The Complete Guide to Layering Skincare Products

Posted by: Wesleigh Dichter

One of the most common questions we get asked as estheticians: In what order should I be applying my skincare products? I like to tell guests that layering skincare is kind of like layering a cake—but in reverse. Whereas the bottom layers of the cake are the heaviest, the first applied layers to the skin are actually the lightest. Similar to baking, if you don’t know what you’re doing, you can get yourself in a sticky mess that calls for another pump of cleanser pretty quickly! Fortunately for those of us who aren’t talented bakers (me included!), layering skincare is much easier than a multi-layered tiramisu. 

But before jumping into which product goes on first, it is important to understand which “layers” are appropriate for your skin type. Understanding your skin and what it needs is the first and most important step to successful results. And the best way to make sure you are using appropriate products, is by seeing an esthetician! Have a professional evaluate your skin and what you’re using to determine if you’re on the right track. When you aren’t using the correct product, you can cause more issues (think a tumbling triple tier cake with melted icing)! For example, if you have a dry skin type and reach for a gel cleanser or foam consistency with salicylic acid in it (more for an acne or oily skin client), you may actually dry your skin out more! 

Step #1: Cleanse! 

This is a super important step that is critical for both morning and night! Cleansing the skin not only gets rid of dirt, debris, and makeup buildup—but also preps the skin for product absorption.

  • 1a. I add a step in between 1 and 2 for exfoliation. This does not apply to everyday, but exfoliation is a very important step nonetheless. This could be a wash, scrub, masque or device—whatever your esthetician recommends for you and your skin goals. Without exfoliation, dead skin and debris can build up on the skin and any product you put on may not reach the layer where it can make the most difference (think a serum—see below). Instead, it may just sit on the surface and leave you in a vicious cycle of treating dead skin cells that don’t really need that expensive product!
  • 1b. Another side-step that may not apply to everyone or every day is a toner. While IMAGE Skincare puts their toner into their cleansers, Eminence Organics does not. Regardless, depending on you, your skin, and your lifestyle, you may need a toner! Toner balances pH, further cleanses the skin, and preps for serums! It’s also amazing to mist after a sweaty workout to prevent clogged pores, breakouts, and redness!

Step #2: Serums

If you have serums in your routine, this is where they go! You shouldn’t have more than two to three serums (and even that can be too much for the skin). The key with serums is 1) quantity, and 2) a coined term in the esthetic world—cocktailing! Serums are highly concentrated ingredients that are technologically advanced to sink to the deeper layers of the skin (which is why they are put on earliest). You do not need a lot! Depending on the product, you can rely on a pump or two. If you feel really dewy and need to pause for more than 20 seconds before adding the next product—you are using too much! Secondly, “cocktail” those serums up! Instead of putting one on, and then another. Pump all 2 or 3 in your hand, mix and apply together in one step. While face oils also technically go in this step, I wouldn’t cocktail a serum with an oil. Thickness of products can affect what is able to seep into the skin. You want the waterier products to go on first, so they don’t get blocked by the larger molecules of the thicker products! 

Step #3: Eye cream

Your eyes formally request that you do not forget about them. The thing to remember about eye cream is to not apply it directly on your eye! Your eye is very smart on its own and will pull that moisture in exactly where it needs to be. Your job is to make it readily available by lightly pressing/dabbing in the eye cream (again watch your quantity) around the orbital bone (the bottom portion of the bone and the top near your eyebrow).

Step #4: Moisturizer

Don’t skip this step either (and make sure you are using one that works for your skin)! Moisturizers keep your skin hydrated and protects it from environmental factors such as free radicals (the molecules that float all around us that can cause fine lines and wrinkles).

Step #5: Sunscreen

This is probably the most important step. Because unfortunately, if you don’t use sunscreen, you are treating skin without protecting it. In today’s world, it is not just the one UV ray from the sun that we must worry about—we are also exposed to blue light from phones, computers and other screens. Anything with a screen has a UV ray that can help our skin age. So keep on that SPF!

And that is about it for layering skincare. There are lots of ways to layer, but with a few professional pointers, you can shorten your routines and make sure you get the ingredients and layers you need efficiently. When in doubt, check with your esthetician, apply thin to thick, and don’t forget that SPF!


Wesleigh Dichter is an Esthetician at Cole’s Salon Burnsville. You can follow her on Instagram at @museonfleek

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