Finally! Here's the Correct Order to Apply Skin-Care Products

Does your serum come before moisturizer?

Photo by Hatnim Lee

You’ve booked the venue, you’ve found your wedding dress, and you've picked the perfectly undone updo—now the real wedding prep begins. If you don't have a solid skin-care routine in place already, now is the time to get started. Let's begin with the basics: Here's the correct order to apply skin-care products.

It's best to see a dermatologist for a consultation at least six months ahead of your wedding to figure out what skin-care products your complexion requires. And when you've finally got those highly recommended serums, sheet masks, and a cleanser that promises oil-free skin, what next? The last thing you want is to make a pricey serum less effective by layering your products incorrectly. While skin-care seems simple, once you move beyond cleansing and moisturizing and add toners, acids, masks, and exfoliants, things can get complicated.

To ensure that your acids and toners can work to the best of their abilities, here's the correct order to apply skin-care products, according to the experts.

Makeup Remover and Cleanser

To begin your nightly routine, Julia Tzu, founder and medical director of Wall Street Dermatology, recommends starting with the makeup remover of your choice. "You are essentially de-bulking all the gunk off the skin and pre-cleansing." A micellar water, a cleansing oil, or even a remover wipe will breakdown layers of foundation and stubborn mascara while prepping skin for the next step and making it easier to cleanse. (No one wants raccoon eyes!)

Meet the Expert

  • Dr. Julia Tzu is the founder and medical director of Wall Street Dermatology. She is a double board-certified dermatologist in New York who specializes in Mohs (for skin cancer) and reconstructive skin surgery, laser surgery, and cosmetic dermatology.
  • Dr. Howard Sobel is the owner of Sobel Skin, a private practice for dermatology, cosmetic surgery, and aesthetic medicine in New York. He was a pioneer in the union between dermatology and cosmetic surgery.

Follow makeup remover with a gentle cleanser that thoroughly cleans skin without stripping or drying it. (This would be the first step in for your daytime routine.) For specific concerns like acne, oily, or dry skin, grab a cleanser targeted to those issues.

Toners and Exfoliators

Follow cleansing with exfoliating, which Dr. Tzu recommends doing weekly or monthly depending on your skin's sensitivity. Skip the abrasive exfoliating scrubs in favor of a formula that gently polishes away dead skin, like a gentle physical exfoliant or a chemical exfoliant containing AHAs or BHAs—but be sure to spot-test first. Chemical and physical exfoliations can cause irritation—the last thing you want before your bridal shower or wedding day. If you have a favorite toner or essence, you can be gently pat it onto skin or apply it with a cotton pad after cleansing.


Masks may not be a part of your everyday routine, but it's good to know where they fit in. For mud or clay masks that often need to be rinsed off, Howard Sobel of Sobel Skin recommends applying after cleansing and then cleansing again after removal. Follow up with a moisturizer. If you've used a mask that doesn't require rinsing, pat the excess serum into the skin and follow up with moisturizer.

Serums and Retinol

Nighttime is the perfect time to take advantage of those serums and oils you have stashed in your bathroom. Dr. Tzu explains, "Skin care can be maximized at nighttime because topical products can be freely applied without fear of the appearance of the product on the face." Apply your favorite serum, and, if you're using a retinol, apply it after your serum has had a chance to absorb. You apply these products before moisturizing to prevent them from being diluted.

Moisturizer and Sunscreen

Last but not least, it's time to moisturize. Your moisturizer of choice should be the final step in your routine. Dr. Sobel explains, "By applying a moisturizer first, it can block the absorption of the serum or oil, so it is always best to apply moisturizer last." For daytime, dermatologists (and pretty much everyone else) recommend sunscreen as the very last step to your skin-care routine to protect skin from harmful UV rays—especially if you're using sensitivity-inducing retinol.

Phew! And you're done!

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