After starting your day with a robust coffee and sweaty workout, the next item on your to-do list (after your shower, of course) should be your morning skincare routine. Unlike your reparative and restorative nighttime regime, the goal of your a.m. drill is to protect from sun exposure, pollution, and other environmental aggressors. Research suggests that multi-step routines deliver better benefits to the skin. But what is the correct face routine order for morning skincare?
Here at Deep Science, we believe in establishing a simple, safe, and effective regime. Not sure where to start? Your morning skincare routine need not be complicated, which is why we put together an easy a.m. regimen everyone can get on board with.
Morning VS Night Skincare
What sets a morning and night skincare routine apart are the types of products and ingredients used. For example, since the goal of an a.m. regimen is to protect against environmental stressors, you must incorporate sunscreen.
However, since the sleep cycle is when your body goes into restoration mode, nighttime products formulated with ingredients such as retinol, vitamin C, and peptides help maintain healthy skin while reducing the signs of aging overnight. It’s also important to point out that many products are favored for nighttime use because they make the skin more sensitive to the sun.
Morning Skincare Routine Order
There’s not much of a difference between your face routine order morning and night, but you will be changing up your products a bit. Even so, the order of product application is critical because only a small amount of vital active ingredients in your skincare products can penetrate the skin — even when perfectly formulated and applied.
So, if you’re not following the correct face routine order, you may be inhibiting a vital product like a serum from doing its job. But, as a general rule of thumb (one that’s easy to remember and follow), apply your products from thinnest to thickest.
Morning Skincare Routine Steps
As with your nighttime routine, make sure you’re using the right products for your skin type, whether that’s normal, dry, oily, or combination. Not sure? Make an appointment with an esthetician or dermatologist to ensure you’re using the right products to achieve your skincare goals. Also, keep in mind that you’ll have to tweak your routine with age and climate changes.
Step 1: Cleanser
If you’ve ever asked yourself, “should I wash my face in the morning?” you’re not alone. The short answer is “yes” because your skin still comes in contact with bacteria during the night, which is why you should regularly wash your pillowcase and keep your hair tied up, and resist the temptation to touch your face. The good news is the process doesn’t have to be as involved as your nighttime routine. You can use a gentle cleanser, micellar water, or even an essence — more on that next.
- Carrot & Stick The Face Wash, $30
Gentle yet potent botanicals create a wonderfully emollient cleanser that helps promote balance and never strips the skin. Expeller-pressed rosehip seed oil rejuvenates with essential fatty acids, geranium flower soothes, and red seaweed helps protect the skin.
- Korres Greek Yoghurt Cleanser, $15
This foaming cleanser effectively removes dirt and impurities minus any irritation. It nourishes the skin while reducing redness. It’s soap-free, meaning it doesn’t contain a highly alkaline detergent.
- Sonya Dakar Purifying Cleanser, $67
Buriti oil, which comes from a palm tree, is the cornerstone ingredient in this popular cleanser. One of the reasons it has become a popular skincare ingredient is its high content of vitamin E, a well-known antioxidant. Additionally, grapeseed oil and avocado oil repair and moisturize the skin.
Step 2: Toner or Essence
Toners help restore the skin’s pH balance while prepping it for the rest of your products in your daytime routine. In contrast, essences are water-based formulas that contain a high content of active ingredients to hydrate, protect, and boost the skin’s overall health. As a result, toners often get a bad rap (think skin-stripping Sea Breeze of yesteryear). Still, in reality, modern-day toners are formulated to address specific skin concerns, such as excess oil or dryness.
- Mario Badescu Aloe, Herbs and Rosewater Facial Spray, $18
A firm fan favorite, this herbal and floral mist refreshes and hydrates the skin in the morning and throughout the day — it’s also perfect for long-haul flights.
- SK-II Facial Treatment Essence, $99
SK-II’s signature- and best-selling- product contains over 90 percent pitera, a by-product of yeast fermentation that includes minerals, vitamins, and amino acids. The essence is meant to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and dark spots while improving skin texture. Sprinkle a small amount in your hand and press the essence gently on your face and neck.
- Bliss Clear Genius Toner + Serum, $18
While you wouldn’t necessarily want to skip out on step three, an antioxidant serum, this unique alcohol-free toner also combines the benefits of a serum to purify pores, tone skin, and deliver concentrated ingredients without over-drying or irritating skin. It contains Bliss’ proprietary CLARITY 5 COMPLEX with BHA (salicylic acid), witch hazel water, niacinamide, and zinc PCA.
