One of the most frequent questions I get in my little shop is what order to apply all these products, and do I need all of them?
This led me to want to help people understand the purpose of each step, which then helps clarify when each step is appropriate.
I’ve seen Youtube videos that show individuals who are highly trained estheticians who still either don’t know or can’t resist just using every skin treatment that they have recently purchased even though each one is intended for exfoliation or is a micro-peel. The results, of course, are not what you’d hope for.
Anyone who knows me knows that I tend to go without makeup at all on most days. I like to think that if you’re comfortable in your own skin, then makeup is not necessary most days, though I do appreciate what makeup can do to accentuate good features, and I love seeing the results of a good makeover.
That being said, if you do wear makeup, it needs to be removed every night using a product specifically for this task. Micellar waters, facials oils, etc are perfect for this task because they can break up waxes and micas in eye makeup, bronzers, and so on.
You will see some products that include additional conditioning ingredients, but I believe you don’t get much from these ingredients as they are about to be washed away so save yourself some bucks and go for simplicity. If you do not wear makeup, this step can be skipped.
Cleansing the skin is a must and should be done morning and night. In the evening after removing makeup this step works on cleansing the pores and removing the impurities and dead skin cells that have built up during the day. In the morning, this step refreshes the skin and allows it to be rid of any excess oils that may have built up overnight. If you have extraordinarily dry skin, you may be able to cleanse once a day, but only if toner or hydrosol is used in the morning.
The most often missed step by everyone is toning. It seems that even skincare gurus miss this one or don’t consider it important. First, there’s the misconception of what a toner is. Many years ago toners were mostly witch hazel and alcohol-based with very few other ingredients. They were mostly associated with teenage and acneic skin.
Today you will find toners that include moisturizing ingredients, as well as nourishing ingredients intended to allow your skin to do what it needs to do. Since these ingredients are not bound up in a lotion they are free to be absorbed into and utilized by the skin.
Some of the least recognized benefits to using a toner are that they not only help cleanse pores so that they appear smoother, but they also allow the products you apply next to spread more smoothly which allows you to be able to use less as it goes further. A well-formulated toner is like liquid gold for your skin.
Serums are highly concentrated treatments to correct specific skin concerns such as hyperpigmentation, eye puffiness, or lack of elasticity. Serums should be applied after toner and prior to moisturizer. As moisturizers have butters and emollients that are intended to sit on top of the skin to provide moisture barriers you will want to put serums on prior to moisturizing. Some of the active ingredients found in serums include
- vitamins C, which serves as an antioxidant and skin brightener
- vitamin B3 aka Niacinamide which reduces the appearance of pigmentation, redness and improves skin texture
- sodium hyaluronate which helps skin retain moisture which is how it helps to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles
- ferulic acid which is an antioxidant,
- caffeine for improved circulation
- polypeptides stimulate collagen production which strengthens the skin barrier
to name a few. Each of these ingredients has a different effect on the skin and therefore isn’t appropriate for every person as we all have different needs.
Moisturizers are the next layer. Their purpose is obviously to add moisture to your skin, but what does this mean? First, we need to know the difference between hydration and moisture on the skin. Hydration refers to the water content of the cells. If we are dehydrated, our bodies will do our best to retain water and will retrieve it from our extremities first which includes our epidermis. This is why one of the first things I tell people who are suffering from dry skin is to tell them to drink more water. My customers will often hear me say ‘hydrate, hydrate, hydrate’.
Our skin is properly moisturized when we have enough oils to prevent too much water loss. Our skin naturally will create these oils aka sebum, but when our skin is not in balance we will either have too much or too little sebum. This is where we give it a hand by adding moisturizers which tend to be made from oils and butters, emulsified with water to make them easier to apply and absorb more readily.
According to leading dermatologists, facial oils may be the missing step in standard beauty routines. Facial oils help the skin retain moisture, some contain fatty acids which are then absorbed by the skin and utilized in cell metabolism. They are essentially food for the skin. Some oils such as raspberry oil provide sun protection because they are rich in Omega-3s, Omega-6s, stearic acid, and palmitic acid as well as vitamin E.
If the skin is producing too much oil, it might be because of too much cleansing, and our skin will react to this by producing more oil to help protect itself. This is why sometimes it is best to combat oily skin by applying more oils. Of course, they do need to be the correct ones to help balance the skin and to prevent irritation.
Sunscreen is the last layer if it is physical versus chemical sunscreen. Sunblock is the preferred term for physical sunscreen and will be used to differentiate between the two in this post. Chemical sunscreens are potentially problematic as there is potential for them to accentuate the oxidation even though they prevent a burn. You can read more about this in my previous post here. Sunblock will interfere with the absorption of not only the sun rays but also all the ingredients of the other products so should be last before any makeup is applied.
In case you were wondering, not all sunblock products leave a white layer on your skin as you may be thinking. There are very effective products that use turmeric oil, Astaxanthin which is derived from sea algae, raspberry, and blackberry oils as well as non-nano zinc. This also means they are reef-safe.
Exfoliation is of course the removal of the outer layers of skin through chemical or physical processes. A physical exfoliator is something with grit of some sort in it that loosens and removes the dead skin cells. Chemical exfoliation use beta and alpha-hydroxy acids such as salicylic and glycolic acid respectively. Salicylic acid is specifically effective for those with acneic skin as it serves to break up the keratin that clogs pores as well as keeps those dead skin cells attached.
Exfoliating is a necessary step, however, it is NOT to be done as part of your daily routine. Once or twice a week is more than enough, especially if you are using a strong chemical exfoliant. If exfoliation is done too frequently the skin’s natural protective barriers become compromised and more susceptible to burning and dehydrating.
Masks on the other hand can be done more frequently and used as needed. Moisturizing masks can sometimes be used overnight as a night cream. Clay masks, on the other hand, are intended to draw impurities from your skin and if used too often can potentially dry it out. This is why you should always listen to your skin instead of blindly following a regimen.