This Is The Best Order For Your Skincare Routine

Judging from all the “gifts to give yourself” guides out there this season, I gather I’m not alone in treating December as “spend yourself blind” month. (Also: go get the Skin Laundry facial that list recommends; it’s amazing.) And what better way to spend a sh*t ton of money invest in yourself than by amping up your skincare routine? In the past two weeks, I’ve added a serum, a facial oil, and an “elixir” to my fairly basic four-step routine. But within twelve hours of my exciting new purchases, I realized I had no idea how to use them correctly. Skincare products all tend to list “apply daily to clean, dry skin,” but that’s about it. So, in an attempt to not waste my new goodies, I actually sat down and researched. Here’s what I’ve learned about the best order for your skincare routine.

Step 1: Cleanser

All authorities I consulted concurred on this. The first step in any skincare routine should be cleaning your face. If this strikes you as surprising, then I have the perfect gift for you. Enjoy!

Step 2: Toner

Byrdie offers a little dissent here, suggesting that Step 2 should be exfoliator, not toner. However, my skincare-savvy readers will know well that not all skin types require and/or take well to regular use of an exfoliant. And very few exfoliants are suitable for anyone for daily use. (You can go shave your back now Byrdie!) Anyway, exfoliate if you need to, but consider it part of the cleansing step of your routine. Toner then clears away any remaining makeup/product, as well as doing whatever else the bottle promises (tightening pores, evening skin tone, giving you eternal life, etc.).

I’ve written more about toner types here, but Cosmo offers a key tip I’ll include. If your toner contains an AHA (like glycolic acid or lactic acid) or BHA (like salicylic acid), you’ll want to wait a “full five minutes” before moving on to your next step. Otherwise, you’ll neutralize the acids, rendering the active ingredient useless. (Moment of silence for all the toner I’ve wasted on my face please.)

Me @ my toner:

Step 3: Serums/Eye Cream

Once again, all my sources voted to use a serum as step 3. Cosmo describes serums as “shots of extremely concentrated nutrients, hydrators, and antioxidants.” Like with toner, you’ll want to pick the specific one based on your skin’s needs. The one I’ve recently invested in contains Vitamin C, a common dermatologist recommendation. But you can also use different serums in the morning and at night, in which case you could swap in a hydrating serum at night. Again, all depends on your skin.

Eye cream, which I’ve realized over the course of my research is still lacking in my skincare routine, is a slightly more conflicted issue. Cosmo says to apply after serum and before moisturizer, since eye cream “tends to be lighter and thinner,” and can’t “penetrate thicker products,” AKA your moisturizer. Dermstore suggests using it before serums in the morning, but after serums at night. (And it stresses the importance of applying twice daily from a young age—good thing I have endless money and time, am I right??) For Dermstore, the key thing is to apply eye cream before your “treatments” (more on that in a minute), to “protect your eye area against potent ingredients.” Both of these rules make logical sense to me, so if your serums has potentially irritating ingredients, do eye cream first. And def do it before moisturizer.

Side note: this research has also convinced me that I’ve been applying my new serums at the wrong time, in addition to neutralizing my toner.

Step 4: Treatment

If you’re thinking “treatment? what’s that?” you either have perfect skin and I hate you, or you need to get to a dermatologist ASAP. “Treatment” can refer to a spot treatment (active ingredients will vary depending on whether you’re treating acne scars or regular old pimples), or prescription treatments for acne or rosacea. (For example, I use my Finacea foam for rosacea during this step—though for the past two weeks I’ve been using it before my serum. Ugh.)

Dermstore again recommends different things for your night routine here. At night, they suggest you add any “mists, essences, beauty waters, or hydrating (hyaluronic acid) serums” to your toner step—applying “from thinnest to thickest.” (I can’t really begin to wrap my head around what those products are, but Dermstore sums them up as “skin care boosters” whose purpose is “mainly to hydrate.” Cool.) Then, Dermstore recommends chasing your nightly eye cream with whatever treatment serum your skin needs that night. So, not just blindly slathering on every product you own (strike three for me).

