How to Apply Your Skincare Products Correctly

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The golden rule of skincare has always been to wear SPF, as it’s a godsend product for addressing anti-aging, preventing and reducing dark spots, and offering protection from the sun. Truth is, SPF alone can’t address every skincare woe you may be dealing with, and often, it’s the big guns—targeted serums, gentle cleansers, hydrating moisturizers, etc.—that do the heavy lifting to bring you closer to your skin goals.

Like attempting to bake a cake from scratch, shopping for your skincare products is quite a humbling experience, especially when you’re unsure what ingredients to buy, the internet is inundated with conflicting tips, and prices aren’t the most flattering. Perhaps the most annoying part of it all is that regardless of brand, price, or ingredient, the order in which you apply your products can affect the efficacy of your routine. You wouldn’t add milk to a cafe after it’s already baked, right?

So before you splurge on that luxury moisturizer or introduce a new bakuchiol serum into your routine, let’s take it back to the basics. Ahead, is a comprehensive guide on how to correctly apply your AM and PM skincare routines—yes, there’s a difference.

 

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Morning

When looking at your skincare formulas, it’s always better to apply products from the thinnest formula to the thickest. Now, the most important thing to remember when applying your AM skincare routine is the sun. “When you’re thinking about your skincare routine, it’s really simple. During the day, you want to protect your skin. At night, you want to repair,” Dr. Lian Mack, NY-based board-certified dermatologist at GlamDerm, explains.

Cleanser

    Cleansing your skin from all the dirt, oil, and debris is how you create the perfect canvas for all your subsequent products to seep through your skin and work their magic. Here’s the step that sets the tone for your entire routine. Pay close attention to your skin—are you more on the dry side or find yourself swiping away oil throughout the day? Understanding your skin type is how you decide what cleanser is right for you. If you have sensitive skin, Dr. Bertha Baum, a Florida-based board-certified dermatologist, suggests using a gentle cleanser. Those with oily skin can benefit from a foaming cleanser, Dr. Baum adds. But never forget about the sun! Since you’ll likely encounter the UV rays throughout the day, Dr. Mack recommends using cleansers without actives in them “because you don’t want to increase your risk for photosensitivity,” she says.

    Hydrating Facial Cleanser
    CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser
    Gentle Cream Cleanser
    Exuviance Gentle Cream Cleanser
    Soothing Cleanser
    Skinceuticals Soothing Cleanser
    Toleriane Hydrating Gentle Face Cleanser
    La Roche-Posay Toleriane Hydrating Gentle Face Cleanser

    Toner

    Toners are an optional step in a skincare routine. Depending on your skin’s sensitivity, Dr. Mack says it’s okay to skip a toner. Ultimately, toners serve different purposes but are great for hydrating the skin for the next step in the routine.

    Serums

    A fun way to shop for serums for your morning routine is to remember what ingredients are typically associated with brightness, are antioxidant-rich, and are gentle enough for daytime wear. If vitamin C was the first thing that came to mind, you’re already on the right track. “During the day, you want to couple antioxidants—like vitamin C and E. In addition to antioxidants, you can sandwich other things into that regimen because serums have smaller molecules, and they’re able to penetrate the skin better,” she explains. After applying your serum, Dr. Mack advises incorporating “a hyaluronic acid molecule to help pull water to the skin.”

    C E Ferulic
    SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic
    Brightening Dark Spot Vitamin C Serum
    Hyper Skin Brightening Dark Spot Vitamin C Serum
    1.5% Pure Hyaluronic Acid Serum
    L’Oreal Paris 1.5% Pure Hyaluronic Acid Serum

    Now 32% Off

    Niacinamide Face Serum 12% Plus Zinc 2%
    Naturium Niacinamide Face Serum 12% Plus Zinc 2%

    Eye Cream

    The skin around our eyes is super sensitive and thin. Eye creams help delay any signs of aging, like fine lines and wrinkles. Dr. Mack says to look for ones with “peptides that help to firm and strengthen or lift the skin.” Since eye creams are not as thick as moisturizers, it’s perfectly fine to apply an eye cream before your moisturizer—but if you apply one after, you’re not wrong either.

