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The main job of your skin is to be a barrier against bad substances from your body. That is a good thing! But that also means that you need to be strategic in the application of skincare products if they are to be effective.
As a rule of thumb, first apply the thinnest, waterier products and then finish with the heaviest creams and oils. Here are two top dermatologists explaining what to use and when.
Step 1: Exfoliation and cleansing.
Start with a cleanser the first time you wake up. "If you have dry skin, use a gentle, moisturizing cleanser containing ingredients like ceramides, glycerine, or an alcohol oil," says Michele Farber, MD, a dermatologist in New York City. [Try Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser ($1
Acne-prone or oily skin should look for a foamy cleanser with ingredients like glycolic acid or salicylic acid, Dr. Farber. (Here's exactly what glycolic acid products do for your complexion.) [We like La Roche Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Cleanser. ($15; ulta.com)]
Exfoliate once a week before cleansing to remove dead skin cells (making it hard for these agents to penetrate the skin). "Exfoliating before washing can help prepare your face for the rest of your skincare," Dr. Farber.
Step 2: Use a toner or some essence.
Once your skin is clean, you can do so Use a toner or essence (creamy, moisturizing toner). Use the former if your skin is on the greasy side, the second if you have a drier complexion.
"Toners are great for eliminating excess dead skin cells," says Dr. Farber. "Look for ingredients like glycolic acid to balance the skin tone, but do not use too much as they can dry out."
Alternatively, essences – concentrated formulas that optimize serum and cream intake – can also target fine lines. Wrinkles and uneven skin texture. Unlike a toner that you apply by putting a few drops on a cotton pad and stroking the face, you can apply a few drops of essence with your fingertips and gently tap into the skin until it is absorbed. [We love La Prairie Skin Caviar Essence-in-Lotion. ($255; nordstrom.com)]
Step 3: Apply your eye cream.
Before Dr. Joshua Zeichner, Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in the Dermatology Department of Mount Sinai Hospital, who uses other products, recommends applying your eye cream before that the area – the most sensitive in your face – is not overrun with sharp acids or other ingredients which can not be used there. Essentially, the eye cream protects the sensitive area from harsh ingredients that you later apply.
Step 4: Use spot treatments or prescriptions.
Spot treatments and prescriptions are the most effective formulations of active ingredients that you really want to work for. For example, if you have a conditioner for acne, first apply it to troublesome areas. Dr. Draftsman says that this is the best time to apply OTC acne fighters as well as single ingredient boosters to maximize their effectiveness.
Step 5: Apply your antioxidant serum or retinol.
From here you can apply a serum, even if you want morning and evening specific formulas. "The serums should be used before moisturizing to aid in hydrating, lightening and reducing fine lines, delivering targeted, specific results, depending on what you expect from your products," Dr. Farber. "Look for ingredients like Vitamin C, a brightener that's best used under your moisturizer during the day, or Retinol, a wrinkle reducer and fighter that works wonders to sleep." (Be sure to understand everything you need to know about adding retinol to your skin care routine.) [If you’re looking to brighten, try SkinCeuticals Phloretin CF ($166, dermstore.com), which is great for oily types who may break out from a heavier serum. Asari Sleepercell Retinol Serum, ($45, urbanoutfitters.com) is an all-natural formula with an impossibly lightweight texture that works on every skin type.]
Step 6: Apply your moisturizer or SPF.
Now you can apply a moisturizer, the last step is blocking the hydration, Dr. Farber. It recommends moistening the moisture while the skin is still moist to keep the skin as hydrated as possible. While the range of moisturizers is endless, CeraVe PM Facial Moisturizing Lotion is a great choice for every skin type. ($ 23 for 2; amazon.com)
During the day, this moisturizer should have at least SPF 30. "It is undoubtedly the most important step and the best line of defense," says Dr. Farber. Whether you are using a physical (eg zinc) or chemical blocker, it is important that you use it last to make sure no other creams, serums or lotions inactivate the ingredients in your sunscreen. [Try Dr. Andrew Weil for Origins Mega-Defense Advanced Daily Defender SPF 45 ($43; origins.com), which is spiked with skin-strengthening cactus extract, or EltaMD AM Therapy Facial Moisturizer. ($33; dermstore.com)]