How to Layer Skincare Products in the Correct Order

18 January 2023




Is one of your new year resolutions to start the year right to get your skincare routine done correctly? To get the best efficacy and results of your skincare, it’s important to use active ingredients to your advantage. You can combine them- but layering them correctly makes all the difference between a smart approach and having the products counteracting against each other. So here’s your guide to the art of layering skincare correctly.



One important aspect of skincare is layering products correctly, in order to maximise their effectiveness and minimise irritation. This is especially so if you’re use multiple active ingredients or products; so you can use them consistently in the long haul. For example, combining retinoids with exfoliating acids together can intensify dryness and irritation. However, layering humectants and emollients like hyaluronic acid and ceramides can synergise their moisturising benefits besides strengthening your skin barrier.


Related blogposts:

Retinols Explained Simply

A Complete Guide to Acids in Skincare & Chemical Exfoliation

Everything You Need to Know About Hyaluronic Acid

Ceramides in Skincare: A Relief for Dry & Sensitive Skin

How to Repair Your Skin Barrier


Your guide to layering skincare simply- in this blogpost!




Tip 1: Cleanse for a clean canvas

Regardless of your skin type- dry, normal or oily- you’ll want your skin to be able to absorb your skincare ingredients without dirt and dead skin getting in the way. Cleanse your skin to remove excess oil, dirt and makeup to have a clean canvas to layer your skincare.


Tip 2: Exfoliate first

Exfoliation is the process of removing dead skin and dirt on the surface. If your skincare routine consists of chemical exfoliants such as AHAs and BHA, move on to this before layering the rest of your skincare. Besides keeping your skin rejuvenated, exfoliation prepares your skin by improving absorption of your subsequent skincare!


Related blogposts:

A Complete Guide to Acids in Skincare & Chemical Exfoliation

Review of Face Exfoliating Acids in Skincare


Tip 2: Prescriptions first

If you have been prescribed medications or topicals first; these usually come as your first layer on the lesions. For specifics, check in with your doctor about the right order of application for your prescriptions.


Tip 3: Skincare from light to heavy

As a rule of thumb, layer your skincare products based on their consistency. Begin with the lightest first and moving your way up to the thickest in consistency. Skincare products that are thicker and heavier, such as creams, have a higher oil content than more lightweight lotions and gels. Because of their higher oil content, thicker skincare products have a barrier effect that seals in moisture; but also blocks the absorption of water soluble ingredients that were to be layered on top of these heavier skincare. Thicker creams also help to seal in your skincare when applied last.



With the myriad of skincare products and terminologies -it can be confusing for one to distinguish the differences between an essence, ampoule, and toners; as well the right order to layer these products. These products have similar functions, contain ingredients of varying concentrations; and have a watery consistency. There are no standardised distinctions and definitions about what qualifies as a toner, essence, ampoule or serum; meaning that these labels are marketing lead; and beauty companies are free to define these products as they please. If you’re already using ampoules, essences, toners…etc, I recommend layering them in order of their consistencies, from lightest heaviest.


There will be nuances in choosing the sequence of skincare to order, given the variation in skincare products. I’ve used serums containing facial oils with very lightweight consistencies; to oil free moisturisers feel heavy on the skin. In these instances, it can be confusing to decide on the order of skincare products; and I would advise following the product instructions.


What are active ingredients in skincare?


Tip 4: Active ingredients to mix and match

Active ingredients are the ingredients in skincare that address particular skin concerns. For example, UV filters in sunscreens to reduce UV damage to the skin; retinol in night creams to reduce wrinkles; hyaluronic acid to moisturise the skin; and vitamin C in serums to lighten hyperpigmentation.


Related blogposts:

The Beginner’s Guide to Starting Retinoids

Retinol Serums & Creams Reviews 2023

Retinol Serums & Creams Review 2021

5 Cult Favourite Hyaluronic Acid Serums Reviewed

Topical Vitamin C: One of the Best Ways to Protect Your Skin


Active ingredients are biologically active ingredients; meaning that these can change the skin in a good or bad (usually unintended as a side effect) way. While it may be attractive to combine active ingredients to maximise their benefits, doing so could potentially worsen disruption to your skin barrier. For example, combining retinoids with acids (AHAs & BHA) can precipitate redness, dryness and hypersensitivity. In an upcoming post, I’ll be sharing which active ingredients can be safely combined; and which combinations to avoid. To limit these complications, I highly recommend using a maximum of 3 active ingredients each time. If you intend to use combinations that could worsen irritation; I suggest alternating them on different days, just like Skin Cycling


Related blogposts:

What is Skin Cycling? The Derm Approved TikTok Trend Explained

How to Repair Your Skin Barrier

5 Skincare Ingredients for Acne & Acne Prone Skin 


Tip 5: Moisturise

One important step in any skincare routine is to protect your skin from ongoing transepidermal water loss; which causes dryness. Protecting your moisture barrier is key to reducing dryness and reducing the appearance of fine lines. Moisturisers contain a variety of ingredients that moisturise the skin either by attracting water molecules or sealing in hydration. They often come as gels, lotions and creams- and should be layered on top of your serums, essences, ampoules and toners.

Don’t forget your sunscreen! 


Tip 6: Sunscreen last

The last layer of your skincare in the daytime should always be your sunscreen. Sunscreens reduce the damage of harmful UV rays to the skin; to protect our skin from burns, dark spots, skin cancer and premature skin aging.


If you’re a fan of sunscreens with some cosmetic coverage; I recommend choosing tinted sunscreens. However, if you’re looking for sunscreens with a radiant finish, my personal favourites are from Suqqu, Shiseido Anessa and ALLIE. You can read about my sunscreen recommendations and duds in Sunscreen Reviews 2021 and Sunscreen Reviews 2019. I’ll be sharing a guide on how to choose sunscreens for your skin type; so please stay tuned.


You might notice one product that’s conspicuously absent in my list of steps and tips- eye creams. Protecting the skin around your eyes is essential; but here’s why you don’t need to splurge on eye cream in Do Eye Creams Work?



When getting started on a new skincare product or regimen, it’s helpful to find out whether the active ingredient will address any of your skin concerns; and any possible interactions with other skincare ingredients. As with any skincare product, be sure to be consistent and give enough time for your skin to benefit. If you find that your skincare products are not working; there might be a few reasons why this is so here.




Mixing skincare can be tricky because of potential interactions, both good and bad. I hope you found this guide to layering skincare useful. In summary: start with clean skin and layer products in order of their sunscreen; and finish off with sunscreen in the day. Do you have any questions about layering your skincare?


Leave them in the comments below!



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