When it comes to your skin care routine, does it really matter that much what order you apply your products in? Turns out, it matters quite a lot. As in, putting serum on after moisturiser makes about as much sense as putting your underwear on over your jeans. So.. what order should you be applying your skin care? A good rule of thumb is that you should apply your skin care routine in order of thickness, starting with the thinnest formula to the thickest. We've broken down how to correctly apply all your products in this step by step skincare order for the most effective routine. Of course, you don’t have to own and use all these products, but knowing where they slot into your skin care routine is key to helping your skin care work effectively.
Step 1. Cleanser
Let us start off easy: the first step in most people's skin care routines will likely be cleanser. But depending on whether it’s your AM or PM routine, your cleansing step will look a bit different. For dry skin types, cleansing your skin twice a day can strip too much of your skin’s natural oils, which are already in scarce supply. So, a quick splash with some lukewarm water might be all you need after waking up in the morning. For combo and oily skin types, a gentle hydrating cleanser can feel refreshing after a night’s sleep and help control any excess shine that has developed overnight.
In the PM, you should start your routine off with a double cleanse - the first to remove makeup, SPF, dirt and sweat, and the second to cleanse the skin. Face wipes are a popular choice for removing make-up in a pinch, but they’re a little too harsh to use every day. They’re also not the most environmentally sustainable option, so you should keep them for special circumstances like travelling or going to a festival. Oil cleansers make excellent first step cleansers, as they are quick at dissolving stubborn make-up, oil and SPF without irritating the skin. Micellar water is another gentle option for removing makeup before cleansing your skin.
When it comes to cleansing your actual skin, dry skin types should stay clear of foaming cleansers, which can be overly drying. Milky, creamy cleansers will cleanse skin without stripping essential nutrients and oils from the skin, which can disrupt the skin’s moisture barrier.
Combination and oily skin types may benefit from more targeted cleansers containing ingredients like salicylic acid to clear blemishes. Just make sure your cleanser is still hydrating, and doesn’t contain harsh cleaning agents like sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate. Look for hydrating factors like glycerin and hyaluronic acid to keep skin moisturised while balancing oil production.
Step 2. Toners
Toners should come right after cleansing in your skin routine order. Originally, toners were used to remove residue from soapy cleansers. These days, cleansers have evolved and toners have taken on a new role as a targeted and fast-absorbing treatment for specific skin care concerns.
You’ll often find chemical exfoliants like lactic acid, glycolic acid work best in thin formulations like toner. This is so the active ingredients can get full contact with the skin, without having to penetrate through other products. This allows for maximum effectiveness and quick absorption.
You can also find hydrating toners that provide the skin with a potent shot of moisturising ingredients right after cleansing, to keep skin plump and dewy.
Step 3. Essences, serums and ampoules
While essences, serums and ampoules have different textures, they are all applied in the same order when it comes to your skincare routine - after toning and cleansing, but before moisturiser. Serums are packed with potent nutrients, vitamins and ingredients that benefit from having as close contact to the skin as possible. This is why putting serums on after moisturiser is completely pointless, as moisturisers provides a protective seal over the skin that is hard for thinner products to penetrate.
If you're using several serums and essences in your skin care routine, you should also apply these in order of formula. Thinner essences and spot-treating serums should go on first, like our Soothing Serum. To get the best effectiveness out of targeted ingredients like CBD and tea tree oil, you want as close contact as possible between your product and the skin. Thicker serums and hydrating formulas should go on next, and silicone-based serums should go on last, right before your moisturiser.
When layering several serums at once, make sure none of the ingredients you’re using will clash. Alternate which night you use your more intensive products, like retinoids and chemical exfoliants. So if you’re using retinol one night, avoid AHA and BHA serums for a night or two. Most people should only need to use these kinds of targeted ingredients three nights a week at most, any more than this can cause irritation.
Vitamin C serum works best when applied in the AM, to help your sunscreen to work better. As an antioxidant, vitamin C works to protect the skin from free radicals and environmental damage.
Step 4. Spot treatment
When you’re fighting a break-out, spot treatments are a great way to target blemishes to help them heal faster. However, integrating spot treatments into your routine is a bit tricky when it comes to application.
Spot treatments should be applied before moisturiser for increased penetration through the skin and into the affected pore. However, this makes applying your moisturiser more difficult, as you run the risk of spreading the spot treatment across your face and decreasing its effectiveness. So, you’ll have to be mindful of tapping your moisturiser gently around the area you’ve applied your spot treatment.
While you can apply spot treatments over all your other skin care, be mindful that they may not be as effective.
If you’re using spot treatments with ingredients like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, avoid using retinoids as well. Combining them is far too harsh, and could lead to more irritation and prolong the life of your break-out.
Step 5. Moisturiser, eye cream and face oil
The order in which moisturiser, eye cream and face oil are applied will vary a bit depending on your products. Typically, you should apply face oil after moisturiser. This is because your moisturiser seals in all your other active ingredients and draws moisture into the skin, while your facial oil traps moisture into the skin. In a skincare routine, you should always make sure not to put facial oil on before your moisturiser, you will inhibit how well your moisturiser can work to pull water up from the deepest layers of your skin. In a skincare routine, face oil is always the last step.
If you prefer putting facial on before your moisturiser, stick to using dry oils like jojoba seed oil, rosehip oil and grapeseed oil which are lightweight and fast-absorbing. Heavier oils like avocado oil and borage seed oil should always be applied after moisturiser. If you’re not sure which category your oil falls in to, apply to the skin and see how quickly it absorbs. If you can still feel it sitting on your skin after a few minutes, it’s likely a heavier oil and should definitely be applied last. The Poko Luxury Facial Oil is best applied after your moisturiser, so luscious plant oils like baobab oil, crambe seed oil and moringa oil can help to seal in hydration all day and replenish your skin's moisture barrier.
Knowing what order to use your eye cream and moisturiser in your skin care routine depends on the formulation. If your eye cream is thicker than your moisturiser, apply it afterwards. If it’s thinner than your face cream, or contains targeted ingredients, put it on before. The Poko Correcting Eye Cream works best when it's applied before your facial moisturiser, as this allows targeted anti-ageing ingredients to work more effectively. Our potent plant extracts like green tea extract, passion fruit extract and raspberry extract are packed with antioxidants to help brighten dark under eyes and fight free radicals, while CBD and aloe vera work to soothe puffiness and keep delicate under-eye skin moisturised.
Step 6. Sunscreen
Sunscreen is a pivotal part of your morning skin care routine. Even if you forego serums and eye cream, the most basic routine should always include a moisturiser and SPF.
Sunscreen should be the last step in your skin care routine, right before make-up (if you wear it). Even if your moisturiser already contains SPF, you should still be using a separate sunscreen during the day. Research shows that moisturisers that contain SPF won’t protect your skin as well as sunscreen will - which is why you need to wear sunscreen every day. Even during the winter! While burn-causing UVB rays may not be as prominent in colder months, UVA rays can penetrate through windows and clothing to cause damage and premature ageing in the skin.
You may also like to read: The best skincare routine for eczema that you and your skin will love