Let’s be real: Skin care isn’t exactly easy. Sure, moisturizer is self-explanatory, and face washes are, you know, for the washing of faces, but when it comes to actually applying those products in a systematic, logical order? Kind of a guessing game—and one that’s usually filled with a ton of misinformation. So, if you’ve been slathering on products and simply hoping for the best (or dealing with irritation and seemingly ineffective formulas), make sure you’re not accidentally following one of these myths.
- MYTH: Moisturizers and face oils are interchangeable.
You’re not alone if you think that oils are just extra-hydrating moisturizers. But in reality, oils are best used on top of face cream—instead of in lieu of one—to help amp up its moisturizing effects. “Oils are occlusive, meaning they trap in hydration, rather than adding a ton of hydration to your skin,” says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Mona Gohara. Unless your favorite face oil specifies otherwise, “oils should ideally go last in your skincare routine to seal in the moisture below them.”
- MYTH: Spot treatments should be applied first.
Spot treatments will slip and slide around your face as soon as you add another product, leaving your zits bare and the rest of your skin potentially irritated. Instead, after finishing your routine, gently wipe off your pimple with a damp cotton swab, then dab on your spot treatment with a clean finger.
- MYTH: Your skin doesn’t need to be clean clean to start.
Splashing your face with water before layering on your products won’t suffice. “Your skin has natural oils on it that need to be removed with an oil cleanser and/or a face wash,” says Dr. Gohara (two picks: DHC Deep Cleansing Oil and HoliFrog Superior Omega Nutritive Gel Wash). Reminder: For your products to actually penetrate, your skin needs to be clear of oils and grime—and that goes for makeup wipes, too, which tend to leave behind an oily residue.
- MYTH: Retinol should be used on clean, dry skin.
It can. But if you’re trying to mitigate the tightness and irritation that often come with a retinoid routine, try applying them 20 minutes after you layer on your moisturizer. “The cream will act as a buffer that also dilutes the potency of the retinoid, so your skin can better tolerate it,” says Dr. Gohara.
- MYTH: You need a 10-step routine.
No. You don’t “need” anything except a gentle cleanser, a moisturizer, and a sunscreen. In fact, the longer your routine, the greater the likelihood of irritating your skin. “A lot of my patients come in with something called perioral dermatitis, which is essentially an acne-eczema hybrid,” says Dr. Gohara. The reason? “Using a bunch of new products all at once, which can trigger an inflammatory response in your skin.” Keep it simple, and, ideally, derm-approved.