Specifically, they advise against using an exfoliating treatment (AHA/BHA pads, peels) the same night as any prescription meds or retinol creams, since the potency can quickly become irritating. And they recommend using an exfoliating treatment no more than three times a week. In simpler terms, it sounds like alternating a prescription treatment or retinol with an exfoliating treatment is the best way to go.

Step 5: Moisturizer/Face Oil

Once you’ve gotten to moisturizer, you know you’re nearly there. (Good job! Now you just have a 16-step makeup routine to get through). For your nighttime routine, Dermstore recommends adding face oil before your moisturizer, with the warning note that “if you are using the right moisturizer…nothing is going to get through it.” Cosmo, however, vehemently disagrees, stating “no products can penetrate an oil, which means they need to be applied last.” Cosmo also recommends putting a retinol-based product between moisturizer and face oil, while Dermstore lumps in retinols with your pre-moisturizer treatments. One of my new products is a face oil that contains retinol, so no matter what I do I’ll be f*cking up one of these rules.

My best advice here is to try it both ways (the order of your oil/moisturizer/retinol), and see what feels best to you. Since oils and moisturizers vary in thickness and active ingredients (and everyone’s skin is different!), do whatever feels best for your face. In my case, I’ve found that mixing the face oil with moisturizer is most effective for absorbing both products.

Step 6: Sunscreen

This is a morning-only rule, obvs, but it’s also one you need to follow every single day. Is it annoying? Yes. Does it feel like it will solve all your problems, like serums and essences do? It does not. But just do it, because otherwise you’ll get dark spots and sun damage that only a laser can fix. And that’s way more expensive than even the fanciest sunscreen option.

Hilary Duff may not be able to name babies, but she can still give good skincare advice!

What have I learned from this article? Well, I’ve wasted at least $50 of skincare products in the past week, that’s for sure. And my vague inkling that I was loading on too many products every day was validated. My final note here is that if any of this advice goes against what a dermatologist has told you—go with the dermatologist. My dermatologist gave me the simple outline of “cleanse, treat, moisturize, sunscreen,” and actively warned me against incorporating anything else. It’s only because I’ve followed her advice faithfully for six months that I feel comfortable building back in other products. So, listen to your doctor, listen to what your skin tells you, and if you have an eye cream you like, hit me up in the comments—I’ll be spending the rest of my afternoon shopping.

Images: Shutterstock; Giphy (4)

What Is Toner, Why Do You Need It, & Which One Do You Need?

Let me start off by saying that I am not a skincare expert. I am just a 24-year-old human woman. One who discovered six months ago that my college skin care routine (“washing most nights, probably”) was no longer going to cut it. I’m lucky enough not to deal with serious acne. But all the “minor” concerns (dullness, dryness, redness, inexplicable bumpiness)? You bet. SO, I did what all good shopaholics journalists do best: research. I went into a very deep, surprisingly Korean internet blackhole, and emerged with a four-step skincare routine. Cleanser, toner, serum, moisturizer. Duh. Of all these steps, toner was the one I resisted most—and the one I still find most confusing. Since I’m sure I’m not alone in this, I’ve written up my findings on this v important topic. What is toner, why do we all apparently need it, and which one is best? Please enjoy.

What Is Toner?

First and foremost, toner is very different than it used to be. The toner I remember from high school was glorified rubbing alcohol prescribed by particularly vindictive dermatologists. But today’s toners are so much more. A good toner can help you even out texture and tone (duh), shrink the appearance of pores, and leave your skin super soft and glowing.  To get technical, one skin care specialist describes toner as a way to “complete the cleansing of your skin.” Apparently, cleansers “can leave a film on your face” that toner strips off. Which really makes me question why I’m using cleanser in the first place, but k.

