The Best Skin Care Routine Order, According to Dermatologists


Essences, on the other hand, tend to be more hydrating. Dr. Rabach recommends looking for actives like hyaluronic acid, which will flood your skin with moisture that you can lock in during subsequent steps. To apply, soak a cotton pad in liquid and gently pat it over your face. Alternatively, you can use your hands to do the same thing.

CosRx Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence

Thayers Alcohol-Free Witch Hazel With Aloe Vera Toner

Dermalogica Multi-Active Toner

5. Serum

Do this step: Morning and night.

This is the step where you’ll deliver the bulk of active ingredients to your toner/essence-primed face, and it’s important to do it early on in your routine. “Serums are formulated with smaller molecular-weight actives so they penetrate into deeper skin layers,” says Dr. Ciraldo. “If you apply your serum after a thicker formulation, the active ingredients may not penetrate as well.”

While you should apply serum twice a day, you shouldn’t be using the same formulation. “Serum actives differ for day and night,” says Dr. Rabach. During the day she likes to choose serums with antioxidants that protect skin from daytime stressors like free radicals (caused by UV rays), pollutants, and blue light. The most popular ingredient for this is vitamin C, which you will have no problem finding in serum form. (Just make sure to choose one that’s properly stabilized for maximum effect.) At night, opt for a serum with peptides and growth factors to repair skin.

For both daytime and nighttime serums, Dr. Rabach also has a general list of ingredients she likes to look for across both formulations: Niacinamide to reduce redness, hyaluronic acid to pull moisture into your skin, and alpha and beta hydroxy acids (AHAs and BHAs), which help boost collagen and even out skin pigmentation. Dr. Ciraldo further splits up her preferred serum ingredients by skin type. “For acne-prone skin, look for stem cells, retinol, and green tea,” she says. “For dehydrated skin, look for lipids, hyaluronic acid, and peptides. And for hyperpigmented skin, look for vitamin C.”

SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Antioxidant Serum

Peach & Lily Glass Skin Refining Serum

SkinMedica TNS Essential Serum

Sunday Riley Good Genes All-in-One Lactic Acid Treatment

6. Retinol

Do this step: At night only.

Retinol truly deserves its own essay, but the short version is this: The vitamin A derivative boosts collagen production and increases the rate of cellular turnover. “Retinol reduces fine lines, reduces pore size, increases collagen and elastin production, takes off dead skin, reduces oil production, unclogs pores, and evens out skin tone,” says Dr. Rabach. Whether you want to clear breakouts or fade fine lines—or basically do anything to your face—retinol is your friend.

On the flip side, this is a strong ingredient, and beginners should proceed with caution when adding to their routines. Potential side effects can include flaking, dryness, retinol burn, and increased sensitivity to the sun, which is why you should stick to applying it at night. Dermatologists often recommend easing into daily application slowly. “Start three times a week for the first week or two,” says Dr. Ciraldo. From there you can gradually increase the frequency of application.

Most will apply their retinol layer after their serums and before moisturizer, but there is one exception. If your skin has trouble tolerating retinol and you want to minimize its side effects, you can buffer it instead. Retinol buffering refers to a technique whereby you mix your retinol with your moisturizer and apply it as a single step. This helps you still get the benefits, but decreases the potential for irritation. To take it a step further, you can also apply retinol over your moisturizer. Experiment with this step, and see where it fits best in your routine.

Olay Regenerist Retinol 24 Night Facial Cream

SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.5 Refining Night Cream

Lancôme Visionnaire Skin Solutions 0.2% Retinol Correcting Night Concentrate

Kate Somerville +Retinol Vitamin C Moisturizer

7. Moisturizer

Do this step: Morning and night.



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