There's no instant fix to getting smooth and clear skin. In addition to having a well-curated routine with the right products for your skin type, you need to stay consistent in how you apply those products, taking care to layer them correctly. Yes, there is a correct order to apply skin care products—and it can make more of a difference than you might think.

In general, you want to layer products in order of consistency, working your way from the lightest to the heaviest textures. If you put your products on in the wrong order, they might not be able to do their jobs properly. Rich, heavy formulas act as a barrier to prevent things from seeping in or out, so putting something light over something heavy means it may never even touch the skin.

Still, with so many products on your shelf, it can be hard to know the order to follow. That's why we've outlined a step-by-step guide to applying the most common skin care products. Because every person's skin is unique, you may need to do some fine-tuning, but this guide can serve as a great starting point for developing your perfect routine.

1. Cleanser

The first step in any skin routine is using a cleanser to remove any makeup, oil, or dirt from your face. It's an essential step that sets the stage for your skin to receive all the nourishing ingredients it needs to stay healthy. You'll want to wash your face twice a day, using the right cleanser for your skin type.

According to the New York Times, those with oily and acne-prone skin will want to look for a lightweight foam cleanser to break down dirt and control production of excess sebum (your skin's natural oil), whereas those with dry skin will want to look for something richer, like a cream cleanser, that will both clean and lock in moisture.

2. Toner

If you're looking for dewy, glowing skin, you'll often hear that you should add a toner to your routine. Dermatologist Tiffany Libby explains that toner is designed to help remove anything your cleanser might have missed and to prep your skin for the next step in your routine. You'll find that many toners contain ingredients like antioxidants, amino acids, and hyaluronic acid to hydrate the skin, smooth out fine lines, and address an array of skin concerns. Formulas often come in a thin, water-like consistency, but they're also available in face mists or even gel sticks.

3. Serum

Serums are like magical potions for your skin. They're packed with concentrated active ingredients to treat a number of skin concerns. "Serums are the workhorse products that target specific skin concerns, such as redness, fine lines, hyperpigmentation, breakouts, and more," says Dermatologist Dendy Engelman.

Common ingredients found in serums include retinol, vitamin C, niacinamide, and peptides. While you can focus on one specific skin problem, you can also treat multiple concerns with certain formulas. They're typically liquid-based with a slightly thicker consistency than a toner, so it should always go on after.

4. Spot Treatment

If you have oily or acne-prone skin, chances are you use a spot treatment to tackle those one-off blemishes as they appear. These typically contain acne-fighting ingredients like salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, or retinoids and come in the form of thick creams. You'll want to put these types of products on right after your serum absorbs into your skin.

5. Eye Cream

For those chasing that well-rested look, eye creams can help get rid of dark circles or puffiness in the under-eye area. As Dermatologist Rachel Nazarian explains to the New York Times, "The skin around the eyes is quite thin and delicate and more likely to react to irritating ingredients than other areas." An eye cream will contain a more gentle dose of those active ingredients when compared with other products, so these might be worth it if you're especially sensitive.

6. Moisturizer

Aptly named, moisturizers keep the skin moisturized—but they also do so much more. A lot of formulas contain ingredients that help stimulate collagen production and fortify the skin barrier. Most importantly, they lock in all the products you've used in your routine. Like a cleanser, you'll want to pick a moisturizer based on your skin type. Those with oily skin will want something lightweight with a gel-like consistency so that it doesn't clog pores, whereas those with dry skin should consider a cream with hydrating properties, like hyaluronic acid.

To complement the benefits of a moisturizer, end the day with an overnight mask to lock in moisture. The EltaMD Skin Recovery Night Mask is formulated to do just that. While you sleep, the mask goes to work with an AAComplex blend of amino acids and innovative chronobiology technology to encourage your skin's nighttime repair. It does so by strengthening the skin barrier, revitalizing dull and tired skin, and visibly reducing the appearance of redness. As an added bonus, the mask also helps prep your skin for your daytime routine. This added step will pay off when you wake up to bright, glowing skin.

7. Sunscreen

For your morning routine, the last step should always be sunscreen. Although some moisturizers are SPF-rated, it's still recommended that you use a true sunscreen as your final layer for the best protection against skin damage, including wrinkles, sun spots, discoloration, saggy skin, and even skin cancer. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher each morning. If you worry that layering on too many products will cause you to break out, be sure to look for non-comedogenic formulas so that you're not blocking pores.

So, what is the correct order to apply skin care products? Ultimately, you'll have to discover the exact process that gives you the best results, but following this guide and making tweaks as needed is a good place to start. And don't forget—your Dermatologist will be happy to advise you on the products and practices that can keep you feeling healthy and looking radiant.


  • Audrey Noble

    Audrey Noble is a New York City-based reporter specializing in features, celebrity profiles, and beauty topics. Her work has appeared in Vogue, Harper's BAZAAR, Allure, Vanity Fair, Refinery29, and more. She is a University of Southern California alumna with bachelor's degrees in print journalism and creative writing.