How to Master the Order of Your Skincare Routine (+ Printables!)

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Ask your sister or a friend about their skincare routine order and the answer is probably filled with a lot of uhhhhs and ummms trying to remember the exact order. “Well… I use CeraVe, but only twice a week… and that’s after I use, well no… I use Aveeno moisturizer… although recently I’ve tried…”, Just like that, a question that should be a simple step-by-step response gets complicated.

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone in this confusion. With so many products and possible routines, trying to perfect your skincare routine order can be like trying to bake the perfect cake without a recipe. Not only do you have to find the ingredients that pair together the best, but you also have to order the steps properly. Where to begin?

But, much like the result of a rich chocolate cake, finding a skincare routine that works for you pays off. Once you go through the hard work of testing, experimenting and refining the order of your skincare routine, you’ll have a solid framework you can rely on to care for you and your skin through whatever life throws at you. 

Before you jump in, you’ll want to know what skin type you are so you know what to look for (and what to avoid!). Here’s a quick rundown: 

  • Dry skin. Your face feels tight throughout the day and there might be noticeable flaking. You easily scar and there are irritated red patches on your face. Hydration is the most important thing for you! 
  • Combination skin. You break out in your t-zone (your forehead, nose and chin), but the rest of your face feels dried out.  Balancing your pH is the most important thing for you!
  • Oily skin. Take a paper towel or napkin and pat your face. If the towel or napkin is damp, then it is likely you have oily skin. Daily cleanse and exfoliation are the most important things for you!

Follow this guide to develop a trusted skincare routine you can be confident in. You can also download this printable skincare planner to keep track of your skincare journey!

When It Comes to Your Skincare Routine, Order Matters

Just like the ingredients for baking a cake, order matters when it comes to skincare. Why? Because the ingredients in beauty products are extremely susceptible. Their effectiveness hinders on factors like time, temperature and mixtures. 

Think of your skin like a honeycombed barrier that only absorbs substances when the pores — the doors to the skin — open up. If you want the vitamins and minerals in your skincare products to absorb deep into the layers of skin, they first need to pass through this porous barrier. 

This guide will walk you through the correct sequencing so that your products actually work. A good rule of thumb is to apply the lightest things first then move to the heavier stuff. 

Disclaimer: FragranceX does not claim to know any medical advice and recommends you consult a dermatologist for your skin conditions. 

AM Skincare Routine: Wake Up Your Skin Right

When you’re asleep, your skin is hard at work, as a lot happens to your skin overnight. It becomes slightly hotter and more acidic, it repairs any damage and it grows new skin cells, according to the Healthy. When you wake up, your skin needs nourishment. This six-step routine is especially tailored to be done in the morning when your skin is craving refreshment. 

As you go through these steps, you’ll see general tips for what ingredients to look for (and to avoid). You can download this skincare ingredients cheat sheet to quickly see what products would work best for your skin!

Step 1: Cleanse

Before you jump into the complicated things (aka oils and ointments), start with a clean slate. Pillows and bedsheets can seriously irritate your skin and transfer bacteria, so it’s important to start with a gentle face wash in the morning, but it is the morning so don’t get too aggressive with it.

The Washington Post reported that when you scrub your cleanser too harshly, you can damage the outermost layer of your skin. When the cleanser interacts with the stratum corneum, the skin’s protective layer, it is stripped of good oils and the skin’s natural defense. This results in the overdrying and irritation you often see when trying out a new skincare routine.  

So, when deciding on a morning cleanser be picky. Choose one based on your skin type and always opt for a gentle one. There are gel cleansers, cream cleansers, foam cleansers, oil cleansers, powder cleansers and cleansing cloths and sponges. Avoid acid-heavy cleansers and go for the light ones (aka the ones with few ingredients, preferably all that you can understand). 

You also want to be aware not only of the product you are using but how you are using it. Avoid scrubbing your face when washing, try instead rub in light circles when washing and dab when drying. Your skin is literally a layer of cells living on the surface — it’s fragile. Even things like washcloths or towels can tear and stretch your face. In general, the simpler and softer the better. Remember— gentle, gentle, gentle.

