How to apply your skincare products for maximum benefits

You might not know this about me, but I’m a skincare formulator, so I’m always having friends and family try out my latest products.  And, the question I get asked most often is:

“What order should I apply my skin care products?”

This is a great question because the main purpose of our skin is to create a waterproof barrier between the outside world and our internal organs, and our skin does a really good job at keeping stuff out, including our expensive skin care products.

The part of the skin that you see and that you apply skin care products to is called the stratum corneum, which is made up of dry, dead skin cells which are water-hating and oil-loving.

The water-hating nature of the stratum corneum actually makes our skin waterproof which is a really good thing because if our skin wasn’t waterproof, we would blow up like a balloon every time we showered, went swimming, took a bath, or got caught in the rain.

The downside is that the stratum corneum makes it difficult for skin care products to penetrate past the stratum corneum and into the skin’s deeper layers.

Today, I’m going to teach you how to apply your skin care products to achieve the deepest skin penetration for maximum skin benefits.

Since the stratum corneum is oil-loving, the best way to apply skin care products is to apply oil-based products on top of water-based products.  Oil forms a seal over the skin, trapping water underneath which pushes water-based products deeper down into the skin’s layers.

Interestingly, the skin’s deeper layers are actually water-loving and oil-hating so if your water-based products can make it past the stratum corneum, they have a great chance of penetrating into the dermis (the skin layer that produces collagen and elastin), where they can work their magic.

When you are applying your skin care products, there two general rules to keep in mind: apply your products from the thinnest consistency to the thickest, and from water-based products to oil-based products.

My recommended order for applying skin care products:


1. Cleanser

2. Toner: A lot of people skip toners, but they are actually really important for balancing the skin’s pH.  The natural pH of our skin is slightly acidic, between a pH of 4.5 and 6.  Unless you are oil-cleansing or using an extremely gentle cleanser, cleansing is going to raise the pH of your skin, drying it out and compromising its barrier function.  Toners and even floral waters (rose hydrosol is my favorite) will bring the skin’s pH back down to a healthy level which will prep your skin for maximum absorption of your other products.

3. Water-based serums and treatment products: If you look at your product’s ingredient list and see that your product contains water or alcohol and no oil, it is a water-based serum.

4. Light lotions and treatment creams: light lotions contain both water and oil

5. Eye Cream: Eye creams are typically heavier than lotions.  However, if you are using an eye gel, apply it before your light lotions.

6. Thicker moisturizers or a face oil (if you have dry skin, if not, leave your heavier moisturizers for nighttime)

7. Sunscreen


1. Cleanser

2. Toner

3. Water-based serums and treatment products

4. Light lotions and treatment creams

5. Eye cream

6. Night cream or rich moisturizer

7. Oil serum or beauty balm: I’m a huge fan of oil serums and beauty balms because they really seal in all the active ingredients from your other products and offer your skin hours of hydration while you sleep.  This is the beauty balm that I’m currently using.

A few more tips to enhance skin care product penetration:

Exfoliate regularly, (but no more than 2-3 times a week to avoid damaging your skin) and use a product with Alpha Hydroxy Acids which will remove dead skin cells, shrinking the stratum corneum and making it easier for your skin care products to penetrate past your skin’s upper layers.

Try exfoliating at night because that is typically when you are going to use your most expensive high-performance products.  Exfoliating will allow these products to penetrate deeper into the skin’s layers.

Take a long bath or use a facial steamer for a few minutes before you apply your skincare products.  Humidity and water vapor will soften the stratum corneum and cause it to swell, creating “pores” between the dead skin cells which allows more ingredients to penetrate into the skin.  I love taking baths at night before getting ready for bed and applying my skincare products.

Give us a call at 972.943.8633 to book your next appointment or schedule a free consultation.