The Best Order to Apply Skincare Products at Night

This post was published in February 2019. It has been updated with expanded content on August 18th, 2020, as part of our Beauty Week. All week, I’ll feature new and “best of articles” to help inspire you to practice extra self-care, find new and effective products, and start the Fall feeling like the best version of you. 

I’ve spent a ton of time researching the best order to apply skincare products at night, for purely selfish reasons. As my arsenal of products has grown, I started to wonder if I was using them correctly, and, as it turned out, I wasn’t.

There is more to skincare than just slapping on some cream. Each layer has a purpose. Some products work best on damp skin; others require skin to be dry. All should have a minute to absorb for maximum effectiveness.

I’m sharing what I found with you today because the correct process will ensure you are getting the most out of the investment you are making in your skin.

You’ll see below; I use a combination of high-end and inexpensive products. There is a $7 serum and a $200 serum. 

A few things to keep in mind: I use the products below every single day. They work for my skin, which is sensitive, dull, dry in areas, and acne-prone. I’ve dealt with cystic acne for years, and it killed my self-esteem.

One of the reasons I was so reluctant to put my picture on the blog was how terrible my skin looked. 

Since landing on this specific regimen over the last three or four years, my skin has never looked better, and I’ve had no breakouts, so I happily spend the money. 

Please remember that this post’s point is to share the order to apply your skincare and why.

Everyone’s skin and budgets are different.

Use the products that work best for you.

And, of course, you can eliminate any step that doesn’t serve you, just move to the next step. 

The Best Order to Apply Skincare Products at Night

The Best Order to Apply Your Skincare at Night

A good rule of thumb to follow is to layer your skincare according to the products weight, starting with the lightest and working your way to the thickest. 

The most important note to remember is to be as gentle with your skin through this process as possible. Avoid tugging and pulling. When you exfoliate, be sure it’s not too rough, and always lightly pat your skin dry.

My process seems like a lot but it only takes about 10 minutes at night, and after a long day, it’s a lovely way to mentally prepare to sleep and transition to bedtime.

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How to Apply Skincare Products at Night

Wash your face

Oil Cleanser, $48

Start with a gentle cleanser. I love this oil cleanser from Tatcha. It’s light, odorless and melts off your makeup without being harsh or drying out your skin. I’ve been using it for a few years now and there’ is no going back.

Depending on the day, my mood and the time I have, I’ll do a double cleanse, which means just that.  Made popular in Korean skin care routines, you simple wash your face twice, once with an oil based cleanser, and follow up with a water based one. For that, I am so pleased with Drunk Elephant’s Gel Cleanser No. 9.

Exfoliate

Exfoliator, $125.

There are two products on this list that completely changed my skin. Goop’s exfoliating “mask” is incredible is the first. They call it a mask, but it’s more like a scrub.

After you cleanse, apply a small amount all over your face.

Let it sit for about three minutes, until it feels a little tingly, and then wipe it off with a clean cloth and warm water. Your skin will glow and feel like a baby’s bottom.

It’s a splurge, for sure, but the other day, I changed Vivi’s diaper and had poop on my forehead for an indeterminate amount of time, so I don’t care.

I use it maybe three times a week and am conscious of the other exfoliating I may be doing because the last thing you want to do is over-exfoliate your skin. 

I’ve been using it since it came out and will never go without it.

Face Mask – Optional

 Mask, $39.

I don’t do a mask every day, no one has time for that, but I will apply one once a week, before I do a photo shoot, or on a Sunday. I love to do one when my husband is traveling (remember those days?)  and I can have a big glass of wine and watch trash TV by myself.

My favorite and most frequently used is this Claudalie Detox Mask, great for cleaning out your pores and brightening skin. 

When I want something for fine lines and wrinkles I turn to Hanacure’s all in one facial kit. It’s wild, but it really does work. 

Tone

 Toner, $11 

Use a toner after you cleanse and before you moisturize. It helps to remove any excess dirt, makeup or left over product from a mask.

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It also helps with acne and restores your skin’s Ph. Thayers Witch Hazel in Rose Petal is my favorite. It’s affordable, effective and there is something nostalgic about the scent. Every time I smell it I feel happy. 

Then Use a Serum

Vintner’s Daughter, $198

Listen, the price of this serum is bananas, I know.  I’m also on my maybe 10th bottle. It’s the single best product I’ve ever used on my skin.  You can read all about it’s complex goodness here

What I can tell you is since using it I don’t have any breakouts and my skin looks more youthful. I use it day and night. 

To apply, gently push the serum into your skin. 

Serums, in general, are essential because they have a higher concentration of ingredients. They absorb into the skin better, so a little goes a long way.  It’s important to remember to let them absorb for a minute or two before you move to the next step. 

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Add a Moisture Boost

Hyaluronic Acid, $7.

