How much does the order of your skincare routine really matter?

The order of a basic skincare routine has always been pretty self-explanatory; cleanse, tone moisturise.

But with the introduction of various creams, serums, gels and oils, things can easily become confusing. With complex beauty trends from the far East, like Korea's multi-step skincare routines, the norm, we wanted a little clarification on whether following a strictly prescribed order of products will really make a difference to our skin.

Apparently not, according to the experts. Suzan Obagi, MD, assistant professor of dermatology and plastic surgery at UPMC and president of the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery, argues that you can layer your products however you like, as long as you leave oil-based products until last. So if you'd rather apply eye-cream before or after your serum, or switch up your serum or moisturiser, it's not going to make a huge difference to your skin.

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"Nothing is totally impenetrable, unless you’re using something like Vaseline—and most people don’t put Vaseline on their faces—you’re probably going to get some sort of penetration."

In short, using an oil-based product first means that water-based products will be less able to penetrate the skin, so will be more effective if applied first.


“Typically, things that are water-based can be layered on top of [each other], and there shouldn't be an issue with the penetration of one versus the other,” she explained to SELF.

“But if you have a cream or an ointment, or a serum that's oil-based, those should be put on afterwards because anything [water-based] you put on top won't get through.”

It's worth noting that topical creams, such as retinoids, will have a stronger affect on your skin without other products layered on top, so if you're looking to take it easy and gradually introduce your skin to a retinol cream, it's best to layer on serum and moisturiser over the top.