Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on September 15, 2021

If you use a number of different skincare products, you may wonder what order of use offers the best results. Some skin care brands offer product lines that outline the best order for each of its items. Even if you are using different brands, you can apply your skincare products in the correct order.

To keep your skin healthy, you should wash and treat your face in the morning and again at night. In the morning, your goal is to remove dirt that settles into your face at night. You also want to use skincare products that protect your skin from pollution and dirt in the air.‌

Step one. Wash your face as the first step in your skincare routine. Clean skin gives you a fresh palette for applying other products. Starting with clean skin ensures that creams and lotions don’t trap dirt and grime in your pores.‌

You may think that your skin is clean if all you do is sleep. Tossing and turning can trap dust, sweat, and oil in your pores overnight. Choose a cleanser based on your skin needs. If you have dry skin, you may need added moisture. If you have oily skin, choose an oil-free cleanser.‌

Experts say that you should apply a cleanser using circular, upward motions. Apply gentle pressure but don’t scrub too hard, or you can damage your skin. Rinse your skin and pat it dry before moving to the next step in your skincare routine.

Step two. If you notice that your skin is drier than usual or has a lot of buildup, exfoliate during this step. You don’t need to exfoliate every day. You can use a gentle exfoliating skincare product or a washcloth with your usual cleanser.

After you cleanse, apply a toner or astringent. As you did with your cleanser, choose a product based on your skin needs. Toner is usually milder and offers added moisture. It helps balance your skin’s pH to reduce oil production. Use a stronger product like astringent if your skin produces a lot of oil, or if you are prone to acne.‌

When you shop for a toner or astringent, look for ingredients like chamomile, witch hazel, and vitamin E. Apply this skincare product using a cotton ball or pad. Massage your skin in small circles and use gentle pressure. Try not to scrub your skin with the pad. Your facial skin is delicate.‌

Step three. Moisturizer is next in the order of your skincare products. Moisturizers come in many forms, including:‌

  • Lotions
  • Creams
  • Serums
  • Oils
  • Gels‌

Moisturizers offer many great benefits, including:

  • Making your skin feel soft
  • Protecting skin from harsh elements and pollution
  • Keeping skin hydrated‌
  • Addressing specific skin concerns like redness or sun damage‌

Look for a moisturizer that meets your skin’s needs. If you have very dry skin, you may need to add a serum to this step. Apply the serum before your moisturizer.  If you have oily skin, look for an oil-free moisturizer. Use the products in this step sparingly. As in previous steps, apply in gentle circles and don’t tug at your skin. ‌‌

Step four. If your moisturizer doesn’t have a sun protection factor (SPF), apply a sunscreen in the last step of your morning skincare routine. Sunscreen is important every day because:

  • Sun poses one of the greatest risks of damage to your skin.
  • Small amounts of time in the sun can add up.
  • You may spend more time outside than you expect.
  • Sun causes skin damage even on overcast days.‌
  • You can get indirect sun exposure through windows in your car or buildings. ‌

If you wear makeup, apply it after all of your skincare products.

Before you go to bed, wash and treat your face again. Addressing skin care needs is the goal of your evening skincare routine.‌

Step one. First, remove your makeup. Cleansers do not usually remove cosmetic products. You can use makeup wipes, micellar water (a cleansing product made up of soft water and tiny balls of oil called micelles that naturally attract debris on the skin), and even oil or balm.‌

Step two. Cleanser is next in the order of your skincare products. Use the gentle face wash you use in the morning, or choose one that targets skin concerns. If you are prone to acne, look for one with ingredients like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. As your skin ages, look for ingredients like glycolic acid.

Step three. This step in your evening skincare routine is optional. If you have oily skin, you may want to use toner again. If your skin tends to be dry, you may want to skip the toner.‌

Step four. The final step in your daily skincare routine is a night cream. Look for ingredients like:‌

  • Vitamin A
  • Collagen
  • Tretinoin
  • Retinol
  • Adapalene‌

If you find that your night cream dries your skin, add a moisturizer on top. Look for products that contain ceramide or hyaluronic acid to keep skin hydrated.

Skincare after sweating. If you exercise or do work that causes you to sweat, wash your face afterward. Sweating can clog your pores, trapping dirt and oil. You don’t have to repeat your entire skincare routine after sweating unless you want to. At a minimum, apply a moisturizer and sunscreen to protect your skin for the rest of the day.‌

Adjusting for the weather. Your skincare routine may change with the seasons. Cold weather may lead to more dryness and a need for more skin moisture. You may sweat more in the summer and need products that do not contain oil.‌

Using too many skincare products may irritate your skin, especially when it comes to anti-aging products. If you notice changes to your skin that concern you, talk to your dermatologist.

Show Sources


‌American Academy of Dermatology Association: "SHOULD I APPLY MY SKIN CARE PRODUCTS IN A CERTAIN ORDER?"

Cleveland Clinic: “What Products Do I Actually Need for a Simple, Everyday Skin Care Routine?”

Northwestern Medicine: “Do You Really Need a Skin Care Routine?”

Tri-City Medical Center: “The Ultimate Morning Skincare Checklist for Healthier Skin.”

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