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The Best Order to Apply Skincare Products at Night

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.

A few things to keep in mind: I use a combination of high-end and drug-store products every single day. They work for my skin, which is sensitive, dull, dry in areas, and acne-prone. 

I 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 initially was how terrible my skin looked. 

Since landing on this specific regimen, my skin has never looked better.

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. So use the products that work best for you. And, of course, you can eliminate any step that doesn’t serve you. 

The Best Order to Apply Skincare Products at Night

The Best Order to Apply Skincare Products at Night

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

Be as gentle with your skin through this process as possible. Avoid tugging and pulling, and don’t use makeup wipes. 

My process seems like a lot, but it only takes about 10 minutes at night and is a lovely way to end my day. 

The Best Order to Apply Skincare Products at Night


I double cleanse every night

Start with a gentle, oil-based 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.

I follow up with a gel cleanser; my favorite is Drunk Elephant’s Gel Cleanser No. 9. Double cleansing removes all of the makeup, sunscreen, dirt and grim of the day, and will help your restorative products work better. 

Face Mask – Optional

Always put a mask on freshly clean skin. 

Mask, $39.

I don’t do a mask every day, no one has time for that, but I will apply one once a week, usually on Sunday night. My favorite and most frequently used is this Claudalie Detox Mask, great for cleaning out your pores and brightening skin. Best of all it only takes 5 minutes. 

When I have a photoshoot or an event, and I want my face to look extra firm and lifted I use  Hanacure’s all in one facial kit. It’s wild, but it really does work. 


Use a toner after you cleanse and before you moisturize.

Toner, $38

I started using this REN AHA Toner after my favorite exfoliator by Goop was discontinued, and I’m so pleased with the results.

A toner should gently exfoliate, brighten, tighten, and hydrate – and this does all of that in a formula that is gentle enough to use every day. 

Swipe it over your face and neck after you double cleanse and your skin will be set and ready for all your serums and oils. 

Oils and Serums

Oils and serums have a higher concentration of ingredients. They absorb into the skin better, and 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. 

Vintner’s Daughter, $198

I’ve used Vintner’s Daughter for years. It’s my holy grail, strained-on-an-island must have product. 

The price is bananas. 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.

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 like to use it after I tone so all the ingredients have a chance to soak into my skin. To apply, add a few drops to the palm of your hand, and gently press the serum into your face and neck.

Related: The Beauty Tools I Can’t Live Without

Add a Moisture Boost

I let the Vintners Daughter sit on my skin for a minute. Then I layer on Super Bounce from Glossier. It’s a combination of 2% Hyaluronic Acid Complex and Pro-Vitamin B5 that adds tons of hydration to your skin. 

Super Bounce from Glossier, $28

Let’s talk about hyaluronic acid because the term “acid” turned me off for a long time. I thought it would be harsh, but instead, it’s soothing and hydrating. It holds in moisture, making your skin plump and supple. 

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

So I apply my Vintner’s Daughter, let it sit, and then spritz my skin with a bit of water. Then I layer this on my face and neck.

What I like the most about Super Bounce from Glossier is that, unlike other hyaluronic products, this is not sticky, so it gets into your skin without leaving any residue. 

About Eye Cream

I stopped using eye cream about a year ago. It seemed unnecessary with all the products I already use, and honestly, I haven’t missed it.

If you prefer to use one, this would be when you apply it, gently, around your eyes. 

Retinol or Retinoid

If you are approaching or are over 40, you’ll benefit from a retinoid or retinol.

Retinoid is a more robust version of retinol and helps turn over your cells faster. Typically, retinoid is available with a prescription, while retinol can be purchased over-the-counter.

Depending on what your using and what your skin can handle, start by using a tiny amount a few times a week as it can be drying and even burn your skin. 

I can only use retinol because my skin is so sensitive, but I can use the ROC RETINOL CORREXION® Deep Wrinkle Night Cream every night with no issue. 

While hyaluronic acid is activated by damp skin, you want to apply your retinoid product to totally dry skin

So, be sure that any serums or oils you are using are completely absorbed before applying any retinoid-based product. And then let it sit for at least 20 minutes before moving on to your night cream. 

Night Cream

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 as well. 

Currently, I’m using the Drunk Elephant F-Balm™ Electrolyte Waterfacial Mask, and it’s earned a permanent spot in my routine.

I keep this on my nightstand and apply it right before I go to sleep. This gives the retinoid/retinol time to absorb. 

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The Best Order to Apply Skincare Products at Night

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Megan Kristel

Megan Kristel is an entrepreneur, working mom, and former personal stylist. Tired of the one-dimensional portrayal of women online, she founded The Well Dressed Life as a resource for other professional women.

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Fiona Haymes

Wednesday 19th of August 2020

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!

Megan Kristel

Thursday 20th of August 2020

I'm so happy it's helpful! Thanks!


Tuesday 18th of August 2020

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.

Megan Kristel

Tuesday 18th of August 2020

Thanks, if you've followed along for any length of time you'd know I eat a very healthy diet.


Tuesday 18th of August 2020

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.

Megan Kristel

Tuesday 18th of August 2020

lol. More like, I have to deal with this all day, I'm going to treat myself to some better self care :)

janel mullen

Tuesday 18th of August 2020

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! ;)

Megan Kristel

Tuesday 18th of August 2020

I felt the same way, so happy it's helpfuL!


Friday 17th of January 2020

Oh my gosh, thank you so much! I really appreciate your response.


Friday 17th of January 2020

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.

Megan Kristel

Friday 17th of January 2020

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!

Mrs. Todd

Saturday 11th of January 2020

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!


Thursday 9th of January 2020

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.

Kristin J Arnold

Thursday 9th of January 2020

I saw this post a while back and bought a few things off it..and then didn't do anything. This is a great reminder to start this TODAY as my 2020 new year's resolution! Thanks so much!

Megan Kristel

Thursday 9th of January 2020

Yes! That's why some of these updated posts are helpful :) Thanks!


Thursday 9th of January 2020

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.

Megan Kristel

Thursday 9th of January 2020

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.


Thursday 6th of June 2019

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!!


Thursday 6th of June 2019

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!!


Teya // TLM blog

Wednesday 5th of June 2019

This routine is heavenly! The only thing I'm missing is a retinol product!

Liz C

Thursday 14th of March 2019

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.

Megan Kristel

Tuesday 19th of March 2019

Thanks Liz!


Thursday 7th of March 2019

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?

Megan Kristel

Wednesday 13th of March 2019

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.

Amnery Saint-Hilaire

Monday 25th of February 2019

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

Megan Kristel

Monday 25th of February 2019

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.

Tracy Baer

Friday 15th of February 2019

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!!! :)


Thursday 14th of February 2019

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.