Your medicine cabinet is likely filled to the brim with lotions and potions, but between serums, moisturizers, prescription-based treatments and various other products, you may be wondering what to apply first (and second, and third). How you layer your skincare can impact the effectiveness of active ingredients (and reduce potential side effects and reactions), which is why the order in which you apply them is so important.
What comes first?
According to Dermatologist Dr. Michael Kaminer of SkinCare Physicians in Boston, Massachusetts, “The general rule is lightest to thickest, so serums first followed by light lotions and creams.” But why? “It has to do with absorption, and lighter products tend to absorb more rapidly, so getting them on first prepares the skin for additional layers. This is a sound strategy for nearly everyone,” he explains. Dr. Mary Lupo of the Lupo Center for Aesthetic & General Dermatology in New Orleans, Louisiana adds, “This is because serums can’t get through creams—with the exception of DefenAge’s 8-in-1 BioSerum,” which is an effective multi-tasking anti-aging treatment designed to be applied after moisturizer.
What comes last?
Dr. Kaminer and Dr. Lupo both agree on which skincare product should be applied last (before makeup) every morning: Sunscreen! Dr. Kaminer likes SkinCare Prescription Day Anti Aging Moisturizer AHA SPF 15, while Dr. Lupo recommends EltaMD UV Replenish Broad-Spectrum SPF 44 for dry or mature skin and EltaMD UV Clear Broad Spectrum SPF 46 for oily/acne-prone skin.
Incorporating prescription-based skincare products
There are a few exceptions to the “lightest to heaviest” application rule. “Prescription antibiotics always go on first,” Dr. Kaminer emphasizes. In addition, “Retinoids always go on first after cleansing in the evening—unless using a topical antibiotic. In this case, you should apply the antibiotic, wait 20 to 30 minutes before applying the retinoid, and then continue with the rest of your skincare regimen,” he advises.
What’s the deal with pilling?
When layering multiple skincare products, pilling can be a potential issue. Dr. Lupo says, “This means you are using too much product and each layer is not absorbing adequately. To avoid pilling, you need to back off and wait longer between applying each product.”
Consider your combination of active ingredients
When using a multi-step product regimen to address your skin concerns, it’s important to be mindful of potential ingredient interactions that could derail your skincare efforts. Dr. Lupo advises against mixing acids and peptides or growth factors to protect the anti-aging proteins. Dr. Kaminer says, “There really aren’t any hard and fast rules about what products shouldn’t be used together. There is often a short trial-and-error period when you make sure your skin is happy and the products get along nicely on your skin. If a particular product combination proves to be problematic, make changes until you find a regimen that works for you.”
Note: DefenAge products were provided for review. All opinions are my own.