Home » The Correct Order to Apply Your Skincare Routine in 2021

The Correct Order to Apply Your Skincare Routine in 2021

Hello Glowups! How is 2021 treating ya? If it’s one thing I have come to appreciate during quarantine lockdown was taking care with self-care. Let’s talk about the basics, whether you currently do a one-step routine or a twelve-step routine, have you ever asked yourself the WHY and HOW you are (not) using some of these topical products that you are using as part of your skincare routine? And is basic skincare routine as easy as 1, 2, 3? Now, now, before you roll your eyes and get offended by the basic and simplicity to the context, please read on, you might – just might – learn a thing or two in the correct order to apply your skincare routine in 2021. Even skincare much like anything else evolves, the technology, the formulas, the steps, the education. That’s why I believe that being as informed as you can help you understand and fully appreciate what skincare products are meant to do for your skin.

The general rule is to layer your products from light to heavy textures; and to apply the products with the highest percentage of active ingredients first so that they are absorbed first.

I’m not an expert, but I have spoken to a lot of experts about this, and this is what I have been told.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when it comes to skincare products and let alone figuring out where they fit into our skincare routine! We are sold one too many products these days – but the positive side to this is that there is something for everyone! And if you’re thinking ‘Well that’s great! but now I have more than 2 serums what goes on first? And what about eye creams? And double cleansing and and..

So first off, understanding that there are two types of skincare routines, we call this the Morning (A.M.) and Nighttime (P.M.) routine, and what you use and do can vary between the two routines and both quite intentionally serve distinct purposes. And these routines are suitable for ALL skin types so long as you are using the right product that works for your skin, and unless otherwise stated.

The Correct Order to Apply Your Skincare Routine in 2021 AM

MORNINGS (A.M.)

The main purpose of the morning (A.M.) routine is to prep our skin for the day (the pollutants, sunlight, the natural oil and water our skin produces throughout the day, sweat, etc.,). Taking care of our skin in the morning is no different from taking a shower before putting on fresh underwear. You may think “DUH” and that this is quite the obvious, but you would actually be surprised by the number of DM’s I get with individuals asking me, ‘Is cleansing in the morning absolutely necessary?’ to which I respond with a simple, yes. So here’s the thing, I don’t know about you, but I wake up with a lovely glow in the mornings, how about you? And it’s called sweat, which is a natural and normal process from sleeping, so to answer it simply, please wash your face.

The other thing to keep in mind, (I know so many damn rules) – and I actually use to love doing this – putting my face under the shower, however I learned that it can be too harsh (temperature and pressure wise) and do your face cleanse after you get out of the shower.

Pat your clean towel to dry off your face or simply air dry. I personally leave my face to air dry, as I like to apply my products onto my damp skin. And so, here are the steps to layer products onto your skin. And since eye creams tend to be lighter and thinner than face moisturizers, so make sure to apply them before you slather on your creams and oils.

A good rule of thumb when applying skincare is to apply the lightest first and the heaviest last, since thinner products can’t penetrate thicker products. Hence humectants, then emolliants and lastly your occlusives.

