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The Correct Way To Apply Your Skincare Products


Feeling like your skincare routine isn’t working the way it should? It may have less to do with the actual products you’re using and more with how you’re actually using them. When applied correctly, and in the right order, you’ll boost absorption, get better results, minimize irritation, and allow your products to work up to their full potential. When used incorrectly, they’ll be ineffective — or worse, can actually do damage to your skin.

So what’s the exact game plan for maximizing product performance? First, stick to the golden rule of skincare: Start with the lightest product, and work your way up to the heaviest. Then, follow our handy guide, below. You’ll never be left wondering where to start or how to layer again.

Step 1: Cleanser


Arguably the most crucial step of any skincare routine. Because there’s zero point in slathering on (and investing!) in smart products if you’re going to put them on a dirty face. Seriously — the more effective you are at removing every speck of makeup, dirt, sunscreen, and excess oil, the better everything you put on top will work. To do that, douse a few cotton pads in cleansing water like Blithe Anti-Polluaging Himalayan Pink Salt Cleansing Water ($36) and sweep them across your face until they come up clean. You can also try dissolving the first layer of gunk with an oil-based cleanser like Yuripibu’s Grante Cleansing Oil ($36). Regardless of which first formula you choose, follow it up with a second cleanse to get rid of any leftover residue and bacteria. For the best results, look for one that’s geared towards your specific skin type: Try a gentle, hydrating formula like Glow Recipe Blueberry Bounce Gentle Cleanser ($34) if you’re dry or sensitive, an antibacterial foam like Leegeehaam Tea Tree 30 Cleanser ($30) if you’re oily/acne-prone skin, and a mild, SLS-free one like Whamisa by Glow Recipe Green Tea Foaming Cleansing Gel ($20) if you have combination skin.

Step 2: Toner


Your first post-wash step is toner, because “its job is to prep skin for whatever products are to follow,” says Calabasas, California, dermatologist Debra Luftman, M.D. But instead of reaching for one of those stripping, alcohol-based formulas, try one that’s meant to infuse skin with lightweight hydration like Whamisa Organic Flowers Deep Rich Essence Toner ($40). For the best results, pat a few drops onto skin while it’s still damp — it’ll sink in better than if skin is totally dry. And feel free to adjust the amount depending on how much moisture you need; apply just one, a few layers, or up to seven (find out how to do the viral 7-skin method here) for major hydration.

Step 3: Eye Cream

While you’re waiting for your toner work its plumping magic, apply eye cream. Use your ring finger (it gives the least amount of pressure, says Luftman) to gently tap a pea-sized amount of product underneath and around your orbital bone. This will also help buffer the delicate under-eye area from any active ingredients found in your serum, which goes on afterwards. For the best results, choose an eye cream that works for your skin type. Try a lightweight gel like Whamisa Organic Flowers Eye Essence ($40) if you’re oily to combination or a thicker, creamier version like Whamisa by Glow Recipe Chai Tea Eye Cream ($26) if you’re on the drier side. Give each at least 30 seconds to soak in before moving on.

Step 4: Essence, Serum, or Ampoule


Next, you want to reach for your essence, serum, or ampoule. (Try the pH-balanced, nourishing Make P:rem Safe Relief Moisture Essence, $35.) Serums tend to have the most active ingredients, so they should hit the skin when there isn’t anything else blocking their ability to sink in and do their thing. “You should also consider the amount of actives in it,” Dr. Luftman says, especially if you’re using more than one. “The product with the most active ingredients should go first, so it can penetrate the skin.” And just like with toner, make sure to pat them in — don’t rub — which “helps release the active ingredients.”   

Step 5: Face Oil and Moisturizer

glow recipe blossom jeju essence oil 1When it comes to face oil (we love Blossom Jeju 100% Camellia Seed Dry Oil, $30) and moisturizer (try Polatam Deep Moist Cream, $34), there’s no one-size-fits-all answer for which to apply first, Dr. Luftman says. That’s because the order of application depends on the texture of your products: Swipe on lightweight, dry oils (think avocado and rosehip) before moisturizer so they can absorb fully and plump things up. If you’re using a heavy-duty oil like jojoba and coconut, pat it on after your face cream (moisturizer may not be able to penetrate a thicker, more emollient consistency) to help seal it in and prevent moisture loss throughout the day. 

Step 6: SPF

The last part of any solid skincare routine is SPF like Make P:rem Blue Ray Sun Gel ($32). By applying SPF last, regardless of whether it’s a physical or chemical sunscreen, you’re ensuring that you’re sealing in the rest of your skincare, while making sure it’ll actually do its job — protect your skin from harmful UVA and UVB rays. Give it a full minute to settle in before applying makeup and at least 30 minutes before you step outside for maximum protection. And if you’re sweating or swimming, make sure to reapply every two hours.

Have any additional skincare routine questions? Leave them in the comments below.

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  • thecosmeticboxes Mar 2, 2018 8:36 am

    When someone writes an post he/she maintains the thought of a user in his/her mind that how a user can understand it. So that’s why this article is amazing. Thanks!

  • A Feb 28, 2018 4:14 pm

    Thank you for this, it was informative. The part that confuses me the most is the oil before or after moisturizer concept. There are so many conflicting thoughts about it but you explained it well. Could you please provide more examples of what are considered dry, light-weight oils and what are considered heavy? I'm interested to know where Argan, Baobab, Prickly Pear, Almond, Chia, Seabuckthorn, Pumpkin, Hemp, Flaxseed & Almond oils fall on the spectrum.

    • The Glow Recipe Team Jun 14, 2018 3:34 pm

      Thanks for asking! "Dry" refers to the way the oil is absorbed, not the oil itself, so in theory, any oil can be made into a dry oil :)

  • Shelly Feb 28, 2018 9:28 am

    Would vitamin c drops come after toner but before an essence like sk-II ? Can sk-II be used with vitamin c or do they cancel each other out? I read vitamin c can’t be used with some ingredients cuz that will happen

  • DeeJay Feb 27, 2018 7:01 pm

    Could you please do a post on the ingredients butylene glycol and propylene glycol? I'm so confused about these ingredients. They sound like something that we should stay away from, but they must be relatively safe because they're in everything!

    • The Glow Recipe Team Jun 14, 2018 3:37 pm

      Thanks for asking! As Candace mentioned, these ingredients are not harmful on their own, but can become that way when intentionally formulated and mixed with chemical ingredients to produce a specific reaction or substance. In this instance of skincare, these ingredients are used in small percentages to the overall formula to aid in the absorption abilities of the formula :)

    • Billie Feb 28, 2018 1:35 am

      Actually propylene glycol is unnecessary- it's in antifreeze so why would anyone want that on their face? There are a number of Korean products that don't have it and since learning about it I make sure to read all labels and don't buy products with that ingredient. Butylene glycol is considered safe.

      • Candace Mar 11, 2018 9:29 pm

        Just because it is in antifreeze doesn't mean that it's harmful. There are plenty of innocuous things that aren't harmful unless they're mixed with other things they react chemically with. There are heavy chemicals in your blood, too, but the concentration determines the toxicity. The dose makes the poison, and too much of even the best ingredients can be harmful.

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