    Extra Repair Eye Cream Intense at Nordstrom
    Bobbi Brown Extra Repair Eye Cream Intense at Nordstrom

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    Radiance Brightening Dark Circle Eye Cream
    REN Clean Skincare Radiance Brightening Dark Circle Eye Cream

    Moisturize

    After cleansing and treating your skin, the next step is to seal it all in with a good moisturizer. Moisturizers not only keep the skin hydrated, but they also work in tandem with the serums previously applied. Thicker formulas work great to soothe dry skin. “Some people don’t need a thicker moisturizer because they tend to be oily,” Dr. Mack says, so those with oily skin should look for lighter formulas with hyaluronic acid.

    Barrier+ Triple Lipid-Peptide Face Cream
    Skinfix Barrier+ Triple Lipid-Peptide Face Cream
    The Daily Moisturizer
    Namesake The Daily Moisturizer
    Hydro Boost Face Moisturizer with Hyaluronic Acid
    Neutrogena Hydro Boost Face Moisturizer with Hyaluronic Acid
    Moisturizing Cream
    CeraVe Moisturizing Cream

    Sunscreen

    “The two mainstays of a morning routine are vitamin C and SPF 30 or higher,” Dr. Mack adds. No routine is complete without sunscreen, which protects the skin from harmful UV rays. However, the type of sunscreen you use should match your lifestyle.

    In Dr. Mack’s office, she often recommends mineral sunscreens to her patients. “I prefer mineral-based sunscreens because there are great options for skin of color. For many, part of the struggle of searching for sunscreen is finding one that blends nicely with darker skin types,” she explains. Even if you’re using a tinted moisturizer or a BB cream, Dr. Mack still recommends using sunscreen prior to applying. “You would have to apply a lot of that foundation or BB cream to get the protection that you would from a true sunscreen. When you’re applying sunscreen, use the two-finger rule to get the amount of protection that you need.”

    UV Clear SPF 46 Face Sunscreen
    EltaMD UV Clear SPF 46 Face Sunscreen
    Unseen Sunscreen
    Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen

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    Urban Environment Oil-Free Sunscreen Broad-Spectrum SPF 42
    Shiseido Urban Environment Oil-Free Sunscreen Broad-Spectrum SPF 42
    Brightening Moisturizer Face Sunscreen SPF 30
    BOLDEN Brightening Moisturizer Face Sunscreen SPF 30

    Evening

    Cleanser

        After a long day at work, running errands, or at school, a good cleansing oil is necessary to enter repair mode. “Double cleansing is ideal at night because you have so many pollutants on your face. Most people are wearing makeup, moisturizers, and concealers, so there’s more to wash off. Double cleansing at night really gets the skin to a place where it feels really clean, and you’re not threatened by environmental exposures that you typically have during the day,” Dr. Mack adds. However, if you have sensitive skin, Dr. Mack says to skip double-cleansing.

        DHC DHC Deep Cleansing Oil

        DHC Deep Cleansing Oil

        DHC DHC Deep Cleansing Oil

        People with oily skin can cleanse with a foaming or milk-based cleanser, as it won’t leave you extremely dry. “If you’re sensitive, I would just wash once,” she says.

        Treatments/Topical Medication

        Now, it’s time to get your skin in order. This is the part of the routine where you either reach for your retinol (prescribed or over-the-counter). “After getting home and washing off your day, you want to apply a vitamin A derivative, something that has retinol or a retinoid in it. There is also plant-derived retinol like bakuchiol, which I tend to recommend for patients who are either lactating or pregnant,” she says. It’s important to pay attention to how your skin reacts to topical treatments. “You want to titrate up to a point where you can tolerate it. Once you can get to the point where you can tolerate it every night, you should definitely be coupling it with either hyaluronic acid or a moisturizer.”

        SkinCeuticals SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.5 Refining Night Cream (1 fl. oz.)

        SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.5 Refining Night Cream (1 fl. oz.)

        SkinCeuticals SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.5 Refining Night Cream (1 fl. oz.)

        Moisturize

        With an actives-heavy nighttime routine, you want to ensure your skin is being properly protected and moisturized as you catch some Zzz. While you can certainly use your morning moisturizer at night, most night creams are thicker in consistency and formulated to retain moisture longer than daytime creams. Creams that tout anti-aging, firming, radiance-boosting, and hydration are great formulas to reach for during the night.

        Rest

        The best thing you can do for your skin is to get a good night’s rest. When you sleep, your skin has time to calm down and repair itself, with help from all the products in your routine.





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