The term “acid” turned me off for a long time, until I learned that it’s not an acid at all.  Rather, it’s a gel like water substance that helps plump your skin and lock in moisture. 

It’s important to put this on damp skin so the gel has something to hold on to and is activated. 

So I apply my serum, let it sit, and then spritz my skin with this hydrating mist by Juice Beauty, then layer on the hyaluronic acid and let that sit for a minute or two. Also, I don’t spend here, at all. I use The  Ordinary’s Hyaluronic Acid for $7

Don’t Forget Eye Cream

I use eye cream day and night because I am 40, I have three kids and I barely little sleep.

For a long time I was devoted to this eye cream by Dr. Barbara Strum. It’s fantastic, but too expensive. I just started using Goopgenes eye cream that is SO MUCH LESS. So far I like it a lot. 

To apply, gently dab it around your eye area and, again, let it sit for a minute.It not only helps minimize wrinkles, it helps with tired, puffy eyes, something I know a little bit about these days.

For a fantastic drugstore option, Olay makes on that gets great reviews

Retinoid for the Over 40 Crowd

Retinoid, $10

If you are approaching  or are over 40 you need a retinoid or retinol. Retinoid is a stronger version of retinol and helps turn over your cells faster. While hyaluronic acid is activated by damp skin, you want to apply your retinoid product on totally dry skin

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Start by using a tiny amount, a few times a week as it can be drying and even burn your skin (happened to me) if you don’t use it correctly.

Because my skin is so sensitive, I only apply it two times a week – at the most. I apply on problem areas like the wrinkles on my forehead and some age spots on my cheeks. Do not rub it all over your face. 

I use The Ordinary’s Granactive Retinoid* 2% Emulsion. You could spend so much more, but after reading the reviews on Sephora I gave it a try and it does the trick!

Night Cream

Night Cream, $56 

Your skin does all of its regeneration while you sleep, so layer on a rich night cream to help it along. I’ve used so many over the years. La Mer makes an incredible (and incredibly expensive) one, I used Estee Lauder NightWear for a few months and was happy with that too

Currently, I have two in my cabinet Juice Beauty Stem Cellular Anti-Wrinkle Overnight Cream and the new Goopgenes All in One Moisturizer.

I just started using Goop’s newest product and I have to say, it’s wonderful. I didn’t like their first attempt at a night cream at all but this new one is fantastic. You can wear  it at night and during the day, which is great because the cold Northeast winters take all the hydration out of my skin. It absorbs quickly and leaves you with a pretty glow. 

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The Best Order to Apply Skincare Products at Night

28 thoughts on “The Best Order to Apply Skincare Products at Night”

  1. I also use The Ordinary hyaluronic acid. I use prescription Metrogel for rosacea after cleansing/toning (and I use that same rose toner). I wait about 15 minutes, then use the hyaluronic acid. My skin is dry when I apply it because of the medication and wait time. But right after I apply it, while it is still tacky, I spray on either Caudalie Beauty elixir or Caudalie Grape Water. The hyaluronic acid will draw in them in, along with whatever you apply after it. Sometimes I follow it with Caudalie Vinoperfect Radiance Serum, or Well People Bio Booster serum for the anti-inflammatory quality. For the redness from rosacea, I end with The Ordinary Azelaic Acid, on recommendation of my dermatologist. It is really saving my skin.

    I used to have an extremely minimal skincare routine, and it was fine. I am in my late forties now, and can no longer get away with that! And it’s okay. My skin looks good, and I see the routine as pleasure, not a chore.

    Kudos to you for keeping it up! And congratulations on the wee one. You have a lovely family.

    Reply
  2. Thank you so much for this post… it is well-timed for me, as I just booked an appointment for a facial to get advice on my skin. I just turned 50 a year ago and I’ve noticed dramatic changes in my skin… mainly how large my pores are now. I didn’t notice until I used a new magnified mirror that my daughter got for Xmas! What an eye-opener that I need to do more. I’m a bit rushed in the morning and at night I tend to be tired after a long commute and evening… and I get lazy before bedtime. So, my routine is (and I know this is bad…) a Neutrogena make-up remover cloth, a quick wash with an over-the-counter gentle cleanser (CeraVe), and I sometimes – not always – apply Oil of Olay Regenerist micro-sculpting cream. This blog post has inspired me to make a change – one that I should have done a decade ago… so I hope that it is not too late for me! I’ve jotted down your recommendations and will discuss with my upcoming facial esthetician. Thanks again!!! 🙂

    Reply
  3. Hello, this is such an enlightening post and clear to understand routine. Thank you for sharing. My question is regarding the order of the hyaluronic acid. If it is best to apply this step on damp skin would it make sense to apply after the mask? Or does this interfere with the order because of the consistency?