If you want a buzzier description of what toner does, Allure describes it as “a fast-penetrating liquid that delivers skin a quick hit of hydration and helps remove some dead cells off the surface of the skin.” (Seriously, are cleansers removing anything?) And in case I have any toner nerds in the comments, I’ll also mention toner’s effects on pH level. Apparently, a good toner functions by resetting your skin’s natural acidic pH. You can read more here, or just trust me that it means you’ll look good and resist more bacteria. Two equally sexy goals, am I right?

Finally, what is toner actually made of? The general answer is water, plus some combination of acids, glycerin, essential oils, plant extracts, and more. Kewl. Some toners still contain alcohol, but it’s not recommended unless oil is your main problem.

TL;DR: Toners are a water-based product will give you a more thorough cleanse, prep your skin to absorb your moisturizing products, and overall improve skin’s appearance and texture over time.

How Do I Use It?

You should think of toner as a chaser for your cleanser and a primer for your serum/moisturizer. If you’re particularly anal, you should apply toner no more than 60 seconds after cleansing. Apparently, that’s when your skin will absorb it best. After, you apply any serums/moisturizers/eye creams. My favorite explanation for how this works is given by Charlotte Cho, co-founder of Soko Glam. “Your skin is like a dried-up sponge,” she says (adds up). “If you put thick cream on a brittle dry sponge, it won’t accept it.” If this doesn’t make you spiral into self-doubt about every time you’ve put $70 moisturizer on your bone-dry face, congratulations. Can’t say the same.

As for like, how do you literally put it on your face—you have two options. You can read the instructions on the bottle (some recommend cotton pads while others say to use your fingers).  Or you can really make a day of it and attempt to follow the K-beauty “7 Skin Method.” I’d make a joke here about “who has the time for that,” but I watched a full season of American’s Next Top Model last weekend. I have the time for that.

Patting tips as you try the '7 Skin Method' : Start from the U-zone (cheeks – chin) to T-zone (forehead – nose) and finish with a massage on the neck in an upwards motion. Your U-zone is naturally drier while your T-zone is oilier, so you want to start hydrating the drier parts of the skin immediately after your cleansing step. Katie and I had a blast ???? today sharing our tips and demo'ing layering our fave essence toners on @glowrecipe's Facebook live ???? Thanks everyone for tuning in, we really enjoyed talking to you guys! If you're curious about this #kbeauty trend, my review is on our blog ????link in bio #sarahglowtips

A post shared by Sarah Lee (@sarah_glow) on

Okay, What Kind Of Toner Should I Buy?

Now you’re asking the important questions. The answer, of course, depends on your skin type. Generally speaking, Korean brands like Soko Glam will have great options, because their toner never went through the gross alcohol phase that American toners did. But beyond that, you should figure out your skin’s needs (or see a dermatologist to find out) and pick ingredients based off that.

For sensitive skin, chamomile, aloe vera, and amino acids all help calm/soothe. Some good picks include Mizon Intensive Skin Barrier Emulsion and Exuviance Soothing Toning Lotion. For oily skin, alcohol will help kill oil and shine, but so does witch hazel—and the latter is less drying. Belif Witch Hazel Herbal Extract Toner is my personal fave, and Pixi by Petra Glow Tonic is another beloved one on the market. For dry skin, glycerin, essential oils, and rosewater are all key hydrating ingredients. Try the Klairs Supple Preparation Facial Toner or Caudalie Beauty Elixir. For dull, uneven skin, try Son & Park Beauty Water, which has both exfoliating and hydrating properties.

Oh, and whatever you do, stop buying Neutrogena toner. I usually love Neutrogena, but their crazy-drying alcoholic toners (yes, even and especially the “Alcohol-Free” toner) are the reason it took me so long to come around to real toner. I used that shit for two weeks and I may as well have been washing my face in Svedka. If you need any further convincing, take a look at their spokesperson. I rest my case.

That’s all the wisdom I have today! But my recent skincare tear is showing no signs of stopping, so stay tuned for upcoming reviews of dermarolling, Hanacure, and how to file for bankruptcy when you’ve spent all your money on Korean beauty products.

Images: Giphy (2); sarah_glow / Instagram

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