The Best Order to Apply Your Skin Care, According to Dermatologists

The Best Order to Apply Your Skin Care, According to Dermatologists featured image
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For many people, there seems to be a barrier to entry when it comes to skin care these days. Influencers and celebrities have made it seem as if skin-care routines require 21 steps and expensive products to be effective, but that’s simply not true. We checked in with dermatologists to see what steps are non-negotiable and the best order to apply said skin care. Follow this guide if you’re feeling frustrated, and we promise you’ll get the hang of it soon enough.

Step one: cleanse skin

Across the board all of the experts we talked to say to kick things off with a cleanser. We want a clean slate before we start to layer on other skin-care products. Some experts recommend double cleansing, and we personally love it, especially if you’re trying to remove makeup or sunscreen as well as get a good cleanse.

Step two: apply actives

Once you’ve pat skin dry, Southlake, TX and Monroe, LA dermatologist Janine Hopkins, MD says it’s time to apply actives. “This is the product that has a medicine that affects a change in the skin,” explains Houston dermatologist Jennifer Segal, MD. “At night, this is usually corrective, such as alpha hydroxy acids or retin-A, which increase cell turnover and gently exfoliate or pigment-lightening agents such as arbutin or hydroquinone. In the morning, the active should be protective and is typically an antioxidant.

Washington D.C. dermatologist Tina Alster, MD explains that applying an active product like vitamin C or retinol as the second step in your routine guarantees “optimal absorption and effectiveness on clean skin.” This is also a good step to apply hyaluronic acid serum if you need a hydrating boost, says Dr. Hopkins.

Step three: add eye cream

Next, Dr. Alster says it’s time for an eye product if you have one in your routine. She advises avoiding the “application of active products within the orbital rim to avoid irritation. Products that are applied to the malar rim (cheekbone) will diffuse to the infraocular region anyway but will be less irritating because of product dilution.”

Step four: apply prescription products as needed

If you have any prescription products in your arsenal, Dr. Hopkins says this is the time to get them in the mix. However, she advises that if you’re applying a prescription retinoid, wait 20 minutes between the second or third step and this step.

Step five: moisturize skin

For step five, grab your favorite moisturizer. “Moisturizer is important for maintaining the skin barrier, especially in the setting of corrective products such as alpha hydroxy acids or retinol, which have the potential to irritate the skin,” notes Dr. Segal. In the morning, you can use a gentle, hydrating formula, and if you’re looking for more intense hydration, you can lather on a rich recovery cream at night, suggests Dr. Hopkins.

Step six: apply sunscreen

The experts agree this daytime step is crucial, and without it, all the other efforts go to waste. Dr. Alster says SPF should be the last application before makeup. Sunscreen is especially important when using actives and retinol since skin can become more sensitive and at risk.

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