Layer Up: The Correct Order to Apply Skincare Products

Layer Up: The Correct Order to Apply Skincare Products

By Gina Cartwright, Maren Stratte and Elizabeth G Stratte, MD

Serum, moisturizer, toner, eye cream – there are so many beneficial products to incorporate into a skincare regimen, but as you look at the assortment of products in front of you, there might be one pressing question on your mind: When do I apply these products? 

For the majority of products, the rule of thumb is to apply in the order of thinnest to thickest consistency. Light weight products absorb into the skin quicker than thicker products, yet there are a select few products in which it's important to apply out of this order.


Below is an example of an A.M. and P.M. regimen; yours may not include all of the types of products that we feature, and that's okay! Your routine is unique to you and the goals of your skin. But there's always room for an extra product (or two), to help you reach your dream skin. 




Cleanser: A nickel size amount for the face and neck. 

Activate the cleanser first by rubbing the cleanser between your dampened hands for about 5 seconds, then cleanse for at least 60 seconds.


Exfoliating cleansers should be used 2-3x a week based on your skin's tolerance. (Exfoliating cleansers tend to sting the eyes, it's best to avoid cleansing around the eyes with them).


Apply onto a cotton round or into hands then pat into skin. 
A thin, even layer all over the skin is all you need.

Toners have different purposes, Obagi Toner from their Nu-Derm System has been shown to balance the skin's PH, making the rest of your products more effective, giving the skin a nice refreshed feeling. It’s also great for bringing the skin back to a healthy state after being exposed to smoke in the fire seasons!


Lash Growth Serums: 
Apply to your upper lashes, avoid getting the product into the eye.

No need to apply to bottom lashes because when you blink the product touches all of the lashes. Less is more with a lash growth serum, and our current favorite is Obagi's Nu Cil Eyelash Enhancing Serum which feature biotin, and hyaluronic acid to condition and strengthen lashes as they grow.


Prescriptions from a pharmacy given by your Dermatologist :
(Not including Tretinoin…use this in a later step).


Vitamin C:
5 drops into the palm of the hand then distribute evenly all over the face

This is when maybe your lightest weight products are similar or even lighter weight in consistency than a Vitamin C serum, yet it performs better before all serums and lotions. Vitamin C is most effective in protecting and brightenin on clean, toned skin in the morning.   

Apply a dime size amount to the face and neck.

A common lightweight serum, is hyaluronic acid which helps to plump and expand water molecules in the skin. Hyaluronic acid (HA) is attracted to water so dampening your hands, or spritzing with a hydrating mist, before applying it onto the skin enhances the hydration effects. With serums it's important to pat, or press into the skin for optimum penetration.


Eye Cream:
Mini chocolate chip or ½ a green pea sized amount.

Apply onto the orbital rim and up to brow bone in an outward motion, with the ring finger. The skin around the eye is like a sponge, even if you don't apply the product directly onto the eyelid, it will gravitate there. This is why we want to make sure to keep some distance from the eyelid, because we don't want any product getting into the eye.


Neck Cream/Serum:

Although you should be applying all of your products onto your neck, neck creams and serums enhance desired results around the neck and chest area. Revision's Nectifirm Advanced is like SPANX for your neck, dehydrating the fat cells and softening lines.


Obagi Daily Hydro Drops:

This product has abyssinian oil and hibiscus oil,  Obagi recommends applying them after all serums and light lotions but before your moisturizer.



If you have a sunscreen that adds moisture to your skin, this step is optional, but it’s also a great way to cater towards your skin concern. We have moisturizers that address tons of concerns, and some that are even exfoliating like SkinMedica AHA/BHA Cream that can be used 2-3x a week or as tolerated, and will help to brighten the skin, and soften fine lines. 



¼ tsp for face and neck. ½ tsp for face, neck, chest and ears. For the full body 1oz (shot glass full). If you don't have a sunscreen you look forward to applying, let us help you! We are SPF obsessed, and know that there is a sunscreen for everyone. 