1.Cleansing:
(must)
Face washing in the AM doesn’t have to be harsh – any non-foaming cleanser works well, like a milk or cream or gel based – you just want to avoid anything that causes too much foam as it can strip away the moisture off your face. (*and if you double-cleanse at nighttime, you can use the same cleanser as you do in your second step of the double-cleansing step if you’re budget conscious)
For ingredients to properly absorb, you need clean skin that’s totally free of oil and grime.
1.1Toners:
(optional)
In traditional Korean/Japanese skincare routine, toners are considered to be the last step to your cleansing routine and typically contains some form of alcohol, acid, to give it that deep cleanse as it lowers your skin’s pH to really prep the skin.
2.Humectants:
(optional)
In traditional Korean/Japanese skincare routine, this step would be considered “essences” and is considered to be the first step to your moisturizing skincare routine, and comes after toners and typically contains some form of humectant to really bind the rest of your serums, lotions, creams, and oils that you will be layering. Fast forward to 2020 skincare trend: the questions on toners and essences being needed in skincare routines have really blurred this step as now a lot of skincare products are coming out with hybrid versions to simplfy these steps. So now, we generally use the following three terms; humectants, emollients and occlusives. Humectants are typically products like sprays, mist, also toners sans alcohol, essences can also fall into this category, serums (water-based), actives, as well as the toner-essence hybrids for their ability to retain moisture, humectants are water-loving ingredients that draw moisture into the stratum corneum, the top layer of our skin. Serums are essentially just shots of extremely concentrated nutrients, hydrators, and antioxidants that really amp up your skin health as soon as you apply them. They’re essentially just priming your face for ingredients to be better absorbed later on.
2.1Spot Treatments:
(optional)
Ideally, you’d apply your spot treatments (whether they’re for zits, scars, or dark spots) at night because that’s when your body’s working hardest to repair itself. But if you’ve already used an acne-fighting toner and/or you’re planning to layer on a retinol, try spot-treating in the morning instead so you don’t irritate your skin. Regardless of when you apply them, make sure to tap them on before your moisturizer so they can really penetrate your skin and do their thang without having another barrier to penetrate.
3. Emollients:
(must)
These are moisturising products like your *eye creams, lotions and creams to soothe and hydrate your skin, they’re meant to cover the skin with a protective film to trap in moisture. Choose your moisturiser by your skin type, not condition. Think of your moisturizer as your coat/protection for your skin. And nothing ‘mattifying’ our skin is not designed to be ‘matte’ – if you know you are excessively oily, opt for a light hyaluronic acid serum and oil-free moisturizer. Lets leave the ‘mattifying’ to your makeup. Your skin should feel comfortable.
You need to be using a moisturizer. Always. No matter what. I don’t care if your skin is hella oily or easily broken out or sad or scared (there’s a formula for you! Promise!) because it’s the only thing that’ll keep your skin barrier (the very temperamental thing responsible for making your face look good) healthy. According to Dr. Idriss, a Board Certified Dermatologist who specializes in facial aesthetics and rejuvenation in Manhattan, “a moisturizer not only infuses your skin with hydration but also helps trap in all the products underneath it to make the ingredients even more effective.”
4.Occlusives:
(optional)
Oils and heavier creams (also some emollients can also function as occlusive moisturizers). And they do not love water; in fact, most of them actually repel it (unlike humectants), also why it’s the last step is to seal-in all of your moisturizing products. Occclusive agents increase moisture levels in skin by providing a physical barrier to epidermal water loss.
5.Sunscreens:
(must)
My favorite and the most important step, as our sure way of preventing premature/photo-aging while protecting our skin from the harmful UV rays. I always recommend a separate sunscreen for reasons previously mentioned on my videos and blog – I just don’t think a moisturizer with added SPF is going to do much benefit-wise to the skin. I mean, it’s better than nothing, but wouldn’t you rather be safe than sorry? and think about it, if it’s a moisturizer you are less likely to apply the amount you need for adequate sun protection. I personally would never buy a $200 luxury moisturizer with SPF. You’re paying for an expensive SPF and probably not getting the best out of the moisturizer. Treat sunscreens as a standalone product, buy a good moisturizer and a perfectly reasonably priced sunscreen. Think of sunscreens as “your clothes” to your skincare routine. Not wearing sunscreen is like not wearing any clothes to go about your day. It’s the most basic layer of apparel/film that protects your skin.
I know I said oils go last, but technically, sunscreen is the absolute last step. Why? “Oils are still working to penetrate and treat your skin, which is why they would go last in your skincare routine, but sunscreen isn’t trying to penetrate anything—it’s there to protect your face and act as armor against the outside world. Basically, it’s not additive like oils are. It’s protective. Just know that the absolute bare minimum SPF you need on your face is SPF 30, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. And that’s on PERIODT.

*Eye creams: I personally like to apply my eye cream first, and it has nothing to do with it being a serum-based versus an actual cream, and the reason being, no matter how carefully you apply your serums/moisturisers you will always get some in the eye area and then your eye cream won’t absorb and be as effective – which sort of defeats the purpose. And everything else can be layered afterwards. There will always be exceptions, so if what you are doing works for you – please don’t change it on my accord. But also, I recently stopped splurging on eye creams because I felt that my moisturizer did the job, as well as masks and eye patches that I incorporate to my nighttime routine twice a week.

My morning routine is quite simple, I started to skip the serum step (as I recently got into oils), so my A.M. steps are:
1. Gentle wash with Versed Gentle Cycle Milky Cleanser or Krave Matcha Hemp Cleanser
2. Then onto my damp skin gently pat on the Hyaluronic Lotion by HadaLabo
2.1. Spot treat with Tamanu Oil
3. Moisturize with 2x Barrier Intensive Cream by SoonJung
4. For the extra glow with Versed’s Sunday Morning Antioxdiant Oil-Serum
5. #YESSPF with Gaurds Up Daily Mineral Sunscreen by Versed

Lets practice ‘Less is More’ mindset when it comes to our skincare practice.