Step 3: Antioxidant Serum
Serums are ultra-concentrated, nutrient-dense treatments that address specific concerns, so it’s better to keep them as close to the skin as possible. Due to their tiny molecular structure, serums can penetrate deeper than moisturizers, hence their numeric order in both a morning and night skincare routine.
When it comes to protecting the skin from damaging free radicals (sun exposure, environmental pollutants, etc.) during the daytime, few ingredients are as effective as antioxidants. Today, there are countless serums on the market, the best of which include several different types of antioxidants and supporting elements (think hyaluronic acid, peptides, alpha, and beta hydroxy acids) that help promote stability, strength, and skin function.
Some of the most popular antioxidants include vitamins A, E, and C; resveratrol; niacinamide; and coenzyme Q10. The cosmetic antioxidants market size is projected to reach USD 158 million by 2025 from USD 119 million in 2020, at a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 5.9%.
To be clear, a serum does not replace a moisturizer.
- Formulyst Active Serum – Vitamin B, C, E, Ferulic + Niacinamide, $80
This potent serum was formulated to shield your skin from the environmental assaults that age your skin. Just one drop contains a powerful antioxidant blend of antioxidants and vitamins. It’s the ultimate antioxidant formulation with the highest concentration of pure vitamins C, B, and E, ferulic acid, and niacinamide. The skin appears brighter, healthier, and more youthful.
- Dermalogica Biolumin-C Serum, $89
As the name suggests, C is the critical antioxidant in this high-performing serum that bolsters the skin’s natural defense system to brighten, firm, and help dramatically reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. In addition, advanced biotechnology and an incredibly stable vitamin C complex work together to fight oxidative stress and the formation of aging before it commences.
- Avène A-Oxitive Antioxidant Defense Serum, $44
This light-weight, fast-absorbing serum promises to defend the skin against the most challenging environmental stressors. Because it’s formulated with popular antioxidant ingredients vitamin C and E, it provides superior antioxidant protection while improving the skin’s appearance. Additionally, it works to smooth the skin’s texture while reducing fine lines and brightening the complexion.
Step 4: Eye Cream
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. Depending on the current condition of your under-eyes, you may want to opt for a lighter gel-like formula in the morning to address puffiness after sleeping (store it in the fridge for optimal results) and a richer formula at night.
- La Roche Posay Pigmentclar Eye Cream, $43
Caffeine constricts blood vessels to reduce the appearance of puffiness and dark circles while reflective pigments brighten. While it’s a bit pricer than your average drugstore eye cream, it has an instantaneous effect. The unique cooling metal applicator also helps depuff and the gentle melt-in texture and is suitable for the sensitive eye area.
- Obagi Elastiderm Eye Cream, $115.50
As we age, the elastin fibers in our skin degrade, which means that skin becomes saggy and lax. Around the eye area, this results in droopiness and crepiness. Obagi Elastiderm Eye Cream helps reduce this with a combination of the brand’s proprietary Bio-Mineral Contour Complex and malonic acid. The bi-mineral complex combines the minerals copper and zinc and is thought to help improve elasticity and moisture.
- Dr. Brandt No More Baggage Eye Depuffing Gel, $42
As the name suggests, this needle-free eye gel works to depuff eye bags, thanks to caffeine and elasticity-strengthening peptides — bonus points for targeting dark circles, too. Note that this treatment works best when worn over a more decadent eye cream if your skin tends to be on the drier side.
Step 5: Face Tools and Devices
An electronic facial device is an excellent investment as it can tighten, tone, and stimulate the lymph system, thus reducing morning time face and eye puffiness. When used in conjunction with a topical treatment (while it’s still damp on your face), it’s like a spa experience at home.
- ReFa S Carat, $160
This sleek metal wand is designed to strategically fit the contours of your face — including the eye area. The small solar panel on the handle transforms sunlight and indoor light into micro-currents that stimulate circulation and reduce puffiness. Pop the device in the freezer for a few minutes before use for extra de-puffing power.
- Foreo Iris Illuminating Eye Massager, $159
Strategically shaped to hug the eye contour, the small but mighty device reduces under-eye puffiness, dark circles, and fine lines. It boasts eight adjustable settings and two massage modes. Use it with your favorite eye cream to enhance its absorption.
