The Order You Should Apply Your Skincare In Is Not As Obvious As You Think

As the number of skincare products on your bathroom shelf grows, the order in which you should apply them starts to get murky. We all just want the products we’ve spent our hard-earned money on to work at the best of their ability, right? So, once and for all, what is the right order to apply your skincare?

Unfortunately, the answer isn’t as straightforward as social media infographics would like to make it seem. On the bright side, it’s also not as damning if you do it “wrong” anyway.

Let’s dive in.

The Easy Answer?

The easiest way to answer the question of skincare product order is : thinnest to thickest. Go through your current routine and take a quick audit of your products’ texture by dispensing a small amount on the back of your hand. Creamy products like moisturizers go toward the end of your routine while thinner, water-based products like toners and serums should be applied first.

If you have multiple products that seem similar in texture, apply them side-by-side on the back of your hand or on a flat, non-absorbent surface. Tilt your hand at a 45-degree angle and observe which products run more quickly. The faster-moving products contain more water and should be applied earlier.

Why Does Product Order Matter?

While some skincare brands and enthusiasts will lead you to believe the order of your skincare routine is fundamental to your products working correctly, that’s not the entire story.

Many skin sites will point to molecular size to explain away the need for a strict product application order. At the smallest chemical level, everything is made up of molecules of varying sizes. The idea is that, if applied incorrectly, products with larger molecules will block products with smaller molecules from penetrating skin.

In reality, smaller molecules are very good at getting where they need to go by squeezing between the gaps left by larger particles. The real obstacle is the skin barrier itself.

The key to the skin barrier cellar door is a well-formulated product. All great skincare must have a delivery system that carries active ingredients to their necessary points to create change in skin. No application order can compensate for a product without this chemical access code.

When Does It Make A Difference?

There are some instances where your product application order can make or break your routine.

The first is when using vitamin C. Vitamin C comes in several different forms that absorb best at specific pH levels. L-ascorbic acid, the gold-standard type of vitamin C, absorbs best at a pH of 3.5 which is lower than your skin’s natural range of 4.5-5.5. Typically, it’s best to apply your vitamin C serum to dry skin before you’ve applied any other products to increase absorption and decrease the risk of irritation.

The second important case is when using occlusives. Occlusives are products that work similarly to your skin barrier and may be creamy, waxy or oily. Vaseline, Aquaphor, facial oils and most moisturizers are considered occlusives. Because occlusives are specifically meant to seal in water and fill moisture gaps, it’s important to apply your serums and treatment products beforehand.

Should We Ditch The Thin to Thick Rule of Thumb?

Not so fast! While the thinnest to thickest rule might not have much bearing on whether or not your routine works, it’s still helpful to avoid product pilling and increase comfort.

Ultimately, as long you’re applying your moisturizer and SPF last — it’s likely you’re doing the rest right. Don’t get bogged down with the minutiae of your serum and treatment order and pay attention to which products seem to play well together. As long as you’re consistent, you’re already ten steps ahead!


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