How To Layer Your Skincare Products



Earlier this week we covered some great lightweight moisturizers for summer. For most of us, a moisturizer is just one piece in our skincare routine. Treatment serums, facial oils and SPF often play a role, but do these products work well together? There is indeed a best practice for applying products, and once you understand the logic behind each step you’ll be able to layer in a way that allows each product to perform with maximum results. Keep in mind that this is a general guide and adjust as needed based on the unique properties of the product you’re using or the needs of your skin from day to day. In general, products with the lightest, thinnest consistency should go on first. Except in the case of SPF, which should be your last layer (before makeup if you wear it), oils should go on top of anything that is water-based.

Here’s the blueprint for layering skincare successfully…

  1. Start with a toner. Toners tend to be as liquid as it gets in skincare, and they often work to either remove any remaining dirt and makeup after washing your face or to reset the pH levels in skin after cleansing. They can also contain active ingredients that help brighten, fight acne or increase moisture levels. Refer to my blog post on why you need a toner for more information. This should be the first layer in your routine.
  2. Treatment Serums come next. Serums often contain the most active ingredients because they are meant to correct and repair in many cases. They also tend to have the thinnest consistency after toners. For example, La Bella Figura Modern Radiance Concentrate or KYPRIS Clearing Serum are thin, non-oily treatments that feel weightless and aren’t meant to moisturize, but rather correct. Note that there are many oil-based treatment serums on the market, like One Love Organics Vitamin C Serum or Josh Rosebrook Deep Hydrating Serum. Even though these have active corrective ingredients, they should be treated like an oil in the layering process.
  3. Creams and lotions follow treatment serums. As a rule of thumb, keep in mind that oils can penetrate water-based moisturizers but not vice versa. If you use both a cream and an oil in your routine, the cream won’t be able to do its job if you apply it on top of the oil. Creams and lotions can help lock serums and moisture into skin, and they hydrate well thanks to their water content. If your skin is already balanced and doesn’t need much moisture, you can skip the water-based moisturizer and use a facial oil alone. If your skin is on the dry side or seems dehydrated, first apply a water-based moisturizer and let it sink in.
  4. Facial oils come next. Many of you can skip the lotion and use a facial oil alone to moisturize and protect skin, especially during the summer. For more on whether and how to use a facial oil, refer to this blog post on the topic. The key to using a facial oil, especially when SPF or makeup are applied afterward, is to use very little. 1-3 drops is generally all you need for the entire face. You can also just spot treat dry patches. Oils work beautifully to restore balance to skin, plump and prevent fine lines and lock in moisture. Allow it to fully absorb before the next layer.
  5. Finish with SPF. Except for makeup, SPF should be the last step in your layering process. If you’re using a moisturizer that includes SPF, like the Josh Rosebrook Nutrient Day Cream, consider that the final layer. Natural, non-toxic sunscreens rely on physical UV blockers like zinc oxide to protect skin, so you want to end your routine with that protective layer. In addition, your other products will have trouble penetrating the sunscreen if layered on top, which renders them pretty useless.

If you stick to this general framework for layering products, you’ll likely find your products perform much better. Another good rule of thumb is to let each layer fully absorb before applying the next. During your morning routine, do something between each layer, like brush your teeth or make some tea. It won’t take long for most products to absorb, and they’ll get along better with those that come before and after them if you do.

9 thoughts on “How To Layer Your Skincare Products

  1. This is such a helpful post. I’ve been doing a few things in the wrong order – and probably rushing the entire affair. This morning had very nice results – so thank you.

    I do have a question – or rather an extension of this question – this post, more or less is a morning routine. I know that you could/would do many of the same steps at night – but what, other than SPF application is truly different? Would you add something? Would you take out something other than the sunscreen?

    Thank you for such helpful advice – always


  2. Thanks for a very informative post. I just wonder about one thing. Chase, the founder of Kypris beauty, adviced to mix the serum with the oil to make a ‘micro emulsion’. But you say that the water based serums or cremes should come first and then the oil on top. I’m confused…..

