What product to apply when?

One of the most frequent questions I get about skin care, is in which order to apply products. Indeed, if you are using a moisturizer, a serum, foundation, and a sunscreen in the morning – what goes on first? And what if you add a treatment product on top of that? Here are a few good rules of thumb to make the most out of your skin care routine, as recommended by my father, dermatologist Dr. Luigi Polla. Keep in mind that these recommendations are not product specific, but work even if you are using products from different brands.

  1. The foundation of any skin care routine is a clean canvas – only apply products to perfectly cleansed , dry (or damp) skin.
  2. Apply products from thin to thick. Serums first, followed by gels, followed by creams. If you start with the thicker product, the penetration of the thinner products will be impeded and diminished. In general, try to avoid mixing hydrophilic (water-based) products with oily products. The latter tend to prevent the penetration of the former.
  3. Sunscreen should be applied after all other treatment products have been applied. Meaning, after your serum, after your moisturizer, after your eye cream. If you are using a daily moisturizer with sunscreen, apply your serums and eye cream first, then your moisturizer with SPF.
  4. Makeup should be applied on top of your sunscreen. Remember, makeup is meant to cover your skin. Foundation and concealer should be applied after your sunscreen. If you are using a tinted moisturizer with SPF, apply this as you would a moisturizer with SPF (after serums, anti-aging treatments, and eye creams, before concealer and/or foundation).
  5. These general rules apply morning and evening, with the exception that moisturizers with SPF and makeup should not be applied before going to sleep.
  6. Some prescription products require specific direction. For example, retinoid creams are best used in the evening, applied 15-20 minutes after cleansing the skin, before anything else. This ensures the optimal penetration of the therapeutic actives. Creams and moisturizers should then be applied on top of the treatment product.

A couple more things to remember. In general, using products from different (non-prescription) brands will not affect the efficacy of each product. Also, the idea that your skin gets “used” to a product and that you need to change your routine every couple of months is not supported by much scientific evidence. However, your skin care routine should be adjusted according to the seasons, and when your skin type evolves (we tend to get dryer as we get older). And remember to always listen to the recommendations of your dermatologist or skin care professional!

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