In What Order to Apply Your Skin Care Products

Episode #90 / Sep 21, 2009
A question commonly arises: "In what order should one apply their skincare products?" Dr. Schultz will answer this and clarify one of the most confusing topics in all of skin care.
Lanny on December 12, 2009 at 3:26am

And what about if the products have the same consistence?
(at least they seem to have it).

Antony on December 18, 2009 at 9:11am

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Neal Schultz, M.D. on January 5, 2010 at 12:56am

@Lanny: If your products appear to have the same consistencies then it is best to use your judgment as the idea is to apply the lighter products first followed by the heavier ones to allow for maximum penetration into the skin. While all skincare products should be applied very lightly, in this case be even more careful to apply the first one very sparingly.

Gerti on January 20, 2010 at 10:41pm

Hi, I'm a bit confused since water is heavier than oil. Does this mean I should use lotions (moistly water) over my moisturizer?

Neal Schultz, M.D. on February 9, 2010 at 3:13am

@Gerti: The reason you are a bit confused is because the subject itself is very confusing. When we speak of products being heavier or vehicles being heavier, it’s not just a question of weight or density, it’s also a matter of miscibility. So clearly, while water may be heavier than oil, it can’t penetrate or is not miscible in the oil and the oil will reject the water. On the other hand, if the water is put on first, the oil can penetrate through the water as the water evaporates on the surface before the oil is applied. Rather than over-thinking the individual ingredients, go by your sense of feel and touch. While it is true that oil may be lighter than water, a water-based product will never penetrate through a previously applied oil-based product.

Joyce on April 4, 2010 at 7:10pm

Hi. I am using a zinc oxide based sunscreen, and a moisturizing lotion, that feels very light, made by Neutrogena. Which should I put on first? I feel if I put the sunscreen on first which you almost always say to do, the properties of the moisturizer , which has antioxidants, won't positively affect my skin. Thanks for your reply.

Robyn on May 18, 2010 at 4:31pm

So for instance, I am currently using renova, a hydroquinone cream, loreal revitalift and an eye cream at night. To be honest aside from the revitalift they all feel the same consistancy to me...

Neal Schultz, M.D. on May 31, 2010 at 11:38pm

@Robyn: If the renova, hq and eye cream all feel similar to you, I would recommend putting them on in the order I just mentioned because the renova is the most "fragile" of the actives, so we want to give it the benefit of being the first one on the skin. The eye cream has the least number of actives and so it should be the last of the three. By default, the hq is sandwiched in the middle.

Neal Schultz, M.D. on June 1, 2010 at 1:11am

@Joyce: My recommendation is to apply the sunscreen first because I recommend applying antioxidants at night. For more information, see Why You Should Only Apply Antioxidants at Night.

Sharon on June 4, 2010 at 1:08pm

Am I protected if my moisturiser has spf and then I apply a foundation that does not have spf? Does applying non spf skincare or makeup over the spf moisturiser dilute the effectiveness of the spf moisturiser?

Neal Schultz, M.D. on June 6, 2010 at 8:28pm

@Sharon: You are protected and are doing it properly. Apply moisturizer with SPF first, allow it to "set" for a moment and then apply your non SPF skincare or makeup over the spf moisturizer. As long as you have allowed the first product with SPF to "set", subsequently applied skincare products should not affect the sun protection of the first product.

John on June 12, 2010 at 3:49pm

I'm kind of confused right now and this may seem like a stupid question. But I was wondering, which is heavier, gel or cream?

Simran on June 15, 2010 at 11:23pm

I apply retin-A, hydroquinone and a moisturizer every night, in that order. I want to add an antioxidant to this regimen, but am not sure in what order to apply these products in. Any suggestions?

Sharon on June 16, 2010 at 9:43pm

I have rosacea and sebhorrea dermatitis. Every night I apply metronidazole2%/niacinamide4% in versa oily base (very light) followed by my moisturizer. Several times per month I need to apply desonide 0.05% for the flaking, itching and redness of the seb derm. I have been applying this after the metro/niacinamide but before the moisturizer because of the of the active ingredients. However the desonide is the heaviest cream . Should I be applying it last even though it is a medication?

gita on June 19, 2010 at 9:02pm

i m applying hydroquinone with combination of tretinoin and mometasone furoate.. can i apply make up on this..

Neal Schultz, M.D. on June 24, 2010 at 9:07pm

@John: No question is stupid and "vehicles" is a very confusing subject. Creams are always heavier than gels.

Neal Schultz, M.D. on June 24, 2010 at 9:07pm

@Simran: If the relative weights of the vehicles permit, I would suggest Retin A first, hydroquinone second, then antioxidant, and moiturizer last.

Neal Schultz, M.D. on June 24, 2010 at 9:10pm

@Sharon: As long as the moisturizer feels like it is being absorbed into the skin, then I agree with your order of application exactly for the reason you mentioned...the active ingredients. Good call!

Neal Schultz, M.D. on June 28, 2010 at 8:23pm

@gita: Yes, you can apply your makeup on top of hydroquinone with tretinoin and mometasone furoate. Just allow the hydroquinone with tretinoin and mometasone furoate to "set" for a minute before applying your makeup. For more information about when it's suitable to apply your next skincare product, watch When to Apply the Next Skincare Product.