How to Layer Beauty Products

To get the most out of serums, sunscreens, and moisturizers, put them on in the right order.

From the WebMD Archives

Just as you layer your clothing to handle the weather, you want to apply your skin care products in a specific order. That way you'll get maximum results from their active ingredients.

"For a product to work, it has to communicate with your skin," says Neal Schultz, MD, creator of the BeautyRx product line. "Putting products on in the wrong order can create barriers to that communication."

Use these tips for your morning and evening routines.

Start with a clean slate. No matter what, cleansing is always your first step. You need to remove oils, dead skin, and makeup residue to ensure the products you use get direct contact with your skin, says esthetician Renée Rouleau. If you use a toner after cleansing, Rouleau suggests using an alcohol-free one.

Medications take priority. If you use a prescription cream or lotion, such as a retinoid or a rosacea or acne treatment, those go on clean skin. "You want spot treatments and medications to be in contact with the skin first to get the most out of the ingredients," Schultz says.

Put sunscreen on naked skin. Next (or first, if you don't need a medicated product), comes sunscreen, Schultz says. They shield you from the sun's rays best on a clean surface. "For full protection, there can't be anything under sunscreen," he says.

Wait a few minutes for your sunscreen to dry before finishing your routine. You can save yourself a step by using a moisturizer with SPF -- apply a generous amount to ensure you're covered, Schultz says. (Obviously, disregard this step for your nighttime routine.)

Go from lightest to heaviest. "The general concept is to apply water-based products first, working your way up to thicker, heavier formulas," Rouleau says. "If your product can't penetrate the last thing you put on your skin, it won't be effective." Water can't penetrate oil, but the heavier products can get past the lighter ones, so everything has a chance to reach your skin.

Start with serums (after cleansing and, during the day, sunscreen). "The watery or gel-like consistency delivers a high level of performance ingredients directly to your skin," Rouleau says. She suggests an antioxidant formula during the day and a moisturizing or anti-aging serum at night. "Rub serum onto your fingertips and apply all over for an even application," she says. "If the potent ingredients aren't spread evenly, you could risk irritation."


Moisturizers go on last. If you use more than one, apply them in order of consistency.

"Lotions go on before creams, and a heavy petrolatum-based product like Aquaphor goes on last," Schultz says.

If you wear an eye cream, end your routine with it before applying makeup.

Find more articles, browse back issues, and read the current issue of "WebMD Magazine."

WebMD Magazine - Feature Reviewed by Mohiba Tareen, MD on May 21, 2015



Neal Schultz, MD, dermatologist,New York City.

Renée Rouleau, esthetician, Dallas.

© 2015 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.


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