Here's exactly what order you should apply your skincare products, according to an expert.

Okay, folks. Hands up if you have NFI how to use your skincare products. Oh, come on. Admit it! We will if you will. Like, where does toner fit in? What serum goes first? Do oils go before moisturiser? Or after? How about retinol? And WHAT'S THE DEAL WITH THE AHAs.

It can be confusing. Who would've thought building a skincare routine would be so complicated? We're all just out here trying to snag ourselves a Good Skin Day.

Watch: Beauty expert Brittany Stewart shows us how to multimask. Post continues below.

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And because we're all about dishing out helpful beauty info to anyone who wants to listen, we figured we'd give you a small, cute lesson on exactly how to use your products. Obviously we've enlisted some expert advice - from skin practitioner Sarah Hudson from Skin By Sarah Hudson.

Alright, let's get into it.

Does it even matter what order we apply our skincare?

Although skincare might seem like a "you do you"'s definitely not. Like, even a little bit. Because if you don't layer your products correctly, they can turn on you - especially if you're using acids. You can end up either rendering these products totally ineffective, or just completely annihilating your skin barrier. 


Both not good.

"To achieve the most effective results, it is important to think about your skincare application and not just slap it on your face," said Hudson.

Got it. No more of that.

"Layering your skincare in the correct order will help you to achieve the effective skin changing results you are trying to achieve, and get the most out of your products." 

Skincare products aren't cheap (especially if you're a sucker for the bougie stuff) - so you want to make sure you're getting the most out of them.

Okay, let's talk serums!

Ah, serums. You've got a whole bunch of 'em kicking around your cabinet and you're not completely sure what you're supposed to do with them. Don't worry - you're not alone! 

The general rule is cleansing, toning (IF you tone - all good if not!) and then serums. Serums are usually the thinnest products and are uber concentrated with good stuff (nutrients, hydrators and antioxidants), so it's best to get them on first because that's when they'll work most effectively.

Confused about what serum goes on when? Listen to Mamamia's podcast for your face, You Beauty, where we find out exactly what order you should apply your serums. Post continues below. 


In case you weren't aware, serums can be applied to different areas of your face to target all different skin concerns - whether it be dryness, pigmentation, acne or ageing. Think of them like your heavy-lifters.

"They are formulated to achieve specific outcomes, so need to be placed on the areas of the face where they will bring change," said Hudson.

Before applying your serums, Hudson said to think, 'What is this serum doing for my skin?', then apply it accordingly. 

"For example, a hydrating serum may be needed on the apple of your cheeks, or near the crow’s feet of your eyes, whereas an exfoliating serum or retinol may be more effective in your lower jawline or forehead area." 

In terms of order, Hudson said water-based serums like your hyaluronic acid and vitamin B (niacinamide) go on first, morning and/or night. "Then apply oil-based serums such as vitamin C or facial oil as your next step."

Also, don't rush through the application process - you can increase penetration by letting each step absorb for a minute. Brush your teeth. Make a coffee. Eat scrambled eggs.

So, what about things like retinol and AHAs?

Okay, there are also rules around when you can apply certain types of serums - because some products are not suitable for daytime use. We're lookin' at you, retinol and AHAs.

Serums containing ingredients like hyaluronic acid and antioxidants are fine to use during the day; they’ll just behave differently in the a.m. versus p.m. (they'll do more protecting during the day and more repairing at night).


However, certain ingredients are best used solely at night. We recommend reserving powerful little numbers like retinol and AHAs at bedtime, since these potent exfoliating and resurfacing ingredients can make your skin more sensitive to the sun. 

Not only will this ensure you don't burn a whole layer of skin off, but incorporating these kinds of ingredients into your nighttime routine will make them way more effective. At night your skin is busy repairing and rejuvenating for the next day, so this is prime time to get into your more hard-hitting formulas as it'll maximise its potency much more.

