You’ve spent hours and hundreds of dollars buying the best beauty products for your skin type, but if you’re applying them in the wrong order, you could be doing more harm than good. For example, serum or moisturizer first? When is the best time to apply retinol? Should I use a moisturizer or retinol? The order in which you apply your skincare products is vital and can make the difference between seeing results and wasting your time and money. But not to worry. We’ve put together a skincare routine order so that you never have to second guess which products to put on and when.
Layering Skincare Products
One easy way to remember the order of your skincare products is to consider their texture. You want to apply them from lightest to heaviest. Serums are lightweight, so if you use them after a rich cream, the cream will essentially create a barrier and block the serum from reaching your skin. Many moisturizers also contain water, which can dilute a product that is layered on top of it.
The only time this rule goes out the window is with a face oil. In fact, when to apply an oil is a somewhat debatable topic, but it all comes down to your skin type. Many oils replace moisturizers, so then it would be the last product applied before your sunscreen. OIlier skin types would likely choose between a moisturizer or a face oil. For those with dry and combination skin types, both products can be used — but a thick cream is not necessarily the final product you’d put on.
With that said, here’s what “lightest to heaviest” really means. Water-based products should be the closest to the skin — so, they would be applied first. Oil-dominant products such as a face oil should be applied on top to seal everything else in. So, if a serum is oil-based, it would be applied last, not immediately after cleansing like a traditional water-based serum.
Timing is Everything
As a general rule of thumb, you should wait about 30-60 seconds in between each skincare step before applying the next product, so it has a chance to absorb into the skin thoroughly. Some products, such as an acne treatment, for example, take a few hours to work, so it’s best applied at night without anything else on top of them to block them from reaching your skin.
Retinol and the more potent prescription-strength retinoids stimulate collagen synthesis and effectively treat fine lines, wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, and various forms of acne. However, they increase the skin’s sensitivity to the sun and should therefore only be applied at night — and sunscreen should always be a part of your morning skincare routine no matter what.
Morning Skincare Routine: It’s not always necessary to do a thorough cleanse in the morning unless you didn’t wash up the night before. Simply sweep a cotton pad saturated with micellar water, toner, or floral water over your face. In other words, only cleanse in the morning when necessary, so you don’t strip the skin of its natural oils.
Night Skincare Routine: Nighttime is a whole different story. You must cleanse your face to remove any traces of makeup or sunscreen, as well as oil, sweat, and dirt, to adequately prep your skin for additional treatments and products. Also, make sure you’re cleansing effectively. Studies revealed that up to 80 percent of Americans wash their faces incorrectly, many of whom are using bath wash, hand soap, or only water.
Any Time of the Day: It doesn’t matter if you exfoliate in the morning or evening as long as you’re doing it one to three times a week. It’s essential to remove dead skin cells so that your products can effectively penetrate the skin. Overly dry or sensitive skin types will want to exfoliate less than someone with normal to oily skin because it can prompt inflammation and irritation, expediting aging.
Suppose you’re already using products with active ingredients such as one of the acids (salicylic, glycolic, lactic acid, malic, etc.), retinol, or retinoids. In that case, you’re already covered so there’s no need for additional exfoliation as you don’t want to strip the skin.
Any Time of the Day: Many people skip out on using a mask because they feel “it takes too much time,” but the reality is, everyone has a spare ten to twenty minutes within seven days. Choose to mask on a day of the week when you have a little more time to yourself. For example, when you’re binging on the latest Netflix series, reading, taking a bath, meditating — whatever works. Also, keep in mind that copious mask delivery systems are available these days (think sheet and overnight masks), making masking easier than ever.
Day and Night Skincare Routine: Many people skip a toner because they think of them as being harsh and stinging (remember Seabreeze?) Today’s toners are formulated to address specific skin concerns, such as excess oil or dryness. Toners help restore the skin’s pH balance while prepping it for the rest of your products before your nighttime routine. In the morning, a toner (or essence) can replace your cleanser if your skin was washed the night before.