    Thank you,
    Netty

    Reply
    • Hi Netty, Best practice for applying product is to layer according to consistency from lightest to heaviest. You could certainly add it after a mask if the hyaluronic acid is your next product – and you don’t use a serum. So dampen your skin after a mask, add the HA and then finish with a thicker night cream.

      Reply
  4. This post has the best skincare advice I’ve ever received. I had many of the products on hand and started following the order less than two weeks ago and there has been a tremendous difference in my skin (I’m 60). I am so happy I’ve already ordered the other items in your list that I didn’t have. I was wondering if there is a similar list for daytime skincare?

    Reply
    • Thanks Pam, that’s so great to hear. I don’t do much for daytime skincare since I take care of so many issues in the evening. In the morning I keep it simple with the same face wash, serum, moisturizer, eye cream and I add an SPF.

      Reply
  5. Thanks for sharing. Your routine while extensive ,has a lot of informative areas. For example; not rubbing the retinoid all over, using a jade roller with your serums, and which serums like damp versus dry skin. These kinds of details make sense and no doubt make a big difference in the products effect.

    Reply
  6. Are you going to follow this article up with your morning routine? LOVE Vintners Daughter!! Has really changed my oily skin, is smoothing out my acne scars from 40 years ago, and my complexion has never looked better!! I’m rocking the skin st 62!!
    Would love a simple am routine that is just as beneficial.

    Thanks for your downhearted simplicity. Love that you mix inexpensive with expensive and understand that we can’t all buy La Met, do you give us options. You are very real!!

    Claire

    Reply
  7. Meant La Mer, not La Met. LOL, darn spell check!!
    I see now your am routine above. I was wondering your thoughts about using a vitamin C & Hyaluronic Acid Serum in the am? I use one because I’ve heard that Vit. C helps with brightening the skin and with age spots. Your thoughts??

    Thanks again!!

    Reply
  8. If Retinoids are to be put on dry skin only why do you have it on the list after eye creams, toners, serums etc. I recently started using it but was unsure when to use, now I’m really confused.

    Reply
    • I was too! You have make sure that all of the products you put on prior to the Retinoids are totally absorbed, that’s why it’s important to give them time to sink into your skin – and why I use a Retinoid once or twice a week and only on problem areas. It’s important not to smear it around your face like you would a moisturizer, think of it more like a spot treatment.

      Reply
  9. Love this post! It makes sense. Thank you so much for sharing! Also, this..”had poop on my forehead for an indeterminate amount of time, so I don’t care.” made me think of the book I am currently reading. Have you read Confessions of a Domestic Failure by Bunmi Laditan? It’s been years since I had my babies…MANY years, but I am only a quarter of the way through the book and have already had some laugh-out-loud moments. I think you would enjoy it.

    Reply
  10. This was the best skincare post I read in 2019. It is so informative, detailed, and well written.

    The Ordinary has great products, and my husband uses their products as well. The Retinol 2% is a game changer. Thank you!

    Reply
  11. Hi there! This is so helpful, thank you!
    A question no one has been able to answer (yet!)…I have the Peter Thomas Roth Potwnt C discoloration spot treatment. It’s thick, certainly, but does it truly go on top? Although that makes the most sense, so that it stays in its ‘spot’, can it work through the other layers?
    Would really appreciate your thoughts.

    Reply
    • Hi! Without knowing the other products you are using I would recommend a basic morning routine, cleanse, then apply this spot treatment, and then moisturizer with sunscreen, which is really important to use to maintain and prevent further discoloration.

      For the evening, if you’re using something like a retinol, you can use them together but not layers. So, alternate the nights you use one vs. the other.
      Regarding order, you’ll get best results if you put this on right after you cleanse, but if you are using a light serum in your routine, add that, let is sink in, then this, let it sink in, then you’re night cream.

      Hope this helps!

      Reply
  12. Thank you for this post! I have never known the correct order and always feel like I’m just throwing away money because I’m sure it’s not effective if not used properly! Thanks for doing the research for us! 😉

    Reply
  13. The baby poop on your forehead made me laugh out loud, and then think…hmm, maybe a skincare practice?? ha ha
    Kidding aside, thank you for the insight of products and steps to take, as I’ve always wondered which to start with.

    Reply
  14. I’m so glad you have found products that work for you, but may I suggest that you look at your diet, and specifically increase the amount of fruit and vegetables you consume.
    I eat a WFPB diet, but am incredibly lazy, so despite not doing much more (okay, anymore) than wash with soap and water, my skin has always been good for my age. I am now 67 years old.

    Reply
  15. Thank you for this post, it was EXACTLY what I have been looking for. So difficult to find this info.

    Would love it if you could do a “twin” post about how, what and in which order to use skincare in the morning!

    Reply

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