You’ve collected a myriad of skin care products, and you use many of them every day in hopes of helping your skin look its best. But it turns out that applying them in any random order is not doing your face any favors.
We had questions about the right way to apply products, so we spoke to New York-based dermatologist Dr. Margarita Lolis of the Skin Laser & Surgery Specialists. What she shared can help you master your regimen and get on the right path to the complexion you’re after.
Whether it’s in the morning or at night, the first step to any good skin care routine is washing your face with a cleanser that’s right for your skin type or concern. Fortunately for us, there are many types of face cleansers to choose from: gel, foam, cream, oil, clay, powder, bar and even cleansing waters. “You can do an exfoliating cleanser if you have blackheads or whiteheads,” says Dr. Lolis. “If you have sensitive skin, go for cleansers with calming ingredients. Cleansers are not supposed to be one-size-fits-all.”
While toners were initially marketed to remove any leftover traces of makeup or cleanser and tighten the skin, the latest toners do much more than that. Depending on the active ingredient, toners can serve several purposes, from hydrating and calming sensitive skin to acting as a delivery system for antioxidants and other nutrients.
Some people find toner particularly useful, especially if they’re dealing with excess oil. However, Dr. Lolis warned that some toners can dry out the skin and have the opposite effect. “Your skin can get into a feedback mechanism,” she says. “Your skin may end up producing more oil.”
If your face is dry or easily irritated, go for hydrating or calming mists instead, or skip the toner altogether.
This is the time to apply any treatment creams or serums you want to use. As some treatment products can be drying, it’s best to apply them before your moisturizer. Besides, saving your moisturizer, which is usually thicker and heavier than your serums and spot treatments, for last ensures your treatments are able to penetrate your skin better.
What you apply depends on your individual needs and preference. If you’re dealing with fine lines and wrinkles, your treatment product may include retinol, peptides, antioxidants and growth factors. For hyperpigmentation, reach for serums with brightening ingredients like kojic acid, licorice, vitamin C and alpha hydroxy acids (glycolic, lactic and mandelic acids). For acne, benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid will be your skin care staples. And for dryness and dehydration, something with hyaluronic acid, plant and nut oils and tissue-repairing vitamins should do the trick.
Another serum you need to invest in according to Dr. Lolis: An antioxidant serum. “It repairs the damage that happens in the skin on a daily basis from the inside out. Use it in the morning because the sun and other factors cause wear and tear on the skin.”
Moisturizer is perhaps the most important step in anyone’s skin care routine, so don’t skip it even if you have oily skin. Instead, reach for lightweight gels or products that are non-comedogenic (doesn’t clog pores). On the other hand, if you tend to have dry skin, look for oil-based, nutrient-rich creams or lotions that not only lock in moisture but also help repair your skin barrier.
Aside from finding the right moisturizer for your skin type, Dr. Lolis also suggests applying your moisturizer the right way. “Use lukewarm water when you wash your face,” Dr. Lolis explains. “Apply your moisturizer while your skin is still damp so it penetrates more effectively.”
Sunscreen is a must, no matter the weather. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, up to 80 percent of the sun’s UV rays can penetrate your skin on cloudy days, and snow can reflect the sun’s rays onto your skin.
The order in which you apply sunscreen generally depends on your sunscreen formula. Chemical sunscreens work by absorbing the sun’s rays, which means the closest it is to your skin, the better. “Sunscreen should come on first, so it penetrates better,” Dr. Lolis said. “When you put on other cream first, it creates a barrier between the sunscreen and the skin.”
On the other hand, physical sunscreens work by sitting on top of your skin and forming a physical shield to protect your skin against the sun’s rays. Most experts recommend applying physical sunscreen as the last step in your skin care routine. As some moisturizers have ingredients that can dilute your sunscreen’s formula, make sure that you wait a few minutes in between application.