Day and Night Skincare Routine: The treatment step is crucial because it targets specific skin concerns on a deeper level. One of the leading products that fall into this category is a serum, which is the heavy lifter in your skincare routine because it’s more concentrated due to its molecular composition. There are copious formulas to choose from no matter what your skin type or concern. Should you decide to use multiple serums, apply the thinnest formula first.
Eye creams (and gels) and acne spot treatments are also represented here. Puffiness, dark circles, fine lines, and wrinkles are more likely to appear around the delicate eye area than other parts of your face due to a void of sebaceous (oil) glands and thinner skin.
Hydrate, Moisturize, and Protect
Morning Skincare Routine: A moisturizer is one of the core components of a skincare routine, regardless of skin type. Our skin is in a defense mode throughout the day, safeguarding itself from harmful UV rays, the weather, bacterial growth, and pollution — this is where a day cream and sunscreen come into play. You can choose to have two separate formulas or a two-in-one cream with an SPF of at least 30.
Night Skincare Routine: When you’re sleeping, the skin is in a reparative mode, working hard to regenerate and rebuild the damage precipitated by daily activities and habits. With that said, nighttime is the best time to restore your skin with the right night cream for your skin type and condition. When it comes to the right age to start using a night cream, there’s no magic number, though one’s twenties are typically an excellent time to start making an effort.
Face Routine Product Cheat Sheet
Carrot & Stick The Face Wash, $30
The ideal face wash is a bit of a unicorn. It should leave skin squeaky clean without a trace of dirt, sweat or makeup but shouldn’t leave the face feeling too tight or dry. That’s exactly what The Face Wash delivers. It’s formulated with gentle but effective botanicals to thoroughly cleans the skin while leaving the face feeling nourished. The cleanser is powered by expeller-pressed rose hip seed oil which rejuvenates with essential fatty acids, soothing geranium flower and red seaweed which protects against environmental stressors.
Formulyst Creamy Cleansing Foam, $40
A clinically advanced formulation developed to deliver deeper cleansing properties while remaining extremely gentle on your skin, Formulyst’s Creamy Cleansing Foam purifies pores and removes makeup without stripping your skin of its essential natural oils.
Formulated using a higher concentration of mineral-rich actives for their mildness, this revolutionary formula produces a delicately airy, slightly creamy foam that eliminates surface dirt without irritating your skin. The most effective first step in any skincare routine, this mild and moisturizing cleansing foam leaves your skin feeling ultra-soft and beautifully fresh after every use.
Formulyst Clarifying AHA Cleanser, $29
Formulated to gently cleanse and exfoliate the skin while removing dirt and makeup, Formulyst’s AHA Foaming Cleanser helps refine pores, control excess oil and smooth away any surface-level roughness. Enriched with Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA) for an intense clean and a complex blend of soothing citrus and botanical extracts, this deeply purifying formulation actively dissolves dead surface cells, draws out pore-clogging impurities, and removes excess oil. So skin feels clean, clear, and beautifully refreshed.
Formulyst Gentle Foaming Cleanser, $29
Professionally formulated to deeply cleanse while balancing and protecting the skin’s natural pH, this ultra-gentle anti-aging cleanser removes impurities and sweeps away dirt and dead surface cells without stripping the skin of its vital moisture levels. Rich in regenerative Rosehip Seed Oil and Vitamins A, C, and E, this innovative formulation transforms into an airy foam when applied.
Carrot & Stick The Brightening Pads, $40
Reveal a fresh, smooth, and radiant complexion with these pre-saturated pads. A concentrated blend of salicylic, lactic, and mandelic acids sweeps away the build-up of dead skin cells, gently exfoliating to promote clarity, refine texture, and rid pores of impurities. Herbal extracts fight visible photodamage and help keep the appearance of redness in check. Resurfaced skin is smoother, brighter, and more receptive to products. It’s Formulated with love for normal, dry, oily, and combination skin.