Step 2: Toner

Once your face is clean, it’s toner time! Toners level your skin’s pH (which gets acidic overnight) and prime your face to allow other products to get in. It’s the meditator between cleaning and applying skincare products.  

When you use your toner, use a reusable cotton pad. It’s the most effective and least invasive way to apply, and good for the environment!

Step 3: Serum

Serums may sound all fancy, but they’re more than just a luxury. They are foundational for providing your skin with the vitamins it needs to be healthy. Serums are full of nutrients, making them the fruits and vegetables of your skincare routine. 

You’ll want to use a Vitamin C serum for your morning routine, which brightens your complexion and firms up your pores leaving a radiant natural glow for the day ahead. Vitamin C also protects your skin from any potential radicals throughout the day like UV rays or pollutants.

When applying serums, less is more. Some serums will have specific instructions for application, so check your product’s bottle label before you do anything. 

For the most part, you want to avoid directly putting the serum onto your face straight from the bottle. This might lead to overuse and poor reaction. Instead, drop a pea-sized amount (the equivalent to 3-4 drops if you have a formula dropper) into your palms, rub your hands together and then apply it gently to your skin. 

Since serums are so vitamin-concentrated, it’s best to use them every other day if you have sensitive skin. Too much will clog your pores and do more harm than good.

Step 4: Eye Cream

You want to show off those pretty eyes, but it can be hard to do if a bad night’s sleep, late-night or salty midnight snack leaves you with dark circles and puffiness. On top of that, your eyes are the first place you start to see aging according to by L’Oreal. This is all because of the thinness and sensitivity around your eyes —so, you’ll want to take extra caution when applying eye creams. 

When choosing an eye cream look for the following ingredients:

  • Peptides help retain collagen which facilitates skin repair.
  • Vitamin K and caffeine circulate the blood alleviating the appearance of dark circles.
  • Shea butter hydrates and firms the skin to prevent skin lines.

 Eye creams with roller applications are particularly useful, as they help the blood circulate.

Step 5: Moisturizer

You might feel the need to skip this step if you have oily skin. Don’t. Moisturizer is essential for everyone, even if you break out easily. In fact, if you skip moisturizing your skin is likely to break out even more. 

Moisturizer, as the name implies, locks in moisture. It provides skin with extra hydration and protection it needs to form a layer of defense against harmful exterior elements like the sun, air pollution, and bacteria from your hands after touching your face.   

Timing is important for moisturizers to be effective. You want your skin to be slightly damp when you apply your moisturizer, so don’t waste time in between steps one through four. After you apply moisturizer, let it sink it. As a best practice, you’ll want to wait four to five minutes before putting on any make-up.

Step 6: Sunscreen

SPF. SPF. SPF. (and another SPF to be safe!). Always, always wear sunscreen. Even if there is 6-feet of snow outside, wear sunscreen. 

Of course, sunscreen protects against the sun, but how valuable is that defense? Without it, we are at risk of getting skin cancer, aging prematurely and risk letting our acne blemishes scar. 

The minimum SPF you should be using for your face is an SPF 30 (and that’s the low side). Be sure to not only apply SPF on your face, but also on your neck and chest.

PM Skincare Routine: Give Your Skin the Rest It Deserves

You and your skin have had a long day. Whether it is a stressful workload, a tough day at school or general exposure to the outside world, it all takes a toll. Now it’s time for you to recuperate and recover, which means for your skin some time to repair itself. Follow these steps during your evening skincare routine to give your skin the R&R it deserves:

Step 1: Double Cleanse

At night, you want to gently cleanse not once, but twice, to ensure that all the grime and dirt that has built up over the course of the day is removed. 

The first round of cleanser should be an oil cleanser to loosen up and dissolve any makeup or substances on your face. The second cleanser should actually wash those things off your face. This can be the same gentle cleanser you used in your AM routine. 

The most important thing to note here is to avoid make-up wipes. Yes, they are easy and don’t involve splashing water on your face, but they are ineffective. A makeup wipe won’t get everything off your face leaving you with clogged pores overnight, the perfect recipe for a breakout.

Step 2: Toner

After you’ve cleaned your face, it’s time to tone, (again). This is where some experimentation needs to be done with your routine. 

