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Facial Care 101: How to Correctly Layer Your Products (+ Tips to Achieve Clear Skin)

Maintaining a clear complexion is not always an easy task, particularly if you have acne-prone skin. Even worse, using the wrong products may actually contribute to your skin issues. 

If you’re looking for the best face care routine, that will help you achieve radiant, blemish-free, and younger-looking skin, you’re in the right place! 

In this article, we discuss how you can put together an effective face care routine and other tips for clear skin. 

How to Layer Your Facial Care Products Correctly

There’s no such thing as a single ‘correct’ skin care routine; however, there is definitely an optimal way to apply and layer your products. Whether you’re a minimalist who sticks to a simple 3-step skin care routine, or if you’re the type of person willing to go through 11 steps daily to achieve glass skin, the way you layer your chosen products has a major impact on their efficacy. Plus, the more product-specific you go, the more important this sequence becomes. 

There’s an important reason why cleansing always comes first, serum sits beneath the moisturizer, and sunscreen is applied last. Understanding this order will guarantee that your skin care products work effectively; after all, no one wants to splurge on quality products only to render it useless because of misapplication. 

If you’ve ever looked at a bottle of face oil or a tube of serum and wondered exactly how – and when – to use it, wonder no more! 

Below, we outline the basic steps to layer your skin care products correctly. 

Step 1: Cleanser.

The general rule of thumb is that cleansing twice per day – once in the morning and once in the evening – is ideal. Cleansing in the morning will help remove any evidence of oil or sweat left from your hair and pillow during your sleep. However, there is an exception to the twice-daily skin cleansing rule – dry skin. If you tend to have dry skin, it’s okay to wash your face with plain water in the morning. 

Cleansing your skin in the evening, however, should never be skipped. At the end of the day, it’s essential to cleanse to remove not only makeup and skincare products that you applied in the morning, but also to remove excess oil, dead skin cells, sweat, and other pollutants that collect on the skin throughout the day.  

When choosing a facial cleanser, opt for a gently and hydrating one. Any skin type will tolerate a hydrating cleanser. Moreover, look for a cleanser that’s fragrance-free, has minimal ingredients (to avoid irritation) and that contains glycerin to restore and maintain the skin barrier.

Step 2: Moisturizer.

After cleansing, apply a moisturizing product. We recommend a fragrance-free, oil-free moisturizer as this will be well tolerated in all skin type – from sensitive to acne-prone skins. You can also use this step to simultaneously address specific skin concerns by looking for a moisturizer that’s formulated with additional ingredients that target your specific needs. 

Moisturizers intended to simultaneously hydrate and seal in hydration, which is why these formulas tend to be heavier than the layers that go underneath. Ideally, you should use moisturizers with hyaluronic acid and glycerin which pull in water, as well as ceramides which seal the outer layers of skin. 

If you have acne-prone or oily skin, you shouldn’t bypass daily moisturizer use. Over-washing your face without the appropriate use of a moisturizer can actually trigger an overproduction of oil on your skin. No matter how acne-prone or oily your skin may feel, it will become dry without rehydration – and dried out skin is irritated skin. 

Step 3: Apply sunscreen.

Sunscreen is your first and best line of defense against skin care. If you were to do nothing else for your skin, applying sunscreen is the most important. Wear sunscreen everyday to prevent UV damage – whether or not you go outside. Also, make sure that you apply sunscreen over your face oil in order to be most effective. After all, you don’t want anything to stop your sunscreen from working or making it less effective. 

Choose a sunscreen that’s SPF 30 or higher, and apply it daily, always as the last step in your skin care routine. 

There are two types of sunscreens to choose from: chemical or mineral based – though in some cases, both are combined into one formula. Chemical sunscreens protect the skin against UV rays by absorbing them, depending on ingredients like avobenzone and octocrylene. On the other hand, mineral sunscreens work as a shield, blocking the sun’s rays from penetrating the skin, thanks to ingredients such as titanium oxide or zinc oxide. 

Bonus Step: Add in Extra Steps as Needed (Or Wanted).