Formulyst Microdermabrasion Exfoliator, $75
A skin-refining superstar, Formulyst’s Retexturizing Microdermabrasion Exfoliator is formulated to gently exfoliate built-up layers of dead skin to expose the younger, more vibrant-looking skin beneath. Fine aluminum oxide crystals effectively remove dirt, excess oil, and dead cells. At the same time, nutrient-rich Jojoba Oil, Red Tea Extract, Apricot Kernel Oil, Squalane, and Hyaluronic Acid deeply nourish and soothe newly exposed skin. The result is smoother, perfect-looking skin with less visible lines and wrinkles. Also, by removing the dead surface skin cells, products can penetrate more in-depth, and make-up goes on smoother, enhancing the efficacy of your overall beauty regime.
Formulyst Lifting and Wrinkle Smoothing Cream, $80
While this is technically a rich cream, it can also double as an overnight mask when applied as a thick layer. Formulated to help lift, smooth, and refine your skin’s appearance and tone, this velvety smooth formula contains a powerful blend of lipids and botanicals that have targeted anti-aging benefits. Enriched with Moringa seed oil for intense moisturization, Evodia Ruteacarpa Fruit extract helps to brighten and refine visibly. In contrast, peony extract improves the appearance of skin density for a smoother, recontoured look. In the short term, skin appears smoother and healthier looking, while over time, your complexion feels firmer and visually lifts with a radiance.
Carrot & Stick The Repair Serum, $80
This high-performance serum is designed to visibly lift, tighten and firm as it helps defend against damaging free radicals. Hyaluronic acid and vitamin E deliver an instant boost of hydration. A blend of synthesized growth factors encourages elasticity, cell turnover, and nutrient absorption to support revitalization. Seven plant-based neuropeptides enhance the skin’s structural integrity from the inside out, promoting smoother, more resilient-looking skin. Soothing and brightening botanicals, including chamomile, licorice root, and green tea, impart an ageless glow.
Formulyst Retexturing and Perfecting Serum, $39
When it comes to exfoliating and deeply cleansing your skin, soluble acid groups like Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA) are more effective than physical exfoliants, which can scratch and irritate your skin. Expertly formulated to gently exfoliate and refine pores, Retexturing and Perfecting Serum maximizes an active AHA complex, which helps remove dead cells and visibly reveal the brighter, healthier skin beneath. Light-weight and non-drying, this refining daily formula delivers perceptible improvement to your skin’s tone and texture while also reducing the appearance of uneven, blotchy skin.
Carrot & Stick The Defense Serum, $60
Packed with antioxidants, this revitalizing serum helps promote collagen production and visibly brighten skin. Three distinct vitamin C derivatives work together to fight visible free radical damage and enhance cellular longevity. Regular use transforms dull, uneven-looking skin into clear, radiant beauty.
Formulyst Anti-Aging Concentrate, $125
The must-have all-in-one serum for healthy, younger-looking skin, Formulyst’s Anti-Aging Concentrate is the essential first step in every regime. Formulated with ProBioBalance and a powerful Peptide Complex, this fast-acting multitasker of a super serum harnesses the natural skincare benefits of Shea Butter, Green Tea & Vitamins C+E. It visibly promotes the five signs of youth: radiance, elasticity, firmness, skin tone, and smoothness. Easily absorbed yet intensely rich, this highly concentrated formula conditions your complexion and diminishes the appearance of age spots, wrinkles, and fine lines.
Carrot & Stick The Eye Cream, $50
This revolutionary treatment uses highly effective botanical extracts to reduce signs of stress and fatigue, including eye bags and dark circles. The Persian silk tree (Albizia julibrissin) has an anti-glycation effect that helps delicate skin around the lids feel tighter. St. Paul’s wort (Sigesbeckia Orientalis) boosts the appearance of collagen and elastin, restoring vitality.
Formulyst Anti-Aging Eye Cream, $85
A breakthrough anti-aging treatment specifically developed to target the delicate skin around your eyes. Formulyst’s Anti-Aging Eye Cream blurs away dark circles, puffiness, and even stubborn crow’s feet and imperfections that are all caused by sun, stress, and environmental pollutants. Formulated with clarifying concentrate and moisture-rich complexes that stimulate, strengthen and hydrate, this lightweight formula is also enriched with Hyaluronic acid to help restore your skin’s natural suppleness and elasticity while visibly smoothing away wrinkles. Delivering five anti-aging actions in one, this advanced eye treatment leaves skin feeling smoother and tighter. It dramatically reduces the appearance of dark circles, fine lines, and puffiness, enhancing the natural beauty of your eyes.
