What Goes First? Your Step-by-Step Guide to Building a Skincare Routine

right order skincare
Reading: 5 minutes

Think of your skincare routine as a journey. One where each product is a stop along the way to your final destination: happy, healthy, beautiful skin. Already picked out your favorite spots? Perfect — but the itinerary is just as important: What goes first, eye cream or serum? And why is sunscreen always the last stop?

On your travels, following a step-by-step guide can reveal the fastest route to desired results — helping you save time and get the most out of each product.

Luckily, you’ve found your map. Follow along for expert advice on building your daily skincare routine and discover how applying your go-to’s in the right order can make all the difference.

The three golden rules

Order of skincare products

1. Customize your routine according to your skin type

If you’re looking for results, get personal — each skin type is unique and calls for specific care.

By using the right products for your skin type, you’ll highlight its best features (and better shield its vulnerabilities). Dry, normal, sensitive, or combination skin? Discover your personalized routine with our quick quiz.

2. Get strategic about morning vs. night

Some products are a better fit for your daytime routine, and vice versa, to work in synergy with your lifestyle and your body’s natural rhythm. During the day, protect your skin from external factors such as pollution, UV rays, and environmental stress. At night, shift your focus towards renewal and repair.

3. The order affects the outcome

In general, start with products that are lighter or more liquid in consistency. Then, you can move on to the denser or creamier treatments. If you do it the other way around, the denser creams can prevent the lighter products from penetrating the skin (and doing their job as well as they should).

Your morning skincare routine: step by step

Now’s the moment for products that protect and prepare your skin for its daily adventures. Turn your focus to combatting skin stressors such as UV rays, pollution, and harsh weather with antioxidants, moisturizers, and sunscreen.

Morning skincare routine step by step

1. Cleanser

Think of your skin as a blank canvas, ready to be painted. Cleanser is the first step because it allows the rest of the products you apply to work as expected. It also helps to remove impurities, excess oil, residues, and any leftover products from the night before.

2. Eye cream

How to apply eye contour cream

We mentioned that lighter textures go first — but eye contour cream is an exception. Although denser than a serum, it should be applied first.

The skin around the eyes is thinner than the rest of the face, requiring special attention. By applying eye contour cream as step number two, you help its ingredients get straight to work. Plus, you’ll help shield this sensitive area from more intense products that may come after.

3. Serum

Serum is best applied to clean, dry skin. How come? It has a high concentration of hard-working ingredients, so applying it directly to your blank canvas helps maximize the benefits.

These targeted formulas can be excellent allies in the fight against free radicals, as well as addressing specific concerns such as wrinkles, dehydration, or lack of brightness.

4. Moisturizer

This must-have not only helps to seal all the previous steps but also works to keep your skin barrier healthy, providing hydration and support.

Using your favorite moisturizer after applying eye cream and serum provides a dose of hydration to keep skin comfortable all day long. This step is crucial for maintaining the optimal level of moisture in your skin — something that’s harder for some than others.

Moisturizer for dry skin

This must-have not only helps to seal all the previous steps but also works to keep your skin barrier healthy, providing hydration and support.

Using your favorite moisturizer after applying eye cream and serum provides a dose of hydration to keep skin comfortable all day long. This step is crucial for maintaining the optimal level of moisture in your skin — something that’s harder for some than others.

5. Sunscreen

Giving it the last spot (or next-to-last if you wear makeup) helps sunscreen stay on the skin’s surface, maximizing effectiveness and helping to avoid any interference with other products.

The best part? Sunscreen can not only protect you from the sun’s damaging UV rays, but certain blends can also include additional benefits. Look for a high SPF, broad spectrum sunscreen formula with skincare ingredients that go beyond protection.

Your night routine: step by step

Now’s the time to use products that support your skin’s natural repair and renewal process like retinal, glycolic acid, and peptides. Your skin goes into recovery mode while you sleep, so give it what it needs to maximize this restorative time.

Night routine step by step

1. Cleanser

Both morning and night, cleansing brings about multiple benefits for your skin. But your nighttime routine adds just one more: before going to bed, cleansing helps to remove impurities that accumulate on the face throughout the day, such as makeup, pollution, or sweat.

Best cleanser day and night

2. Eye contour

Your skin had a long day. And at night, it could use a little extra pampering — especially the delicate area around the eyes. Look for a nighttime eye cream that helps to detoxify and activate your skin’s antioxidant defenses, so you wake up with a renewed look.

3. Serum

At night, opt for formulas that promote skin renewal and repair, such as those containing retinal. This ingredient acts while you sleep to repair, rejuvenate, and combat the signs of skin aging (if you’re into that kind of thing).

Serum in your skincare routine

4. Moisturizer

Give your skin an extra dose of recovery with a rich, nourishing cream. Choose one that complements your serum’s benefits, whether that’s optimizing hydration or promoting skin regeneration. Whichever your skin goal, bring your nighttime skincare routine to a close with a moisturizer that can both lock in hydration and help undo the day’s damage.

Personalize your skincare journey

Now that you’ve got the general route worked out, it’s time to make it your own. Ready to discover the best cleanser for your skin type? Or understand how moisturizers work? Whatever’s next, consider this your guidebook:

Skincare Step 1: The Essential Guide to Cleansing
Skincare Step 2: The Essential Guide to Eye Contour Creams
Skincare Step 3: The Essential Guide to Serums
Skincare Step 4: The Essential Guide to Moisturizers
Skincare Step 5: The Essential Guide to Sunscreens
How To Exfoliate Your Skin: The Essential Guide

What goes first? skincare routine

Your questions, answered

Can I apply makeup over sunscreen?

Definitely! Once your sunscreen has completely absorbed into your skin, feel free to apply makeup as usual. And if you want to simplify things, you can always opt for a tinted sunscreen.

Where does an exfoliant fit into my skincare routine?

This one depends on the purpose and format. Generally, a leave-on chemical exfoliant can go right after cleansing. You’ll typically want to use them at night, although you could opt for the morning, depending on your exfoliant formula, skin type, and goals.

I think I’m doing my skincare routine right, but I’m not seeing any improvements. How come?

Your skin has its good days and bad days – and may react differently to the same products or routines from one day to the next.

That said, it could be that one of your products isn’t the right fit for your skin**.** Or one of your formulas doesn’t get along with another. Don’t hesitate to consult your dermatologist with any questions, especially if you’re experiencing prolonged discomfort.

Moreover, as with any good habit, patience is key. Try to give it at least four to six weeks before reassessing your current routine. Sometimes results can take time.

It’s not about the destination

At what step should sunscreen be applied?

Your skincare routine is a lifelong journey — changing directions at times, rerouting for evolving needs. Our advice? Stick with it, enjoy the ride, and love your skin every day. Because happy skin is healthy skin, and healthy skin is beautiful.

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Article written and reviewed by:

Amy is a content strategist who turned a part-time obsession with skincare into a full-time passion. Her experience as a creative storyteller includes a range of lifestyle and technology topics across Washington D.C. and Barcelona. What's in her travel bag? Eye contour cream and sunscreen, always.

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