Step 6: Moisturizer
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 (more on that next) come into play. You can choose to have two separate formulas or a two-in-one cream with an SPF of at least 30.
- Carrot & Stick The Moisturizer, $50
This supercharged antioxidant formula is a hydrating powerhouse that leaves skin feeling remarkably smooth and radiant. Overflowing with potent plant proteins, vitamins, peptides, and amino-collagen, it delivers multi-level hydration.
The brand’s active complex of three natural bio-ferments supports greater nutrient density and more efficient absorption. Caffeine adds an energy boost that revitalizes dull, mature skin, while botanical elements promote overall conditioning.
- Cetaphil Daily Advance Lotion, $11.39
Non-comedogenic, fragrance-free, ultra-hydrating, and soothing — this is Cetaphil’s specialty. This moisturizer is formulated with shea butter, glycerin, macadamia oil, and antioxidants vitamins E and B5 to hydrate and replenish on contact. As a result, the skin remains soft, smooth, and moisturized for up to 24 hours.
Best Moisturizer for Dry Skin: Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream, $58
Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream is the brand’s number one moisturizing cream for dry skin that provides ultra-lightweight 24-hour hydration. It’s recommended for all skin types, including those with sensitive skin.
This cream contains a high concentration of squalane, which is found in the skin lipid barrier of humans and animals, therefore playing an essential role in skin lubrication and protection. However, the amount made and retained in the skin decreases over time. Topical application of squalane helps replenish the skin’s lipid barrier, resulting in softer, smoother skin.
Step 7: Sunscreen
Unless there’s already an SPF incorporated into your daily moisturizer, sunscreen should be the last step in your daytime skincare routine — providing you’re using a mineral sunscreen. Step seven becomes a bit tricky if you opt for a chemical sunscreen because it has to absorb into the skin to be effective, making it less effective if applied after your moisturizer.
With that said, go the mineral route unless you’re using a day cream with an SPF. According to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, only two of the 16 active ingredients commonly used in commercial sunscreens — the mineral sunblocks, zinc oxide, and titanium dioxide — are “generally recognized as safe and effective.”
- REN Clean Skincare Clean Mineral SPF 30 Mattifying Sunscreen, $38
Formulated with 22% non-nano zinc, rice starch, and passionfruit seed extract, this all-natural sunscreen provides moisture and antioxidant protection. Thanks to its mattifying and priming properties, the skin stays shine-free all day — even if you wear makeup on top.
- Alba Botanica Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen, $10
This broad-spectrum mineral sunscreen spray offers SPF 30 protection. The reef-friendly formula contains non-nano zinc oxide and supporting ingredients like sunflower seed oil, aloe vera leaf juice, and shea butter.
- Drunk Elephant Umbra Sheer Suntegrity SPF 30, $34
This zinc oxide formulated sunscreen from Drunk Elephant is also chock full of antioxidants. Grape juice extract, sunflower shoot extract, and astaxanthin shield from free radicals and other environmental stressors brought on by pollution. Despite being a physical sunscreen, this formulation will not leave any film or a chalky appearance. It’s also free of fragrances and essential oils — which can be potentially irritating — making it a good choice for those with a sensitive skin type.
Morning Skincare Routine: The Bottom Line
Unlike your reparative and restorative nighttime regime, the goal of your a.m. drill is to protect your skin from sun exposure, pollution, and other environmental aggressors. However, the products and ingredients used really set a morning and night skincare routine apart.
There’s not much of a difference between your skincare routine order morning and night, but you will be changing up your products a bit.
Even so, the order of product application is critical. This is because only a small amount of vital active ingredients in your skincare products can penetrate the skin — even when perfectly formulated and applied.
As with your nighttime routine, make sure you’re using the right products for your skin type, whether that’s normal, dry, oily, or combination. Not sure? Make an appointment with an esthetician or dermatologist to ensure you’re using the right products to achieve your skincare goals.
”Multi-Step Routines Deliver Better Benefits to the Skin,” Research Gate, January 2020.
”Cosmetic Antioxidants Market by Source Global Forecasts to 2025
,” Market to Market.
“FDA Advances New Proposed Regulation to Make Sure Sunscreens are Safe and Effective,” U.S. Food & Drug Administration, February 2019.