Want to guarantee your skin care's always working to A-star standards - for results you can actually see? Dear friend, come learn all about the correct skin care order, skin care layering and skin care steps with super simple examples from The Ordinary skin care, here we go...

How to Effectively Layer Your Skincare: With Examples From The Ordinary

In Being Savvy at Skincare by Cheryl Woodman MChemLeave a Comment

The order of your skin care can make a huge difference. Imagine putting frosting on a cake – everything is as it should be ‘eh. Now imagine putting cake on your frosting – things can get a bit clunky – doh.

How you layer your skin care can; Make your skin care work swimmingly or leave it like a fish flapping around out of water. Aka you see great skin change or you don’t.

Want to guarantee your skin care’s always working to A-star standards – for results you can actually see?

Dear friend, come learn all about the correct skin care order, skin care layering and skin care steps with super simple examples from The Ordinary skin care, here we go…

Want to guarantee your skin care's always working to A-star standards - for results you can actually see? Dear friend, come learn all about the correct skin care order, skin care layering and skin care steps with super simple examples from The Ordinary skin care, here we go...

How to Layer Skin Care

The absolute foundation of skin care order relies on one extremely knowable rule – start with your thinnest skin care first, end with your thickest skin care last.

Why? Because thick skin care absorbs at snail pace but thin skin care absorbs at hare pace.

Like trying to suck either water through a straw or smoothie through a straw.

Which in general means any skin care you have which is water based i.e. serums, essences, ampules and hydrators should be in your skin care order first. Then skin care you have which is oil based or more oil based i.e. creams, balms, facial oils and conditioners should be in your skin care order last.

Example: Always use a serum like The Ordinary’s Marine Hyaluronics before a cream like The Ordinary’s Natural Moisturizing Factors + HA. You can tell the first is a serum as it’s a clear liquid you can see through and the second, well it’s a cream because it’s white and a lot, lot less runny.

Basics done. Now time to get into the nitty-gritty of skin care layering aka should you layer cream or balm first? When should you apply face oil? Does retinol come before or after serum?

Skin Care Order

Ok – so you’ve got an A and B place in your skin care order now ‘eh. Every skin care product you own which is watery comes in place A, every skin care product you own which is creamy or oily comes in place B. Awesome stuff, now’s time to alphabetize A and B – and I bet you’ve figured this out already dear skin savvy – go you!

The best skin care order for your skin care routine will fit products into this layering guide;

  1. Makeup remover
  2. Cleanser
  3. Exfoliator
  4. Toner
  5. Facial mists
  6. Serum, ampoules, essences (lightest/thinnest first)
  7. Lotions
  8. Creams/moisturisers including eye cream – more about this soon
  9. Suspension/silicon high moisturisers like The Ordinary’s Vitamin C suspension 30% in silicone 
  10. Face oils
  11. Face balms
  12. Sunscreen
  13. Foundation

Which from steps 4 to 11 is all about thinnest to thickest aka putting your frosting on top of your skin care cake instead of your cake on top of your skin care frosting.

Skin Care Steps

You should also know this: you don’t have to have skin care products in every one of these layering descriptions to have a great skin care order or be taking great care of your skin. Which means you might not have a step 3 – exfoliator but instead you have a step 4 – toner which not only tones but also exfoliates e.g. The Ordinary’s Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution. Or you might not use a step 5 – facial mist, but you definitely do use a step 6 – serum.

Plus – some of this skin care order you will only do for AM i.e. sunscreen and some of this skin care order you will only do for PM i.e. makeup remover and I also strongly recommend cleanser – for these 4 reasons.

What Goes On First Moisturiser or Sunscreen?

There’s always 1 which likes to be a little pesky ‘eh, always 1 which likes to be an exception and in skin care order it is sunscreen. Or sun cream, sun block or mineral sun protection.

The naughty child that’s so funny you can’t help put let it be.

Pssst! You will see some very well read beauty blogs recommending to layer chemical sunscreens before moisturiser as they work by penetrating into your bloodstream and moisturisers can stop or delay this from happening.

Don’t worry dear friend, sunscreen definitely does not work by penetrating into you bloodstream. In fact the reason you should always use it last is because it needs to be kept or held in the top layers of your skin to be maximally effective.

