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Is There a Correct Order to Use Skin Care Products?

Submitted via the Facebook page (the best way to reach me): Hi! I'm a big fan of your website and after doing a lot of reading, I've decided I want to use the following products for my morning routine, but I'm not sure what order to apply the products after I cleanse my face: Skinceuticals CE Ferulic, MD Formulations Daily Peel Pads, Philosophy Miracle Worker Spot Corrector, a moisturizer, and sunscreen....and also wondering if this is too many products to use?  -Charlotte Dear Charlotte, When you are combining products from different lines, there are a few things to keep in mind.  Before I get into the bulk detailed answer, I'll give you the nice, brief one, in the correct order from first to last:
  • MD Formulations Daily Peel Pads
  • Skinceuticals CE Ferulic
  • Philosophy Dark Spot Corrector
  • Moisturizer
  • Sunscreen
How to Know the Correct Order to Apply Products The first rule of thumb when combining products is to apply the thinnest/lightest product first, followed by a slightly heavier product, and then an even heavier one, until you finish with the richest cream on top. The reason?  There are many agents known as “occlusive agents,” including petrolatum, mineral oil, and lanolin that seal water (and other ingredients) into the skin.  On the one hand, this is great, because occlusive agents seal moisture in towards the skin. On the other hand, occlusive agents create such a barrier that it can be difficult for other skin care creams to reach the skin afterwards.  Luckily, they're usually found in moisturizers with a rich, creamy texture. You should be able to feel which cream or moisturizer is the heaviest.  However, there are documented “strengths” of moisturizing agents, as can be found in the textbook Aesthetic Medicine:  Art and Techniques, amongst other sources.  Here they are via the text: LIGHTER OCCLUSIVES (use first):
  • Silicones
  • Jojoba oil
  • Niacinamide
  • Petrolatum
  • Mineral oil
  • Lanolin
  • Shea butter
Another rule of thumb?  Always apply sunscreen last.
Sunscreens work in one of two ways:  Physical sunscreens prevent UV rays from penetrating the skin, whereas chemical sunscreens absorb UV rays and transform them into a different non-harmful form of energy (like heat or visible light rays).  Sunscreens should be applied to your skin in a thick manner once all of the other products are dry, so that it forms a type of tightly-knit matrix.  When you apply moisturizers on top of that, you not only change the chemical properties of the sunscreen, but you also change the way UV light will hit your skin.  That's why companies always design sunscreen or sunscreen-based moisturizers as the "final step."
Are you using too much skin care?  How to tell: While your list looks like a lot of products to me, there is really no universal answer I can give you for this, at least not without earning my medical degree first (2014, baby!) and a full in-person dermatological evaluation.  That said, your skin may be particularly tolerant to a lot of skin care products.   There are many ways to tell you are using too many products, including breakouts, redness, tenderness, irritation, and others, which I've listed in far more detail on a prior post, "5 Warning Signs You Are Using Too Much Skin Care!". Bottom Line When mixing skin care lines, always start with the lightest product first, though make sure that you apply your sunscreen last once your other products have settled/dried. I hope this was helpful to you, Charlotte!  If you'd like more information on mixing skin care products from different lines that doesn't directly apply to your regimen, please read my prior post, "How Do I Combine Skin Care From Different Lines?"  At any rate, I hope this helps! All the best, Nicki
Date: March 20 2012 at 5:43 AM
Q&A, Skin Care

Comments (17)

  1. Maria
    March 20 2012 at 6:50 AM

    What about foundation or bb cream? What order does that go in? I use a moisturizer, bb cream and am trying to incorporate some extra spf. I tried putting the spf over the bb cream but I feel like that covers up some of the glow from the bb cream. Thanks!

  2. Vanessa
    March 20 2012 at 10:14 PM

    Phewww! Thankfully I'm following the correct order. Is it ok to combine the final two and use a moisturiser with SPF included?

  3. Jacquelyn
    March 21 2012 at 5:41 AM

    How about if you're using a make-up primer? I always feel so weird when I put sunblock and then primer... It just feels like it's in a "wrong" order, since my sunblock is matte (and, well, provides SPF)... and then I layer on a silicone-based product. Am I doing it right? Or should I be putting on sunblock after primer...? If I did the latter, my primer wouldn't affect my foundation! ):

  4. ang
    March 21 2012 at 12:46 PM

    are you sure chemical sunscreens go on last? my dermatologist said to put in on first.

  5. Mimi
    March 21 2012 at 4:54 PM

    What about prescription hydroquinone cream? Does that follow the same rules?

