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How to Apply Your Skincare in the Right Order

how to apply your skin care the right way

We all spend a lot of money on our skincare, and unfortunately if you’re not using it correctly, you aren’t getting your money’s worth! If you apply your skincare in the right order you will get the most out of each ingredient as they’ll be able to penetrate the skin and really do their job! Today we’ll look at the factors determining what order to use your skincare products and how to do it correctly.

What order to apply your skincare

Clean Skin First

This is obvious, wash before applying expensive products.

First, I start by removing my eye makeup. I have a lot of eye makeup removers that I like (check out my favorite eye makeup removers), but really the key seems to be a remover with oil in it with a cotton round.

Try These:
Almay Longwear & Waterproof Gentle Eye Makeup Remover
Lancome Bi-Facil Double-Action Eye Makeup Remover

Usually removing eye makeup leaves a rim of mascara and eye liner around my face. It’s great, I look like a raccoon! So, I wash the rest of my face next. I have a few cleansers that I like, and I usually use just my fingers to rub it around on my face before scrubbing a bit and rinsing off with a washcloth. I have a Clarisonic that I use a few times a week. My face can’t seem to take using it every night, so I play it by ear but it is usually about 2-3x/week.

To Try:
Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser from Amazon or Target
Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cleanser from Kiehl’s or Nordstrom
Kate Somerville Detox Daily Cleanser from Kate Somerville or Sephora

A quick note about toner. I don’t use a toner, most dermatologists and estheticians I interview don’t use them and they’re rarely mentioned any more. I consider toner to be a cleansing product, and I’d use it as the last step of cleansing.

Medicine Before Others

Prescription meds are next. You want them closest to your skin to ensure that they absorb fully. Personally, I’m on Clindamycin for my Rosacea, so I spread about a pea sized amount of the gel all over my face.

Treatments and Creams

Next it is time to apply your skincare product. The typical order for this depends upon the consistency of the products. Thin comes before thick, and then within those consistencies water based goes before oil based. So, thin water based, thin oil based, then move up to thick water based and last come thick oil based.

For most people this means after your prescription medications have been applied you would move on to the thin products, for me this means that my serum comes next. I’m currently using Murad Advanced Active Radiance Serum, which helps to even out my skin tone and fade hyperpigmentation. If I’m dry, I’ll add a few drops of Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery over the serum. About twice a week I’ll also add in a retinoid lotion, I like RoC Retinol Correxion Sensitive Night Cream.

My Picks:
Murad Advanced Active Radiance Serum from ULTA or Sephora
Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery at Kiehl’s or Nordstrom
RoC Retinol Correxion Sensitive Night Cream from Amazon or Target

Finally, thicker creams and balms, again start with thinner and move to thicker, applying water based before oil based. I apply my eye cream next, and follow it up with an all over night cream.

My Current Favorites:
Kate Somerville Line Release Under Eye Repair Cream at Kate Somerville or Sephora
Kiehl’s Super Multi-Corrective Cream from Kiehl’s or Nordstrom


If my morning moisturizer doesn’t have a sunscreen or I’ll be spending quite a bit of time outside, I add an extra layer of a lightweight sunscreen on top of everything. You can find a full list of full spectrum coverage facial sunscreens here, but my favorites are listed below.

My Current Favorites:
Avene Mineral Ultra-Light Hydrating Sunscreen SPF 50 at Amazon
Murad City Skin Age Defense Broad Spectrum SPF 50 PA++++ at Sephora

How Much Time in Between Skincare Steps

In general, you do need to allow a few minutes in between each product to let it sink into your skin, but you shouldn’t need a lot of time. I’ll usually wash my face, apply eye cream and my first treatment product (Clindamycin prescription for my Rosacea) at the same time, because they go on different areas of my face. I brush my teeth while those sink in, and then depending on what product I’m using for a review, I either apply another treatment, serum or my night cream. I usually have about 1-2 minutes between products, but that’s about all you’ll need.

Anti-Aging Skincare Guide
Check out more anti-aging skincare information and reviews in my guide!

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About Me

I’m a doctor, a mommy and a bit of a beauty addict. If you let me, I can take 2 hours to get ready in the morning. Really. I'm on a quest for faster beauty that works!

Leave a Comment


  1. 4.12.18
    Kat said:

    Thanks for the article. I was thinking about this topic just this week!

  2. 4.15.18
    Susie said:

    I too have been wondering this same subject.

    After reading your post from dermatologists recommendation, I just started using Neocutis Lumiere eye cream, replacing iT eye cream. I also use a caffeine eye cream and Skyn Icelandic relief eye cream. All these under my eyes. Not sure which should go first.

    • 4.15.18
      15mins said:

      That’s a lot of eye creams! Why so many?

      • 4.16.18
        Susie said:

        I serious issues under my eyes, wrinkles, fatty deposits and discoloration. All from heredity. So always reading on what can help these issues. I have not found one product that has all the ingredients to help….

        • 4.16.18
          15mins said:

          Have you thought about finding a serum with all of the correct (or most of the correct) ingredients that you want to include and then layering an eye cream over the top? I just worry that the eye creams layered will be hard to absorb, and serums typically have a higher concentration of ingredients anyways.

  3. 4.18.18
    Susi said:

    I would try that. Have you posted any recommendations on serums? I struggle searching for products by ingredients. Tank you!

    • 4.18.18
      15mins said:

      I’ll work on a post with my favorite serums!

      • 4.22.18
        Susie said:

        Great! Also looking forward to face moisturizer recommendations. Another constant search for one that does not cause breakouts but helps my aging face! Thank you

  4. 1.22.19
    Kat said:

    This comment is a bit late, but i just reached your site. Just to offer another point of view- many dermatologists suggest using HA serum before anything as it helps actives that you layer to better penetrate your skin. Would you agree? If not, why?
    After altering my routine, I’ve had more moisture in my skin, it doesnt dry out so much.
    My current evening routine:
    Cleansing oil + flannel
    acid toner every other day
    toner (with 5 types of HA, so its essentially like a light serum, no alcohol)
    prescription retinol OR vitamin C serum or peptide serum
    moisturiser if needed
    they all go to damp skin with no drying in between.

    • 1.22.19
      15mins said:

      I’ve never heard the suggestion to use HA serum first. It doesn’t make sense to me- the HA doesn’t work immediately. The more important factor in absorption is the composition of the product, such as serum vs oil based cream. In the long term using HAs will help with exfoliation and that helps with penetration and product efficacy, and I’ve heard from dermatology friends that HA are good to include for that reason, but the effect is more long term and not immediate so shouldn’t be a factor in your application order.