For exfoliating serums like glycolic acid or retinol (which are usually water-based), we reckon you should apply these to your skin first before going in with hydrating serums like hyaluronic acid or treatment serums like vitamin C. For best results, give your AHA or retinol 15 to 30 minutes to sink in before applying any hydrators on top. 

Wait. Did you say facial oils go after serums?

Yes. Yes, we did. Well, Hudson said it: "Facials oils should be applied on-top of your serums." See?

"They are rich in skin restoring ingredients such as essential fatty acids (EFA’s), ceramides and antioxidants." Facial oils are also occlusive, meaning they seal in all the ingredients and moisture and keep it all from evaporating.


However, Hudson said a lot of people make the mistake of thinking a facial oil can replace their moisturiser. Don't be one of these people. Used on their own they're not all that moisturising - so always remember to add/follow with a moisturiser. 

"As wonderful as facial oils are, they are a booster to supplement your skincare routine and should not replace a moisturiser." If you have dry skin, Hudson says to give your skin the extra nourishment it needs by mixing half the recommend dose into your moisturiser.

And eye creams?

These bad boys come in next. Eye creams tend to be lighter and thinner than face moisturisers, so apply them before you slather on your creams. "I always prescribe eye cream application prior to moisturiser, as the ingredients of an eye cream are usually more concentrated," says Hudson.

If you're introducing a new eye cream into your routine, Hudson said, "start with your application every third day, building up to a daily application over a period of two weeks," to ensure the fine delicate skin of the eye area doesn’t become irritated.

What goes next - moisturiser or sunscreen?

The general consensus is that if you're using a moisturiser and sunscreen separately, apply the sunscreen first. While it is a topic of debate, most experts agree that the chemical blockers in your sunscreen need to be absorbed into the skin first so they can do their job. For example, applying a thick moisturiser before your SPF might create a barrier between your skin and the SPF meant to protect it. 


However, to make things more complicated (yay), the kind of sunscreen you use plays an important factor in the debate. While chemical sunscreens work by soaking into your skin, physical sunscreens protect skin by creating a barrier and reflecting and scattering UV rays from the skin’s surface.

Our advice? If you're using a physical sunscreen, this should be applied as your last layer of protection against the sun. Apply a light moisturiser first, let it soak in, then go in with your physical sunscreen.

If you're using a chemical sunscreen, apply it first, then apply moisturiser on top.

Better yet, you could double-dip and apply sunscreen before moisturiser then again afterwards. Look at you go, you SPF QUEEN!

When it comes to moisturiser, you should be using one no matter what kind of skin you have - oily, acne-prone, sad or scared, there's a formula out there for you. So never skip this step!

Whichever kind of moisturiser you choose, make sure you let your sunscreen (if you're going the physical sunscreen route) sink in for at least a full five minutes before application. This will give the ingredients the opportunity to penetrate and work effectively.

I'm skimming. Can you please throw this all together in bullet points?

  • First step: Serums 
    After cleansing and toning, apply your serums in order of thinnest to thickest.

  • Second step: Eye cream 
    Eye creams tend to be lighter and thinner than facial oils and moisturisers, so make sure to apply these after your serums. Formulated with concentrated ingredients, Hudson said eye creams are used to bring change to the fine delicate skin around the eyes.

  • Third step: Facial oils 
    Next up, facial oils. According to Hudson, facial oils can be used to "restore the outer layer of the skin." She adds that depending on the skin type, these may be best applied just at night.

  • Fourth step: Sunscreen
    If you're opting for a chemical sunscreen, apply this before your moisturiser. "If you're going to the beach or into direct sun, apply before a moisturiser so the sunscreen is not compromised," said Hudson. If you're reaching for a physical sunscreen, you can apply this after your moisturiser.

  • Fifth step: Moisturiser 
    No matter what your skin type, Hudson recommends never skipping this final step. And for good reason. "Formulated to seal and protect the skin's natural barrier, moisturiser should be applied last."

What serums do you swear by? Share with us in the comment section below.

Feature image: Getty