Habits are hard to break, and we can easily think that we've refined our skin care to a fine science, but the more we learn about skin, the more we learn about best practices in skin care.

Does it really matter if you apply your face oil before your moisturizer? Or if you put on your vitamin C after your anti wrinkle cream? In a word... Yes!

When you don't follow the correct order to apply your skincare products, you can run into several problems:

Penetrating The Skin: This is a problem if you're putting thin, fluid or water-based products on top of thick, creamy or oily ones. The richer products will form a barrier on your skin that prevents anything else from getting through.

They may be less effective: If certain products aren't able to penetrate your skin properly, you obviously can't get their full benefits. Plus, when certain active ingredients are meant to be applied away from each other, using them together can deactivate them or even create a new, unwanted chemical reaction. In either case, your routine won't be as effective as it should be.

You could harm your skin: Using products out of order could even create new skin issues. For example, applying serums on top of oils could leave your skin dry and dehydrated, since not enough water is reaching your skin. Or, if you're layering your serums, creams and oils on top of your mineral sunscreen, you'll be disturbing the coverage and diluting the protection. This will leave you more vulnerable to skin cancer and premature aging!

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Some Rules.

Thinnest to thickest texture: Wherever possible, apply the products with the most watery consistency. For e.g. start with serums and skin toning products and proceed to creams and lotions. Oils should always come last.

Mixing Products. Mixing products is fine, just make sure when you mix skin care products, that they are of similar consistency, that you don't try to mix water & oil based products together and most importantly that your combining products of a similar PH.


1. Cleanser 

You don't have to wash your face in the morning—some skin does fine with a splash of water alone. But you may want to if your skin type produces a lot of oil or if there's residue left on your skin from the products you used the night before. Choose a non-drying, sulfate-free cleanser. 

2. Exfoliant (Physical Scrubs)

If you can't or don't want to use acids to exfoliate, you can manually buff away dead skin cells. Try a silicone cleansing brush (which you can use daily) or a non-abrasive scrub (which you should limit to a few times a week).

3. Toner 

Toner can be helpful if you wash your face at the sink, since it ensures that all traces of cleanser are removed from your skin. (I don't tone in the morning, since I always wash my face in the shower.) I also recommend toning if you used a creamy cleanser that leaves a film on your skin.

4. Chemical Exfoliant

Chemical exfoliants (a.k.a. acids) are the most effective way to remove dead skin cells and can be used as often as daily, if tolerated. Choose from alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) like glycolic or lactic acid; beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs) like salicylic acid or betaine salicylate; or a combination. All of them will exfoliate your skin surface, but BHAs have the added bonus of deep-cleaning your pores. 

Also keep in mind that AHAs make skin more sun sensitive, but BHAs have some photoprotective properties (which makes them a better choice in the mornings). 

5. Eye Cream

Since the eye area doesn't have oil glands to help keep it moisturized, you'll want to give it some hydration right away—as soon as you're done cleansing and exfoliating. (Since it's not going on top of the areas where you applied acid, you don't need to wait.) Feel free to use either your regular moisturizer, if you tolerate it around your eyes, or a specialized eye cream or eye serum. 

6. Treatment Serum

Now you can treat your individual skin concerns and fight free radicals with a serum containing active ingredients. L-ascorbic acid (the active form of vitamin C) is good for antioxidant protection, brightening, fading dark spots and even building collagen. Vitamin C derivatives can give similar benefits, although they are not as potent. Or consider niacinamide, which is also an antioxidant, and treats pigmentation, wrinkles, acne, redness and dryness. Other options include peptides, alpha arbutin and alpha lipoic acid.

7. Hydrating Serum or Essence 

This step is all about lightweight hydration. Look for serums or essences with humectants—ingredients like hyaluronic acid, glycerin and aloe vera that draw water into the skin. If you're using a cream next, then you don't necessarily need this step, unless your skin is very dry and could use the extra layer of moisture.

8. Moisturizer

Next comes moisturizer, if you need it. Not everyone does! If you're oilier, you may be able to get away with serum, oil and sunscreen alone (or even just sunscreen). Otherwise, look for creams with a blend of humectants and stable emollients, that are low in silicones and fragrance.

9. Face Oil

If you want to use face oil, it should be your last moisturizing step. That's because oils have occlusive properties that lock in the hydrating benefits of your other products and prevent the moisture from escaping. (So, anything you put on top won't get through.) Oil can also act like a barrier to protect your skin from the elements. 

To avoid oxidative damage, just make sure you choose a stable oil with primarily saturated or monounsaturated fatty acids.

10. Physical Sunscreen

Sunscreen is the most important skincare product of all, and needs to be worn every day, year-round. I only recommend physical sunscreens that sit on the skin surface to reflect away the light (which is why they need to be your last skincare step). They don't absorb into the bloodstream to cause hormone disruption, and at high enough concentrations, you're getting the best possible UVA and UVB protection. 

In North America, zinc oxide is the best filter we have available, but elsewhere in the world, you can also look for Tinosorb M and S.

11. Makeup

Finish with makeup, if you feel the need to cover any redness, darkness, blemishes or discolourations. Primer (if you wear it) should go on under your foundation, tinted moisturizer, BB or CC cream, and then concealer on top. Or, you can simply wear concealer alone. A light dusting with translucent powder will help the makeup stay put all day.


If there are any men nearby who's complexion you care about, this may be a perfect opportunity to introduce them to the wonders of a solid skin-care routine. It's no secret that men tend to neglect this side of grooming and this advice applies to us all.