  3. @Ann thanks for your question! Glad this has been helpful. Yes, this is more of a morning routine, and I would recommend the same layering technique minus the SPF at night. I tend to use different treatment serums and moisturizers between the morning and night. For example, in the morning I’ll use LBF’s Modern Radiance Concentrate as a serum while at night I’ll use KYPRIS Moonlight Catalyst. Sometimes I’ll use the same moisturizers or oils over my serums day/night unless I need to adjust for more or less hydration.

  4. @Anniken yes, I sometimes use KYPRIS serums and elixirs as Chase advises. I feel more comfortable doing that when I’m using her products together because it seems as though she’s created them with that in mind. Otherwise, the only time I find myself blending a serum and an oil to create an emulsion is when applying them separately results in pilling. Sometimes a serum will pill when you apply an oil on top—not sure why, but blending together first keeps pilling from happening. Hope that helps!

  5. I have a question about the oil based and non oil based treatment serums. How do you tell the difference? I was reading the ingredients for LBF Modern Radiance and it has more than 1 oil in the ingredient list. How can I tell whether a product should be in the LBF Modern Radiance group or the One Love Organics Vitamin C group?

    1. Hi Christie. Great question! It’s all in how a serum feels and the ratio of ingredients. For example, the LBF Modern Radiance does have oils in it, but the first ingredient is aloe leaf juice, and the serum has a light gel consistency. It doesn’t feel oily at all. On the other hand, the MUN Brightening Serum and the Aster + Bay Purifying Serum contain only oils and feel like a facial oil even though they are marketed as serums.

  6. Hi
    I was wondering is this a correct order. The Kypris anitoxidant dew.. let it dry then the beauty elixir III..let it dry and then the Josh Rosebrooks nutrient day cream SPF on top? Would having the serum and oil underneath allow the day cream nutrients to still go into the skin? Also I would be using my 100% pure pigmented foundation on top?Would I need to wait until the day cream dries before using foundation.. I feel I need to put on the foundation when the day cream is not fully dry to help me spread my foundation on my face. Would the nutrient spf day cream stop the antioxidants and nutrients in my foundation from helping my skin? I am so confused.

    1. Hi Emma,
      I totally understand your dilemma, and don’t fret too much—this is just my best practice for getting the most out of the products I’m using. Do you have really dry skin? If not, especially since it’s summer time, you could consider using the KYPRIS elixir as a night time treatment only. I would normally layer an SPF over my face oil, but you’re right that the Nutrient Day Cream is more than just an SPF. So if you don’t need all that moisture during the day, consider applying the KYPRIS Dew first followed by the Nutrient Day Cream and reserving the Elixir for night.

      Another option: I know KYPRIS has recommended blending the serums and elixirs together in the past, so you could also try adding one drop elixir to your serum, blending together between your fingers and spreading on your face before using the NDC. The NDC is actually full of oils and butters, so I don’t think you’ll have any trouble benefiting from the herbal extracts that are infused into the formula, even if you apply on top of an Elixir or another face oil.

      Finally, you might try experimenting with blending your foundation and the NDC together between your fingers before applying. I often blend foundation into my sunscreen, especially if it’s one that leaves a white cast otherwise. There’s no reason you couldn’t do this with the NDC!

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About Susannah Compton

Susannah Compton is the founder and formulator behind Florescent, a line of 100% botanical perfumes she blends in small batches from organic and wild crafted aromatics. Plant-based skincare and cosmetics are a way of life for Susannah, who writes about clean beauty and the benefits of botanical ingredients for No More Dirty Looks, Thoughtfully Magazine and Integrity Botanicals. Florescent, however, is Susannah’s personal expression of healthy beauty. Susannah has been working with botanical aromatics for years, blending first for therapeutic purposes before delving into the art of perfumery. Having rarely experienced the depth and complexity of true botanicals in conventional perfume, she learned the art of blending and created what her heart desired — a scent that would move her the way perfume should. In search of those elevating, ethereal bouquets of scent, Susannah honed her skills behind the perfume bench. She launched Florescent in the spring of 2015 to share the lush experience and pleasing ritual of real perfume.