Sunscreen works by either reacting with ageing UV light before your skin gets a chance to or by reflecting ageing UV light away from your skin. Sunscreen can only do both best if your sun protection stays in the very top layers of your skin. Applying any kind of absorbing skin care after, will help your sun protection absorb more deeply – a no-no. However foundation’s fine because it’s also designed to stay at the top floor of your skin care sky scraper.

Bonus: Grab your free how to mix skincare like a pro guide here. After you have skin care order sorted, your next step’s skin-safe mixing.

When to Apply Face Oil

Take a guess dear friend, with your new arsenal of skin care order know how – which of these skin care picks would apply first;

Got your answers ready? Then here’s the bits to check them against my fellow skin savvy;

Face oil is not a naughty child. Face oil is a guaranteed last step/2nd to last step of your skin care order. Taking longest to absorb and being most similar to the top layers of your skin – using face oil as a last skin care step helps it work best.

Pssst! If you want to help your face oil absorb in more quickly you can always use a second dose of moisturiser over your face oil. It can help take any stickiness away quicker.

How to Layer Serums

What do you do if you have 2 skin care products which either both look like a serum or tell you they both are a serum? How do you skin care order products which at first glance are – the same?

Like those life questions;

Did the chicken or the egg come first?

Should I stir-fry mushrooms before or after peppers?

Is it ever acceptable to start with dessert first?

Layering serums is super simple – promise. Start with your lightest serum first aka most watery serum first and then move onto your thickest serum last.

Which would mean using The Ordinary’s Marine Hyaluronics first because it’s thinnest/very runny and The Ordinary’s Niacinaimde 10% + Zinc 1% second as it’s thickest/less runny. The Ordinary dropper bottles make this extremely simple to tell – all you need to do is squeeze the dropper tip gently to see how quickly the serum comes out – the quicker it escapes, the thinner your serum is.

When to Apply a Treatment Product

Fantastic question dear skin savvy. Treatment skin care is any kind of skin care you have which you use only in certain areas.

For example you might use;

The Ordinary’s (TO) Salicylic Acid 2% Solution as a spot treatment.

TO’s Caffeine Solution 5% + EGCG as an eye treatment.

Or even TO’s Matrixyl 10% + HA as a targeted experience line treatment.

Treatment products are best placed into your skin care order based on what it is they are i.e. a serum, a cream or balm.

Take The Ordinary’s Salicylic Acid 2% Solution as an example, it’s a thin liquid that can also be used as a toner, so if you’re using this only on your spots, use in the same place you’d use a toner.

The Ordinary’s Caffeine Solution is serum like, so use in the same part of your skin care order you’d use a serum in.

Treatment products should be layered in the exact same way you layer your usual skin care. Thinnest first, thickest second.

Retinol Before or After Serum

Proven anti-ageing ingredient – retinol – now here’s an active you want to make sure you’re juicing all the benefits out of ‘eh.

Retinol skin care comes in lots of different shades. Take The Ordinary as an example, you have a Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion or a Granactive Retinoid 2% in Squalane to choose from.

Pssst! Emulsion means a mix of water and oil whereas squalane is just an oil.

Then you have other retinol skin care like this fab pick from Medik8 Retinol 10 TR Balm – which is a balm and perfect for dry skin types.

Again, the best, most effective way to layer retinol skin care is to order it in place of thinnest first, thickest second. 

TO’S  Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion is a cream so here your retinol comes straight after serum.

TO’s Granactive Retinoid 2% in Squalane is a demi-oil so here your retinol not only comes after serum but also after lotion, cream and moisturiser.

Medik8 Retinol 10 TR Balm is a balm, so is best used after serum, after moisturiser and also after facial oil.

When to apply retinol in your skin care routine? Use retinol where it best fits into your skin care routine in order from thinnest to thickest. Also be sure to use retinol only in your PM skin care order as retinol is sensitive to light aka will be used up in AM before getting a chance to benefit your skin.


There you have it dear skin savvy, skin care order sorted. Are you ready to go layer like a pro? Have a few more niggling skin care order questions not answered? Come ask them to me in the chat below, I honestly love hearing from you and knowing what’s on your mind, helps me, help you better…