  6. Krista
    March 23 2012 at 9:28 AM

    How do you feel about combining steps from different product lines? Isn't that, in a sense, sabotaging the routine? Seems like you could create quite a science experiment on your face by mixing different products from different product lines?

  7. futurederm
    March 23 2012 at 11:39 AM

    @Maria - Which BB cream do you use? In general, BB creams are designed to be a moisturizer, foundation, and sunscreen all-in-one. You shouldn't have to use a BB cream in conjunction with any other moisturizer, foundation, or sunscreen. If you find your skin is too dry or needs more coverage, perhaps you are using the wrong one! It's hard for me to recommend one to you personally online, but if there's a Sephora near you, they're usually very helpful and will offer samples of all different kinds if you ask (if they're not available, they'll make them for you)!

  8. futurederm
    March 23 2012 at 11:40 AM

    @Vanessa - Absolutely. As long as a moisturizer has a specific SPF number on the label, it is FDA-based law that it must provide that level of protection when applied in sufficient amounts. The key here is sufficient amount - you need to be applying about 1 tsp or 1200 mg if you have a scale. This is because the sunscreen ratings are granted on sunscreens applied as 200 mg/cm^2, and the average face is 600 cm^2. Hope this helps!

  9. futurederm
    March 23 2012 at 11:41 AM

    @Jacqueline - Good question. The key here is to let your sunscreen dry completely before applying your primer. You don't want to let the two mix while the sunscreen is still wet, because this would affect the sun protection. Hope this helps!

  10. futurederm
    March 23 2012 at 11:45 AM

    @Krista - Absolutely. Do you regularly see a dermatologist? If you do, then I absolutely recommend mixing skin care products from different lines. For one, it's almost impossible to find all of the proven ingredients that are beneficial to your skin from one line. For another, many skin care lines feature one "concentrated" product (usually a serum), and then the rest of the products in the line have much lower concentrations of the active ingredient(s). What's more, dermatologists will usually gladly evaluate the products you are using from different lines if you bring them to your next appointment. That said, one exception to the mixing rule is if you have a specific skin concern, like acne or hyperpigmentation; then you may want to hit it with a one-two-three punch in a specific line, like Pro-Activ or Lumixyl, respectively. Here's more on mixing products for you: Hope this helps!

  11. futurederm
    March 23 2012 at 3:59 PM

    @ang - I won't go against your dermatologist - if s/he said to you personally chemical sunscreens go on first, then perhaps with the skin care regime you have, that may be best. But in general, I do feel that it is best to apply your products thinnest to heaviest, allowing them to dry, and then applying sunscreen afterward. I would also allow the sunscreen to dry before applying primer and/or foundation.

  12. futurederm
    March 23 2012 at 4:03 PM

    @Mimi - What other products are you using? If your hyperpigmentation is severe to the extent you are using a prescription treatment, you may want to use the hydroquinone cream first and wait for 30 minutes (or longer) before using other products.

  13. futurederm
    March 23 2012 at 4:04 PM

    @Mimi - I would talk to your dermatologist who writes the prescription and bring your other products with you!

  14. Jessica Allison
    March 28 2012 at 7:24 AM

    Just thought I'd add something for those concerned about where primer falls into their routine. Primers are generally a blend of silicones that work to smooth skin & temporarily fill pores and fine lines, and light diffusers to bounce light away from imperfections. Many serums include the same ingredients- if you're using one that does, you can likely skip a separate primer. In fact, loading on too many silicones can make the product roll up into little balls on the skin (silicone can't be absorbed into the skin, so if too much is applied, it will just gum up on itself).

  15. Maria
    April 11 2012 at 4:50 AM

    I have used Jouer or the newish Garnier one. My skin is so dry that it feels like nothing is moisturizing enough. I typically use an oil, moisturizer and then bb cream. There are days when that doesn't do the trick even.

  16. futurederm
    April 11 2012 at 2:39 PM

    @Maria - Do you have eczema? Have you been to a dermatologist recently?

  17. maria
    October 24 2012 at 8:33 AM

    Hi Nicki - Jon recently wrote about mixing sunscreens and how octinoxate can deactivate other chemicals -- I use Aveeno #30 down first, which contains oxybenzone, avobenzene, etc... and then I put a physical block of Clinique spf15 which has titanium and zinc but it ALSO has octinoxate.... SO how do women wear foundation in addition to a sunscreen down first, given that there are few good foundations with just the physical block. If one wears a chemical spf down first and then puts an SPF-free foundation over that?? I'm just confused at this point and I'd like a good recommendation for this combination, and for a great dewyish foundation (if one comes to mind for you.) thank you so much for all you do!

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