How exactly should you use skin serum?

It’s the beauty equivalent of the chicken or the egg question: Which comes first, the sunscreen or the moisturiser?

And where does primer fit in? And what about serum?

With all the new beauty products invading our bathroom cabinets it’s no wonder we’re confused about which order to layer our products in. Use the following as a handy guide.

This regime assumes you have cleansed and toned your skin:

1. Sunscreen*.

The Cancer Council recommends that sunscreen be applied to clean skin underneath your make up and before moisturiser. By applying moisturiser first, the sunscreen won’t be able to interact with the skin the way it should therefore making it less effective.

What about foundations and moisturisers that contain sunscreen I hear you ask? Many cosmetic sunscreen products offer protection that is much lower than the maximum recommended SPF30+ and these are fine if you are going to be outside for short periods of time such as a quick trip to the shops at lunchtime. However, if you need to spend periods of time in the sun, the Cancer Council advise you use a separate sunscreen and reapply it every two hours (not just once in the morning).

Dermalogica’s Solar Defense Booster spf30 is a gem of a product, I can’t recommend it highly enough. You can apply it directly to skin for full SPF30 coverage or mix it (in equal parts) to your moisturiser or foundation if you are only going to be outside for brief periods of time.  It’s also newly formulated to be a SPF50.

Cropped studio shot of a mature woman applying moisturizer
The Cancer Council advise you use a separate sunscreen and reapply it every two hours (not just once in the morning). (Image via iStock)

2. Moisturiser

Wait a few minutes for the sunscreen to absorb before applying your moisturiser, I know what you’re thinking, Nic, how can I apply moisturiser over a thick goopy sunscreen? But if you use an SPF product for the face like the Dermalogica one mentioned above or Day Wear Face by the Cancer Council you won’t get that chalky white residue.

*If you usually apply a serum during the day you can – and only if it’s of light consistency (in other words don’t go crazy with the rosehip oil) apply it before the sunscreen and wait a few moments for it to absorb before applying your sunscreen. If you’re not going to be in the sun much, your steps would be: cleanse, tone, apply a serum then a moisturiser with SPF properties and any make up products over that.

3. Primer


Aussie cosmetics guru Napoleon Perdis has always said ‘it’s a crime not to prime’ and if you’ve ever cursed foundation or makeup powders settling into and accentuating your fine lines and wrinkles, consider primer your new best friend.

Napoleon Perdis’ Auto Pilot Primer was one of the first on the Australian skincare market and it has just celebrated its 10th birthday- and with good reason, it’s a killer skin preparation. BareMinerals has a great primer, Prime Time, is great for oily skins and if you prefer using a mineral make up powder over a liquid foundation. And if like me you have any redness, both Smashbox Finish colour correcting foundation primer and Dermalogica’s Redness Relief are good at covering up blotchiness, rosacea or pigmentation.

For a guide on how to stop your face from ‘eating’ your makeup, watch below (post continues after video).

4. Make up

Exhausted yet? You can skip a bunch of steps if you use 2-in-1 products like a moisturizing primer or a BB/CC Cream (my favourites here are Garnier’s BB Cream for sensitive skin, Clinique’s Moisture Surge CC Cream* and Stila’s 10-In-One HD Illuminating Beauty Balm) and to be honest I don’t know anyone other than beauty editors who apply a serum and primer on a daily basis. So don’t by any means think this has to be part of your regular skin care routine – the only thing I’d say you should never skimp on a daily basis is sunscreen.


As for which make up comes first: the concealer or foundation? It’s really up to what works for you. When I wrote this post, some commenters rushed to tell me I was wrong in saying you should conceal first, but our skins aren’t all the same so if something is working for you, don’t change it!

As I was talking about the eye area in that post and in reference to a particularly sticky product I find it’s best to conceal first BUT if you want to cover pimples or blemishes you can conceal after applying a foundation – as you’re likely to wipe off any concealer when you’re applying foundation anyway.

*If you’re a tad confused about BB, CC and DD alphabet creams check out this cheat sheet here.

So that’s the daytime covered, what about at night? Your first step is to…obviously take any make up off and clean your skin from any pollutants that have come in contact with the skin.

Step 1: Remove eye make-up (eyeshadow, mascara etc).

Step 2: Cleanse

Step 3: Exfoliate (I do this twice a week, you may do it less or more often).

Step 4: Tone

Step 4: Serum – warm up two drops of your product into the palms of your hand and pat over your face.

Step 5: Under-eye cream – I like to apply this after serum to give that a chance to absorb before applying a night cream.

Step 7: Moisturise – skip over under-eye area.

Do you use skin serums?