Hydrate, Moisturize, and Protect
Carrot & Stick The Moisturizer, $50
This lightweight antioxidant formula is a hydrating powerhouse that leaves skin feeling remarkably smooth and radiant. Overflowing with potent plant proteins, vitamins, peptides, and amino-collagen, plus a stem cell extract from hardy alpine roses, it delivers multi-level hydration. Our active complex of three natural bio-ferments supports greater nutrient density and more efficient absorption. Caffeine adds an energy boost that revitalizes the skin, while five distinct coconut elements promote overall conditioning.
Formulyst Age-Defying Daily Moisturizer, $85
Environmental aggressors, like the sun and pollution, cause constant stress to our skin. Imperfections such as wrinkles, uneven tone, UV-damage, and dry skin are just some of the effects these external forces can have on our complexion, and they only add to the signs of aging. Expertly formulated to help strengthen your skin’s natural defense against day-to-day free radical damage, Formulyst’s Age-Defying Daily Moisturizer is a powerful anti-aging formula that keeps skin feeling smooth, hydrated, and radiant. Rich in antioxidants and a blend of natural complexes, this light and silky formula works to stimulate cell synthesis below the surface, boost microcirculation to reactivate luminosity, and increase your skin’s natural ability to retain moisture.
A powerfully protective daytime formula that’s a replenishing step in every regime, this unique moisturizer intensely hydrates, promoting an even-looking complexion that visibly exudes a youthful, more beautiful-looking radiance.
Formulyst Ultra-Light Gel Moisturizer, $40
Formulated with antioxidants and botanicals that support your skin’s defenses, Formulyst’s Ultra-light Gel Moisturizer delivers a light veil of moisture that soothes and refreshes instantly.
Specifically developed for dull, aging complexions, Cloudberry and Vitamins A, C, and E work to replenish and revitalize, while Snow Algae extract helps support cells’ natural resilience against environmental damage. Light-as-air in texture with a soft matte finish, after just one use, your skin will look beautifully nourished with a radiant, youthful glow.
Formulyst Anti-Aging Night Cream, $80
Our skin’s natural ability to replenish and renew functions at its optimum capacity at night, making it the perfect time to provide collagen-boosting nutrients and essential nourishing vitamins to our skin. A long term anti-aging formulation developed specifically for mature and devitalized skin, Formulyst’s Anti-Aging Night Cream hydrates, soothes, and visibly transforms your skin while you sleep. Formulated using a nutrient-rich blend of complexes that are high in plant oils, essential fatty acids, and omega oils, this ultra-nourishing night cream with repair properties gently exfoliates and regenerates the upper layer of your skin. A calming overnight replenishment for use every night, this unique formula visibly brightens dark spots and blurs age lines, so skin looks softer, smoother, and radiantly revived when you wake.
The Final Word
Keep in mind that as you age, your skin concerns will also shift. What works in your 20’s may need a readjustment in your 30’s, 40’s and 50’s as hormonal, natural aging, and lifestyle changes shift the balance of our skin. A fool-proof way to take the guesswork out of choosing the right products (and applying them in the correct order) is to invest in an entire system. For example, Advanced Dermatology’s Six-Step Regimen includes a cleanser, serum, anti-wrinkle treatment, moisturizer, day cream, and eye cream — everything you need for glowing, healthy skin.
Carrot & Stick takes a tough love approach to skincare, which means it blends the power of plants with science to deliver straightforward, effective skincare. The collection covers all the basics with a moisturizer, serum, face wash, brightening pads and targeted serums to address various skincare concerns. Carrot & Stick products are made with plant-based ingredients such as jojoba seed oil and vitamin E., and the brand doesn’t use harmful chemicals as well as the preservatives, emulsifiers and thickeners.
“National Study Reveals Up to 80 Percent of Americans Wash Their Face Incorrectly,” MarketsInsider, August 2017.