Step-by-Step Guide On Layering Your Skin Care Products...The Right Way

Oh, the arts of layering. Whether you are creating your outfit, assembling a rainbow cake, the right order of things can greatly impact the final product. It's no different in skincare. In fact, when done wrong it could mean you are wasting your time and money, without even getting the results you want—eek!

Why Sequence Makes A Difference? 

"Properly applying and layering products means better, more noticeable results in the long run. If you've been using a product and not seeing the results you were hoping for, you could be applying it at the wrong time of day or in the incorrect order."- says celebrity Dermatologist, Dr. Harold D Lancer

Why does it really matter if you put your hydrating serum before your night creme? One word— efficiency.

Proper layering is a science. Just as layering clothing from tightest and thinnest to your thickest item helps your body stay warm on a winter's day, layering products correctly can utilize your active ingredients so they can work their best giving you the results you paid for. In fact, some negative effects you may face by mixing up these crucial steps include:

  • Active ingredients not being able to penetrate or deliver performance at all
  • Having conflicting ingredients working counter-intuitively so you never benefit from either
  • Combining Ingredients that together create chemical reactions to create damage and irritation to your skin

Laws of Layering

Law 1: Applying Light-Heavy. A good rule of thumb is going from thin to thick. Start with your thin watery products (like toners), then gel-like products, and end with thicker creams and moisturizers. In day layering, your final skincare layer should be your SPF (before makeup, if using). This ensures all products enter into the skin by order of the molecular structure- avoiding large molecule ingredients from blocking other smaller sized ones. 

Law 2: Water before Oil. Even the lightest of oils don't mix with water. Oil-based products produce a barrier that water-based cannot penetrate through so be sure to apply water-based products first. 

Law 3: Ph & Penetration. Most don't realize the importance of ph in skincare and penetration. Ph is a measure of acidity in a product. Products tend to work better when using similar pH products together,  and if not possible going from lowest (more acidic 3-4) to closer to neutral ones (5-7).

In case you're not a chemist and don't know details like pH levels top of your head, we got you! We created an easy step-by-step guide for you product junkies.

Skincare Routine

Step 1. Double Cleanse 

☀ ☾ Before we get into the leave-on layers, it's important to know your starting point. Always start on a clean slate to allow for better product penetration. Double cleansing with a gentle sulfate-free cleanser, removes makeup and surface debris to prep the skin for active ingredients. When using two different cleansers start with oil-based or makeup removal, and follow with the water-based cleanser suited for your skin type. 

(always start with a clean slate with our Daily Cleanser)

Step 2. Manually Exfoliate

☀When appropriate, after properly cleansing the skin, use a gentle manual exfoliator to further smooth out the skin surface. Manual exfoliators are not a daily step and shouldn’t exceed 3-4 times a week. 

 ☾Be sure to save your chemical exfoliants in your evening routine, since they can make your skin more sensitive to the sun. For chemical exfoliants, you can do this step after toning vs before.

Step 3. Toners

☀ ☾ This step many chose to pass on. If using a toner or astringent this would be the time to use it. Hydrating toners can assist in balancing the pH to prep for the rest of your regimen. It's not a necessary step, but for those of you that are extra make sure you do it at this step!

P.S. Many astringents have dehydrating harsh alcohols, so if you decide on using one make sure you are paying attention to ingredients! Although many alcohols are known to strip the skin, fatty natural alcohols actually do the opposite and can not only hydrate but also assist product penetration. 

Alcohols to Look For:

  • Stearyl alcohol
  • Cetyl alcohol
  • Cetearyl alcohol

Irritant Ingredients to Avoid

  • SD alcohol
  • Denatured alcohol
  • Isopropyl alcohol

Step 4. Treatment Product

☀ These are where your nutrient-dense serums come into play. For daytime use your antioxidant-rich serums like vitamin c and niacinamide. 

☾   For the evening you can use your stronger repair-focused products like retinol, or chemical exfoliators that make a bigger impact. 

Here are some irritating combos you want to avoid:

  • Retinol + Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA’s)
  • Vitamin C + AHAs
  • Retinol + Benzoyl Peroxide 

Combos that work as a good team:

  • Fruit Enzymes + Vitamin C + Hyaluronic acid
  • AHA/BHA + Ceramides 
  • Vitamin C + SPF

P.S. This step is the most overdone. Remember on a daily basis the less is more with active ingredients so they can be utilized. For the safest option, use fruit enzymes that can be used daily like in our CLARISMA Enzyme Complex!

Step 5. Eye Gel/Creme

☀ Since the eye area is more delicate and thinner than the rest of the face, you will want to give it special attention. Gel eye cremes do great in the mornings to help refresh tired eyes and work well under sunscreens. Ingredients like caffeine are not just good in your morning coffee!

☾ Eye creams with treatment peptides are great to soak overnight and can aid in preventing the appearance of fine lines and crow's feet.  But be careful to use these heavier eye creams sparingly. A little goes a long way and you wouldn't want the product to seep in your eye at night! 

Step 6 Moisturizer/Sleeping Masks

☀ Everyone needs a moisturizer, yes even if you have oily skin! Using a fragrance and silicone-free moisturizer that is suited for your skin type is essential in your regimen. Maintaining your water content is the most important step to protecting your skin cells.

 ☾ Using a heavier moisturizer in the evenings can be another opportunity to switch up ingredients and take advantage of a longer absorption time. Night creams or Sleeping Masks

often offer added correcting features in addition to extra hydration. Yes! We love a good multitasker! 

Step 7 Oils

 ☾Since oils have occlusive properties—a fancy term to describe a barrier they create that moisture cannot break through—it's important you do this step as your last step for hydration. Although some argue that you can use oils during the daytime, it's not recommended as it may affect the integrity of your SPF.

Step 8 SPF/HEV Protection

☀ The most important step in your morning routine to not just fight against aging, but to help prevent cancer. Ask any baby boomer who wishes they had the education on sun protection we had today. Wear your sunscreen ladies.  

☾ Nightscreen, you heard of it? Yes, research has shown that now we have yet another offender we need to guard against. The blue lights from our computer screens. The good news is most likely you don't have to add another product to your list. More products are incorporating ingredients to help protect blue lights, so look out for the term HEV protection in the new waves of SPFs and serums. But for evening protection your antioxidant-rich serum should do the trick!

(Check out our skin kits to get a jump start on your skincare regimen!)


Are all the steps still a little overwhelming? For a quick reference download our PDF Skincare Layering Cheat Sheet! 



Why You Need to Layer Your Skin Care Accordingly - E! Online

pH and Drug Delivery - Abstract - pH of the Skin: Issues and Challenges - Karger Publishers

The Tolerability and Efficacy of a Three-product Anti-aging Treatment Regimen in Subjects with Moderate-to-severe Photodamage (

Skin Penetration - an overview | ScienceDirect Topics


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