You don’t want to go overboard with toning, especially if you are following the 7-Skin Method in the morning. You should use toner after cleansing, but if you have oily-prone skin then dial it back and consider only toning in the evening, every other night or only in the morning. If you are going to use it once a day, include it in your morning routine and use retinol at night instead.

Step 3: Eye Cream

Just like in the morning, you will want to apply eye cream after cleansing and toning. The difference here lies in the type of eye cream. 

According to Dermstore, you’ll want to stick to an antioxidant eye cream or one that targets blood circulation in the morning. Look for products that include Vitamin K, Vitamin C, and caffeine. However, at night, you want to focus on hydration. So, look for a hydrating eye cream that includes ingredients like shea butter. 

Step 4: Spot Treatments

Our skin repairs and regenerates as we sleep which makes spot treatments for acne most effective at night. Spot treatments, however, are tricky to nail down because of the assortment of ingredients and strength of their effect. 

Spot treatments are on the offensive looking to zap blemishes. They have active ingredients including benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, hydroquinone or niacinamide depending on your dermatologist’s recommendation. When using a spot treatment, only apply it directly on the affected area and moisturize around it. Don’t go overboard! It is tempting to want to get rid of a zit right away by putting a huge dollop of spot treatment, but this will only backfire.

Step 5: Moisturizer

As we sleep, our skin loses hydration. That’s why it’s essential to use moisturizers both in the morning and at night. You can use the same moisturizer if you have sensitive skin, but ideally you want to apply a heavy moisturizer in the evening. Night creams tend to be thicker creating a layer on your skin to retain water as you sleep.

Step 6: Retinoids

There is speculation and myth around retinoids, but studies have proven they are highly effective. Retinoids are derivatives of Vitamin A which encourage cell turnover that helps prevent acne and slow aging. It should be noted that retinoids are aggressive — a word that is used with great hesitancy in the skincare space.

If you have sensitive skin you need to ease into using retinoids. Try it once a week for a month, then add it in twice every two weeks, until your skin is comfortable with tolerating it three times a week. Ease into retinoids and once your skin is adjusted to them, they will work their magic. 

Some Skincare No Brainers

Your skincare journey will have a rollercoaster ride of changes. Right when you hit a peak, you’ll be dropped down into unexpected bouts of skin troubles. However turbulent the ride, you’ll want to abide by these safety cautions, or “seat buckles” for your skincare.

  • The right cleanser. There are a lot of options when it comes to cleansers and cleansers are not a one-size-fits-all type of product. Know your skin type and keep that in mind when you go to pick a cleanser. 
  • Hydration. Both on the inside and the outside of your body you need to keep hydrated. Drinking water will naturally increase the hydration in your body, but also applying moisturizers will help retain that hydration. 
  • Listening to your skin. When we are sad, we channel our hearts. When we are confused, we turn to our brains. When we have a breakout, we need to listen to our skin. This involves talking to a dermatologist to identify what skin type we are and also just looking in the mirror and noticing irritation, dryness or breakouts. Try to do this non-judgmentally, your skin is trying its best! 
  • Make it simple. With all the products out there it’s easy to go overboard stocking up our cabinets. Remember the simpler the better. Drowning your face in oils and serums won’t give you flawless skin. Stick to the basics: wash, moisturize and sleep.
  • Keep track of your products. You’ll cycle through different products as promising formulas come to market. Make sure you keep track of what works and what doesn’t work for your skin. You can also share with your friends if they ask for skincare recommendations. You can download this product review sheet to make evaluating products easier.

Skincare is a journey and clear skin won’t happen overnight. Even if you have the right products and follow the right order, things take time to work. Even when the products work, you may get a stress pimple here or there. C’est la vie! 

No matter what, always check back in with the basics, a staple morning and evening routine. Feel good about these routines and supplement your skincare with some general wellness upgrades. Adapt a signature scent to feel your most confident self. Regardless, anchor your skincare to the foundations outlined here, especially in rough waters. Most of all, love the skin you’re in!

Sources: The Healthy | Dermstore | Healthline | Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology | Wall Street Journal | Tatcha

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