Does the Order of Skin Care Product Application Matter?

I often get asked by patients whether or not it matters what order the apply their skin care products.  The short answer is YES.  Although products that are put on your skin at any point should eventually absorb into your skin, there are ways to optimize absorption to help get the most from your skin care regimen.

These recommendations are based a a fundamental skin care regimen that most of my patients follow.  You might have specific targeted serums or creams that you utilize.  For example, if your skin is on the oilier side, you might use a toner, which is optimally applied after cleansing your face.  Please feel free to reach out to me if you have questions about where to fit these into your routine for the best results.


  1. Start with a cleanser suited to your skin type.  Choice of cleanser should be specified based on your skin type.  If you have dry or dehydrated skin, think about a more moisturizing, cream-based or oil-based formula.  For oilier skin, you might want a gel-based cleanser that helps cut through the oil and sebum on your skin surface.
  2. Serum should be your second step.  This might be your antioxidant serum (vitamin C serum or vitamin E serum). Serums are not the same as moisturizers and should not be used in place of a moisturizer.
  3. Moisturizer should be applied next.  Again, choose a moisturizer suited for your skin type.  If your skin tends to be on the greasy side, a lightweight or oil-free formulation might be optimal.  For drier skin, a creamy or thicker moisturizer is probably best.  In the winter months, when my skin requires more hydration, I even put a pea-sized amount of Aquaphor into my moisturizer to provide a stronger barrier to seal in water and hydration.
  4. Sunscreen should always be applied last.  Once applied to the skin, sunscreen essentially acts as a barrier that blocks optimal absorption of other products.


  1. Remove makeup.  Use a gentle but effective makeup remover that is non-irritating to your skin.  My favorite is Neutrogena Oil Free Eye Makeup Remover (I use it to remove my eye makeup and lipstick)
  2. Cleanse your face with your cleanser of choice, suited for your skin type (as noted above).
  3. Moisturizer is your third step.  Typically, this is the same moisturizer that you use in the morning, but many of us prefer a specific nighttime formulation that is designed to help repair and regenerate your skin while you are sleeping.  If you are using a specific retinoid or retinol product (as noted in step 4), be sure that your moisturizer does not also contain a retinol as the combination of 2 retinoid/retinol products can be irritating to skin.
  4. Retinoid/Retinol should go on last.  Application of your moisturizer before applying your retinoid/retinol helps control the rate of penetration of your retinoid/retinol and decreases the incidence of irritation and skin sensitivity.

I hope that these tips help you get the most out of your skin care regimen, and please feel free to contact me with any specific questions about your individual routine.

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