Here’s Exactly What Order You Should Apply Your Skincare Products In

By Ranyhyn Laine – who always has time to go to breakfast, no matter how busy she is.

Does anyone else stare at their skincare products, confused about which one should go on first? We all know to cleanse first (right?), and then tone, but is it serum and then moisturiser? What if we have more than one serum? When do the face oils go on? How many serums is too many? 

Well, you’re not alone in asking these questions—and we are definitely also guilty of buying too many skincare products and then leaving them in our bathroom cabinet because we have no idea how to add them to our daily routine. To shed some light on the subject and reveal the correct order once and for all, we asked Biologi’s Dermal Specialist Lucy Macdougald exactly what order we should be applying our skincare products. Turns out, slapping on expensive products willy-nilly and mixing brands and ingredients could be doing more harm than good, so it pays to stop and plan out your skincare routine like a pro.

Remember Those Science Principles You Learnt In Primary School 

Remember that experiment you did in third grade, when you tried to mix oil and water? Start by applying those same basic principles to your skincare products. Oil can create a film on your face, meaning any water-soluble products applied afterwards will just sit on top and not penetrate the skin—so never apply a face oil followed by a water-soluble product. You’ll want to do it the other way around, with the oil as the last step. 

What Order Should You Apply Skincare Products In?

Skincare isn’t ever completely black and white so it’s hard to generalise when every product and skin needs are different. However, as a basic rule, Macdougald says you should follow this order:


  • Cleanser
  • Toner
  • Serum 
  • Moisturiser
  • SPF 


  • Cleanser
  • Toner
  • Treatment (like acids or retinols)
  • Serum
  • Moisturiser/night cream
  • Oil (if your skin needs extra hydration)

Are There Any Skincare Products You Shouldn’t Combine?

Turns out, layering all those different products on top of each other without actually knowing how they might react together isn’t a good idea. According to Macdougal, “Many active ingredients don’t ‘like’ each other, and if you layer these on top of your skin, it can result in a negative reaction like redness or peeling. Plus, it can also render the product useless."

Most skincare products contain an ‘active’ ingredient—you know, the ingredient in your skincare that actually gives you the benefits—but some of these can react badly with other actives. For example, if you apply a glycolic acid to remove dead skin cells, then apply a product with salicylic acid, you can cause a major reaction and strip your skin. Another example from Macdougal is applying vitamin C in conjunction with AHAs or BHAs—turns out vitamin C is really unstable, so any acids you layer it with will destabilise the pH balance and render it completely useless. Finally, using retinol and vitamin C together is a recipe for disaster that can result in redness, irritation and skin peeling, and also increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun. 

If In Doubt, Leave It Out 

Yep, there is such a thing as too much when it comes to your skincare routine. Macdougal says, “Too many products, ingredients, or using them in the wrong order can actually have adverse effects on our skin in a couple of different ways. The first is stripping it off its natural oils that it needs for a balanced pH, which is often done by cleansing too much or over-exfoliating. Many people will exfoliate their skin with multiple acids which can then result in redness, irritation and even blemishes. The second issue with overcomplicating a skincare routine is when a person layers active ingredients that shouldn’t go together. This can effectively cancel out the benefits or, in worst case scenarios, cause harsh reactions.”  

Go Back To Basics When You Need A Break

The skin really only needs a few key products to have it looking its best—in fact, our beauty editor swears by a morning routine of nothing but a cleanser and Biologi’s Bm Regenerate Anti-Ageing Serum. But if you do have a cabinet full of beauty products, remember to occasionally give your skin a break and get back to just a three-step routine—we’ve got a breakdown of how to go on a skin diet right here

While you're on the skincare train, here are the best serums to include in your skincare routine.

Image credit: Getty 

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