A beauty myth: ‘Warming product in hands before use.’ A good formulation will be ready to go, therefore, warming a product in your hands will only put most of the product on your hands. Oil doesn’t need to be warmed to absorb. If you want to rub it in your hands and inhale it before you apply, your choice. (It’s OK, I am guilty of it too!) It’s another ‘ritual’ that brands have used to sell as part of their marketing tactic and labeling on their packaging. I would be more concerned if I paid to have my product ‘activate’ by warming them in my hands before applying it to my face.

The Correct Order to Apply Your Skincare Routine in 2021 PM

NIGHTTIMES (P.M.)

The main purpose of our nighttime routine is to help our skin help itself; repair and correct. Make no mistake, while all these skincare companies will sell their products with the most catchiest and decadent tag lines like: Your skin repairs itself at night; Your skin sleeps at night (Correction, YOU sleep at night!) Our skin is actually repairing itself 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and does not have an on and off switch. For this reason, why we use treatments, peels, masks at nighttime is because those products will have our skin’s utmost attention while we are asleep and have a better chance of them being effective – because we are not moving around, out and about.

So when a Sales Associate tells me “Your skin repairs itself at night” while holding a luxury cream – is no different than telling me “it opens/closes your pores” – which isn’t a thing.

And the great question/debate on double-cleansing, listen, the only time I don’t double cleanse is if I have been indoors all day and have not applied sunscreen or makeup. To simply put, if you wear sunscreen or makeup you need to double cleanse. Sunscreens and makeup are designed to stay on your face, so take the time to remove it.

1.0Preface:
(optional)
Pre-cleanse oil or eye makeup remover – quick swipe around the eyes either with the oil via fingertips or soaked cotton pad – if wearing lash extensions or a lot of mascara.
Tip for micellar water users: if you prefer to take your makeup off with a micellar water before you cleanse, that is your first cleanse. But if you are wearing an SPF or heavy makeup you still need to double cleanse. Don’t be lazy. Your skin will thank you.
1.Double
Cleansing
Step 1:
(must*)
Oil or balm cleanser – I go straight in with my oil based cleanser to hit the oil and dirt and general gunk on my face after a hard day’s work in Manhattan. Starting around the eyes, then spreading out across the rest of my face.
*Consider this step to be a must if you wear makeup or sunscreen.
1.1Treatments:
(optional)
This is where you can insert your chemical exfoliant peels, masks, packs.
1.2Double
Cleansing
Step 2:
(must*)
Milk or gel cleanser – I give it a nice lather on my face and because these textures are not too drying to the face, it gives it a clean, refreshing feel to the face.
*Consider this step to be a must if you wear makeup or sunscreen.
1.3Toners:
(optional)
In traditional Korean/Japanese skincare routine, toners are considered to be the last step to your cleansing routine and typically contains some form of alcohol, acid, to give it that deep cleanse as it lowers your skin’s pH to really prep the skin.
They’re essentially just priming your face for ingredients to be better absorbed later on. Opt for a toner filled with either BHA (beta hydroxy acid, like salicylic acid) or AHA (alpha hydroxy acid, like glycolic acid or lactic acid), which work to unclog pores, prevent breakouts, and dissolve blackheads over time.
Dry skin opt for water-soluble AHAs.
Oily skin opt for oil-soluble BHAs.
2.Humectants:
(optional)
In traditional Korean/Japanese skincare routine, this step would be considered “essences” and is considered to be the first step to your moisturizing skincare routine, and comes after toners and typically contains some form of humectant to really bind the rest of your serums, lotions, creams, and oils that you will be layering. Fast forward to 2020 skincare trend: the questions on toners and essences being needed in skincare routines have really blurred this step as now a lot of skincare products are coming out with hybrid versions to simplfy these steps. So now, we generally use the following three terms; humectants, emollients and occlusives. Humectants are typically products like sprays, mist, also toners sans alcohol, essences can also fall into this category, serums (water-based), actives, as well as the toner-essence hybrids for their ability to retain moisture, humectants are water-loving ingredients that draw moisture into the stratum corneum, the top layer of our skin. Serums are essentially just shots of extremely concentrated nutrients, hydrators, and antioxidants that really amp up your skin health as soon as you apply them. They’re essentially just priming your face for ingredients to be better absorbed later on.
2.1Spot TreatmentsIdeally, you’d apply your spot treatments (whether they’re for zits, scars, or dark spots) at night because that’s when your body’s working hardest to repair itself. But if you’ve already used an acne-fighting toner and/or you’re planning to layer on a retinol, try spot-treating in the morning instead so you don’t irritate your skin. Regardless of when you apply them, make sure to tap them on before your moisturizer so they can really penetrate your skin and do their thang without having another barrier to penetrate.
2.2 Retinoids
Vitamin A:
(optional)
Retinoids—the umbrella term for all vitamin A derivatives, including retinol—sink into your skin to speed up cell turnover, causing your body to churn out fresher, smoother, less wrinkled skin over time.
HOW TO USE THEM…
If you’re new to retinoids, make sure to start slow to mitigate the initial adjustment period of flakes and sensitivity. Apply a pea-size drop to your entire face one night a week for one week, then two nights a week for two weeks, then three nights a week for three weeks, and then every other night indefinitely. Remember, good skin takes time.
SKIP THIS STEP IF…
You’re already using (or planning to use) a night cream with retinoids, doubling up won’t make the anti-aging results more effective—it’ll just cause inflammation. And if you do have extra-sensitive skin, apply a layer of moisturizer both 10 minutes before and after applying your retinol to reduce irritation without totally diluting the treatment. Basically, sandwiching your face in moisture. Remember, good skin takes time.
3.Emollients:
(must)
Are moisturising products like your *eye creams (if you suffer from puffy eyes opt for serum/gel, not creams.), lotions and creams to soothe and hydrate your skin, they’re meant to cover the skin with a protective film to trap in moisture. Choose your moisturiser by your skin type, not condition. This is where you can splurge on that luxury moisturizer. I personally have a gel cream that’s lighter in texture for the hot summer days as my face tends to get oily, and use a heavier rich cream for the winter weather to protect my face from drying out in the cold.
4.Occlusives:
(optional)
Oils and heavier creams (also some emollients can also function as occlusive moisturizers). And they do not love water; in fact, most of them actually repel it (unlike humectants), also why it’s the last step is to seal-in all of your moisturizing products. Occclusive agents increase moisture levels in skin by providing a physical barrier to epidermal water loss.
On their own, oils aren’t actually that moisturizing, but when you layer them over products, they help increase your routine’s efficacy while also leaving skin soft and smooth. Just make sure to always, always, apply them last. Oils can easily penetrate moisturizers, serums, and treatments, but no products can penetrate an oil, which means they need to be applied last. And don’t think that oils are just for dry skin—certain oils, like rose-hip and jojoba, can decrease excess oil in acne-prone skin, while marula and aloe oils can soothe sensitive, easily irritated skin.