If sunscreen stings your eyes, (a common complaint) try a 100% mineral sunscreen (contains zinc oxide or titanium dioxide) and if that doesn't do the trick, try a 100% mineral +water resistant sunscreen. REMINDER: apply your sunscreen before leaving the house if you're headed to the River Trail for a bike ride, or Whiskeytown for a hike. Applying 20 minutes before any activities/sun exposure to allow the sunscreen to sink in is vital, and is often forgotten!



Mineral based makeup is best for those concerned with pigmentation because it has an ingredient called Iron Oxide which is like an extra shield of protection for your skin and further prevents pigmentation. It's also great for those who have sensitive skin, we love Jane Iredale because it is 100% mineral, and has botanicals that are wonderful for the skin.


Reapply Sunscreen:
*Every two hours*

There are so many ways to reapply your sunscreen. You can certainly use your sunscreen lotions for reapplication. If you're on the go, you can use the Colorescience Brush-On if you'd like a powder sunscreen. Avène and Supergoop! have some great products to reapply throughout the day as well.



Double Cleaning:

When cleansing at night “double cleansing" is best to ensure the skin is fully prepped to better absorb skincare products. First you would cleanse with an oil based cleanser, like a micellar water because they're designed to remove sunscreen and makeup. Then using your face cleanser of choice will effectively create a clean canvas for your skincare products to better absorb into the skin.

Best to use morning and night.


Lash Growth Serums:

Designed to be used 1x a day, you can either choose to apply it in the morning or night, whichever you prefer.

Prescriptions from a pharmacy given by your Dermatologist:
(Not including Tretinoin…use this in a later step).



If you have multiple serums, apply them in order of thinnest to thickest consistency.


Eye Cream:

Mini chocolate chip or ½ a green pea sized amount.


Neck Cream/Serum:

All neck treatments are recommended to be used twice a day. They are typically more gentle, as the skin on the neck (and around the eyes) is thinner and more susceptible to irritation and damage. This means that you want to be caredul not to use overly active ingredients such as retinoids and glycolic acid on the neck. Obagi Elastiderm Neck and Décolleté Serum firms the skin with a gentle retinol and helps brighten with arbutin. Consistent use will reduce crepe-like texture and pigmentation.

Obagi Daily Hydro Drops:

This product has abyssinian oil and hibiscus oil,  Obagi recommends applying them after all serums and light lotions but before your moisturizer.


Night Moisturizer:

Those with oily skin and dry skin both benefit from using a moisturizer at night. It's important to hydrate and effectively cushion the skin at night as it regenerates from everything it's been through in the day. For some, a night moisturizer means a different product than what they use from the day. Some prefer to use the same! There is no correct answer. What's most important is paying attention to your skin and noticing how it changes though out the day. It will tell you if your combination of day and night moisturizers is the right balance. 


Turn back in time every night.

“The active ingredient is so specific for its binding sites in the skin. It passes through all the layers of skincare products and gets to where the retinoid needs to be to work,” says Dr. Stratte.

Using a retinoid after moisturizer allows you to use it every night, which gives you the best result. Plus it provides a cushion to the skin to be able to avoid the dryness, and irritation that can accompany starting an aggressive but effective product. This period often referred to as "purging" can last up to 3-4 months before the skin's dryness, and possible increased breakouts decrease. 


Masks/ Scrubs:

Hydrating masks are great to condition the skin and add an extra boost of hydration. Clay Masks, in particular Lerosett, is a good option for oily skin to absorb any extra oil on the surface of the skin. Exfoliating scrubs are not recommended for the face unless the scrub particles are micro small as they can create skin abrasions and least to irritation when too aggressive. We like Volition Beauty's Turmeric Brightening Polish 1x a week to exfoliate the skin gently. You'd want to apply masks onto the skin after cleansing and leave on for the suggested amount of time before you rinse it off. Then you'd continue with gentle skincare, skipping exfoliating lotions and retinoids for 2-3 days. 

Knowing how to properly apply your products is important to the efficacy of your routine, but it's not rocket science! Applying your products in order of thinnest to thickest consistency, with the exception of a few products is our go to recommendation to have the best success with your skincare. If you have any questions about your products, or comments about what you do differently, let us know! You can always reach out to our product room specialists to maintain the best routine possible. 

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