protection from the sun and pollution.
Step six: eye cream
Pat it on prior to moisturizing. "Topping an eye cream or serum with lotion will actually seal in its active ingredients," explains Ranella Hirsch, a dermatologist in Cambridge, Mass., and president-elect of the American Society of Cosmetic Dermatology and Aesthetic Surgery. Your morning eye product should contain antioxidants, SPF and moisturizing humectants like glycerin and propylene glycol.
Step seven: redness relievers
"These products include ingredients like green tea (which contains caffeine) and niacinamide to constrict capillaries and abate redness," says Howard Fein, director of dermatologic surgery at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. Take advantage of these visible benefits by using them during the day, in place of your regular moisturizer. Always pair them with sunscreen, adds Hirsch, and cut back on other potentially irritating products -- retinoids, scrubs, and alcohol-based serums -- which aggravate ruddy complexions.
Step eight: moisturizer
Consider the chemistry of creams: "They usually contain more oil than water," Fein says. "So if you were to put them on first, your lighter, water-based gels and serums would slide off your face instead of sinking in." But by applying them almost last, they actually lock in your other products, boosting their efficacy.
Step nine: sunscreen
If your moisturizer doubles as an SPF 30 or higher sunscreen -- and you're spending the day indoors -- you can omit the additional sunscreen, says Hirsch.