The Best Way to Apply Skin Care Products

The Best Way to Apply Skin Care Products

Written by: Paula Begoun

Medically Reviewed by: Corey L. Hartman MD Board-Certified Dermatologist

Does the order in which you apply your skin care products matter? Short answer: yes. Here’s everything you need to know about applying your skin care products effectively and efficiently to get the best possible results.

What are the steps of a good skin care routine?

Skin care isn’t one-size-fits-all. The necessary steps of a good skin care routine will vary from person to person depending on what’s going on with their skin, but there are a few core basics that everyone benefits from:

  • Cleanser
  • Leave-on exfoliant
  • Moisturizer (one with SPF for the day and a separate moisturizer at night)

Paula’s Choice Essential Routines were built with these core skin care products in mind. If you’re new to skin care, three simple steps for morning and evening are a great way to start your journey.

If you already have the basics down and are looking to target more specific skin concerns, an Advanced Routine will offer a more comprehensive approach to taking care of your skin. Advanced routines include additional steps, like toning and applying a serum, that address specific skin concerns (we'll get into the nuances more down below).

How to apply skin care products

Applying your skin care products in the right order will help ensure optimal penetration and the best results. These steps make it incredibly easy to get the most out of any skin care routine, from basic to advanced.

  • Start by cleansing skin. If you use a makeup remover, cleansing balm, or other type of double cleanser, apply that first, then follow up with your regular face wash.
  • After cleansing, apply your toner. You can use your fingertips or a reusable cotton round—whichever you prefer.
  • Next, apply your leave-on AHA or BHA exfoliant. There’s no need to rinse and no need to wait before moving on to your next step.
  • After your exfoliant, apply the rest of your skin care products in order of their texture, going from the thinnest, most fluid consistencies up to the thicker lotions and cream. For example, layer on liquid products (like some boosters) followed by thicker products, including serums and/or treatments, and moisturizers.
  • The only exception to this rule is during the day, when your sunscreen or moisturizer with SPF should be the last skin care product you apply regardless of texture. Don’t forget to apply sunscreen to your ears, neck, and chest that you may be missing with your other skin care products. (Although we highly suggest extending your regular skin care routine down to the neck and chest as well.) If you’re going to be applying makeup as well, give your sunscreen a few minutes to set.

How to alternate skin care products

Okay, so you’ve got the order of application down, but you might be wondering if you need to use each product twice a day. The answer is no. You don’t necessarily have to use every product twice a day. Rather, you can alternate by using some products in the morning, others in the evening, and others every other day. It’s really up to you to experiment and see what your skin does best with. As long as you're consistently giving skin the types of ingredients it needs to function at its best, you’re doing great.

How many skin care products do I need?

How many skin products you need depends on what your skin concerns and skin goals are. If you have a range of skin concerns like wrinkles, acne, rough skin texture, extreme dryness or oiliness, uneven skin tone, redness, and loss of firmness, one or two products alone simply can’t address all these needs.

Think about it like your diet: A great recipe can include many wonderful foods and nutrients, but it cannot contain everything your body needs to be healthy. The same is true for skin—one great product can’t do it all.

In order to put your own routine together, we’ve created an organized guide to help you navigate how to curate the best routine for your skin type and skin concerns with our expertly formulated products. If you want to better understand the ingredients in your skin care products or see if a product is right for you based on its formula components, check out our Beautypedia Ingredient Checker, a tool that quickly does the detective work for you and analyzes ingredient lists based on published research. And of course, our dedicated Client Service Team is here to help if you have any questions.

Learn more skip care tips.

References for this information:

  1. The Journal of Dermatological Treatment, June 2021, pages 1–6
  2. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, August 2020, pages 1,993–1,999
  3. Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigational Dermatology, January 2017, pages 3–9
  4. PRS Global Open, Supplement 12, December 2016, ePublication
  5. Photodermatology, Photoimmunology & Photomedicine, December 2013, pages96-101
  6. Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, December 2012, pages 1,447–1,454