Once you have the basic steps down, you can start to add in extra steps. Additional add-on facial care steps you can add in and out of your routine as necessary include masks and serums. Facial serums as lightweight, high-potency topicals formulated with a high concentration of ingredients – such as hyaluronic acid and Vitamin C – to target more specific concerns. They must be layered underneath your moisturizer.

A general rule of thumb is to apply products with a thinner consistency beneath thicker ones, such as moisturizers and oils. 

Aside from the 3 basic facial care steps outlined above, here are some examples to layer your skin care products correctly:

Day ApplicationNight Application
CleanserMakeup Remover
Eye CreamCleanser
Essence/TonerEye Cream
Serum Essence/Toner
Spot TreatmentRetinol
Face OilMoisturizer
SunscreenSpot Treatment
Face Oil 

Tips to Get Clear Skin

Aside from the face care routine steps outlined above, here are some other tips to help you achieve clear skin. 

  1. Wash your face twice a day.

Do you have oily skin? Are you prone to breakouts? Don’t skip washing your face as part of your morning and evening facial care routine! One study that focused on face washing, participants were asked to wash their face, once, twice, or four time a day for a 6-week period[1]. At the end of the study, there was a noticeable improvement in the acne lesions of those who washed their face twice a day. Participants who only washed their face once a day had the highest increase in pimples. 

  1. Use a mild cleanser. 

Today, the market is flooded with all sorts of facial cleansers. Trying to choose which one is right for you can be overwhelming. When it comes to using the ‘best’ cleanser, fancier isn’t always better. A review of several studies found that there isn’t really much difference in skin breakouts – no matter what type of cleanser you use[2]. The study involved everything from antibacterial soaps and cleansing bars to cleansers that contained alpha and beta hydroxy acids. 

This might be disappointing if you have spent lots of money on an expensive cleanser, but the takeaway is that keeping it simple is probably better. A mild cleanser without a lot of ingredients can work just as well as more expensive ones. 

  1. Be careful of your makeup routine. 

While makeup doesn’t necessarily cause acne, it can definitely play a role in your skin’s appearance and health. People who struggle with acne use makeup to cover up pimples, scars, and dark marks, but could this practice actually worsen your acne condition? Not necessarily, but be careful and make sure that your makeup routine isn’t negatively affecting your skin’s health. 

According to several studies, makeup can actually improve the quality of life of acne patients without irritating the skin – so long as it’s applied correctly[3].

  1. Adjust your diet. 

A poor diet doesn’t necessarily cause acne breakouts; however, there’s mounting evidence that certain foods may worsen a pre-existing acne condition. Certain foods may exacerbate skin conditions. While the link between acne and diet hasn’t been solidified, many dermatologists suggest their patients cut out certain foods with high ratings on the glycemic index, as these can result in blood sugar levels in the body. This may trigger insulin production, which can lead to more oil production. And as you know, an increase in oil means your pores may become clogged more easily. 

If your acne seems worse when you eat certain foods, you might want to make some adjustments to see if it’s contributing to your skin issues. To improve your skin, there are certain foods you can try to eliminate from your diet, such as greasy fast food and dairy. 

  1. Get plenty of sleep. 

Getting the right amount of rest and sleep can significantly impact the feel and appearance of your skin. According to one study, more than 65% of the study’s participants who said they felt tired also had acne[4]. Researchers theorized that a lack of sleep could, in some cases, cause the body to release inflammatory compounds, and that these compounds may cause the skin to break out or worsen acne. 

To stay healthy – both on the inside and out – aim for 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep every night. 

The Bottom Line

When it comes to your face care routine, pay attention to what you put on your face – like cleansers, moisturizers, and sunscreen – and in what order you apply them. While there’s no such thing as a single ‘correct’ skin care routine, there is definitely an optimal way to apply and layer your products.

Aside from correctly applying and layering skin care products, there are other ways to achieve healthy skin as well. Focusing on certain lifestyle factors like a healthy diet and quality sleep can make a difference to your skin, too.  

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