We’ve all been there, ordered a whole bunch of products inspired by that Sephora/Ulta haul you watched on YouTube, and now it’s sitting in your shelf, and you’re totally unsure what to do with them. I hear you.

Whether or not you use a night-time moisturiser is dependent on what treatment you use. If your treatment is already in your moisturiser, there’s no need for that extra cute looking bottle. If you are using a lovely night-time oil you may not want or need anything else.

My nighttime routine is more decadent, I like to treat my skin, so my P.M. steps are:
1. Step one to double cleasing with DHC Deep Cleansing Oil
1.1. Gentle exfoliation with LaMer’s The Replenishing Oil Exfoliator
1.2. Double cleasing step two with Versed Gentle Cycle Milky Cleanser or Krave Matcha Hemp Cleanser
2. Then onto my damp skin gently pat on the Hyaluronic Lotion by HadaLabo
2.2. Apply the Gentle Retinol Serum called Press Restart by Versed
3. Moisturize with 2x Barrier Intensive Cream by SoonJung
4. For that extra 100% Argan Oil by Josie Maran

Personally, I like to apply my minimalist philosophy approach to my skincare routine as well, less is more. Don’t overdo or over complicate but rather, be intentional with your skincare routine. Get the product that works for your skin and stick with it, it’s 2021 – time to be more mindful during this pandemic in this economy. But one thing you should always know is that your skin is always breathing, whether it has products on or not, so don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.

And now that you can see what are the musts versus optional steps in any skincare routine, hopefully this makes you realize the extra hyaluronic serum that you thought you needed may just have become obsolete. And maybe this has also made you realize how you can simplify your skincare routine and reduce the number of products you use. Just some food for thought as you soak in the information on the correct order to apply your skincare routine in 2021.

At the end of all of this, the important thing is to be intentional with skincare; what you buy, how you take the time to apply the product onto your skin and just remember good skin takes time with consistency and does not happen overnight no matter what miracle broth concoction you splurge on.

The views expressed on this site are that of my own and are provided for informational purposes only. I make no warranties about the suitability of any product or treatment referenced or reviewed here for any person other than myself and any reliance placed on these reviews or references by you is done so solely at your own risk. Nothing on this site shall be construed as providing dermatological, medical or other such advice and you are always advised to seek the advice of a suitable professional should you have any such concerns.

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