How to Layer Skin Care, According to a Dermatologist

February 26, 2019
Alanna Martine Kilkeary
By: Alanna Martine Kilkeary | by L'Oréal
person applying moisturizer to cheek

There’s no shame in admitting your skin-care regimen can feel more like a challenging puzzle than an exercise in good grooming. We get it; you’ve got a bathroom shelf full of products and it can get confusing. There’s face wash, then toner, then…what, exactly? Does it matter if that anti-aging serum goes on before the antioxidant cream? We asked Dr. Mona Gohara, Associate Clinical Professor of Dermatology at Yale School of Medicine, how to layer skin-care products — and as it turns out, product order does matter. Armed with the derm’s expertise and this handy blueprint, you can now layer skin-care products like a pro.

In the Morning

As a general rule for how to layer skin-care products, start with the lightest and end with the heaviest product. If you start with a thick moisturizing cream, your peptide-packed serum won’t be able to penetrate the skin underneath it. And remember to allow each layer to sink in for a few minutes. That way each product is able to deliver its specific benefits without disrupting the functions of the next layer.

Step 1: Serum

If you want to know how to layer skin care products properly, you must start with your serum. Dr. Gohara says serums go first because they are packed with highly concentrated ingredients. A serum serves as the perfect primer for additional layers, even increasing the effectiveness of your other products. Our favorite for makeup prep is Skinceuticals C E Ferulic.


Step 2: Targeted Treatments

Next, target your problem areas. That means use any topical prescriptions after you’ve let your serum soak in. Apply a spot treatment to any burgeoning or existing breakouts, and cover the crow’s feet with your favorite eye cream, preferably one with SPF.

Step 3: All-Over Treatment

According to Dr. Gohara, this is now the time to apply any product that is meant to go over the entire face, whether that’s an antioxidant treatment, all-over acne-fighter or even a facial oil.

Step 4: Moisturizer

Moisturizer is key in learning how to layer skin-care products. Your moisturizer will seal in all your other products, and as of late, we’ve been reaching for the Youth To The People Kale + Spinach Green Tea Hyaluronic Acid Moisture Cream. Dr. Gohara puts moisturizer and sunscreen last in the AM for product order and if you want to double up on SPF for built-in sun protection, you can also look for one with SPF 30 to adequately help protect against the UV rays.


Step 5: SPF

You’ve heard it all before, but we’ll say it anyway. Never leave the house without SPF on your face. And we’ll just leave it at that.

At Night

If you want to know how to layer skin-care products in the evenings, the product order actually stays the same. But at night we use products that are much more potent than what we wear during the day, so there are a few adjustments to be made.

Step 1: Retinol, Prescription Product or Serum

Retinols need to be applied directly to the skin to be effective. Never apply them on top of any other product. “After washing, apply a pea-size amount of retinol to your entire face, a quarter of a pea in each quadrant of the face, and rub it in,” instructs Dr. Gohara.

If your skin requires a different prescription treatment, use it here and follow Dr. Gohara’s application advice. If you’re not using retinol or a topical prescription, this is where you would apply your serum. Because these products are so strong, you should only use one at a time.

Step 2: Targeted Treatments

After layer one has sunk in, but before applying your night cream, apply a rich eye cream. If you have any other spot-specific prescription treatments to apply, now is the time for them.

Step 3: Moisturizing Cream

Lastly, Dr. Gohara recommends you “moisturizing with a thicker cream to avert retinol irritation.” She also notes that if your face is too oily for a night cream, use a lotion instead; lotions are less hydrating than creams. We like the  Glow Recipe Avocado Melt Sleeping Mask.


And now you can approach your skin-care regimen like a pro. Remember to keep the product application from lightest to heaviest. Always seal in everything with a moisturizer, and don’t forget the SPF in the morning! At night, use your more potent products —  retinol first, before anything else.

Have you been following the proper product order? Tell us below.

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