The Best Order to Apply Skincare Products at Night

This post was originally published in February 2019. It was updated with expanded content on January 9th, 2020.

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 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 because of how terrible my skin looked. 

When I say I have tried every product under the sun, I mean it.  

Since landing on this specific regimen over the last three years, my skin looks fantastic, and I’ve had no breakouts, so I happily spend the money. One of the reasons why I don’t publish a lot of beauty specific content is because I’m so loyal to the products I use, there’s not much to talk about.

I cannot reinforce this enough: The point of this post is to share the order to apply your skincare and why. Everyone’s skin and budget are different.  Use the products that work best for you!

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 weight, starting with the lightest and working your way to the thickest. 

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

Best Order 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 it just melts off your makeup without being harsh or drying out your skin. I’ve been using it for over a year now and am completely in love. 

For years, I used Eve Lom’s melting cleanser, another excellent option that goes from a solid to an oil by rubbing the product in your hands. Both are wonderful; the Tatcha is a bit more affordable and lasts me three months. 

Whatever cleanser you use, be sure it is as gentle as possible on your skin. 


Exfoliator, $125.

There are two products on this list that completely changed my skin. This is the first.  Goop’s exfoliating “mask” is incredible. 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.

With daily use this lasts about two months. 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 a few times a week, before I do a photo shoot, or on a Sunday. I love to do one when my husband is traveling, 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. 


 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.

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 7th or 8th 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.  I use my jade roller for an added bit of massage.

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. 

Related: The Beauty Tools I Can’t Live Without

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

Eye Cream, $140

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

To apply, gently dab it around your eye area and, again, let it sit for a minute. This eye cream by Dr. Barbara Strum is no joke. It not only helps minimize wrinkles, it helps with tired, puffy eyes, something I know a little bit about these days.

A small jar has lasted me just about a year. That breaks down to $11 a month. 

For a less expensive 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

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. 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 also 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’m trying Juice Beauty Stem Cellular Anti-Wrinkle Overnight Cream. It’s extra hydrating, perfect for East Coast winters. I’m on my second jar, and happy with how it’s working. 

 Our content is not sponsored or paid for by brands or retailers in any way. Recommendations are based on personal experience and my time working with women as a stylist and wardrobe consultant for over a decade. Some links are affiliate links, which means if you purchase via our site, we receive a small commission.

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How to Layer Skincare Products | The Best Order to Apply Skincare Products at Night
#beauty #beautyhowto #skincare
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.

  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.

  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!!! 🙂

  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,

    1. 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.

  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?

    1. 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.

  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.

  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!!


  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!!

  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.

    1. 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.

  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.

  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!

  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.

    1. 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!

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