Let’s Get to the Bottom of the “Right” Way to Apply Your Skincare

Surprise: there is more than one way

If you’re like us, you’ve got anywhere between five and fifty skincare products in regular rotation, and figuring out exactly what to do with them can get a little overwhelming—especially when the internet is full of conflicting advice about the order you should be applying your serums, moisturizers, toners, SPF and oils. To help us sort through the din, we called in five experts—from cosmetic derms to green beauty gurus—and here’s what they had to say.

“Go from the lightest to heaviest”

“My rule of thumb when applying serums and moisturizers is to go from the lightest to heaviest (so toner, then serum, then moisturizer, then balm) so that the products I use have a chance to absorb into the skin. I love oil cleansers because they work so well for all skin types and are so effective at removing makeup, dirt pollution and keeping your skin hydrated. I find it’s one of the most misunderstood products, and a lot of people don’t know they need to remove an oil cleanser with a face cloth or a cotton pad. Otherwise, nothing actually comes off your face. You just mush water and oil into your skin and all the dirt and makeup doesn’t come off.” —Julie Clark, Province Apothecary founder

“Think of your suncreen as being closest to the sun”

“My morning routine typically includes a gentle cleanser followed by micellar water or toner. I then target acne or hyperpigmentation with spot therapy or prescription ingredients. Serum is then applied as an all-over base to allow delivery of active ingredients based on specific needs, followed by eye cream. I like a hydrating gel or lotion to moisturize the skin and will vary their use depending on the season. Sunscreen is always last step prior to applying any makeup–think of your sunscreen as being closest to the sun.” —Dr. Sonya Abdulla, dermatologist at Dermatology on Bloor

“There are five core steps”

“We believe there are five core steps. First, you want to cleanse your skin with a pre-cleanse balm and then a targeted cleanser. We also really encourage exfoliation [as a sixth step], and it doesn’t have to be every day, but exfoliating sometime in your weekly regimen is necessary for your skin to receive your serums and moisturizers more effectively. You can mask daily for five minutes in the shower to give you that instant pick-me-up or detoxification, or do it [for longer a few times a week]. After masking, go in with your serum or concentrate, anything that is going to absorb into the deeper layers of your skin. Next is moisturizer for both the face and the eyes. And, last but not least, a minimum of SPF 30.” —Charmaine Cooper, education manager at Dermalogica

“I want to debunk the rules”

“I want to debunk the rules: if you’re doing three or more steps, you’re ahead of most people already. If you’re in a rush and can only do one step, or want to mix all your products together and put them on at once, that’s still better than nothing. And if you have time for more, then go ahead and do many different steps. In terms of order, I prefer to use my toner after my moisturizer. That’s because the one I use [Graydon’s Face Food Mineral Mist] doubles as a hydration accelerator. The ionic-based minerals in the toner are smaller, so they can better penetrate the skin and help any oils or moisturizers you put on beforehand get absorbed into the skin.” —Graydon Moffat, Graydon Skincare founder

“Less is more”

“I don’t typically recommend toners [because they can be drying], but if you use one use it after cleansing and under cream-type products. SPF should always go first if there is a chemical component as it needs to absorb into the skin. Serums are usually more lightweight and should go next followed by moisturizers. If your serum if heavy enough or has an oil consistency, it’s arguable you don’t need a moisturizer after. Less is more for those with more reactive skin (sensitive skin), and no oils for those with acne-prone skin.” —Dr. Sandy Skotnicki, medical director at Bay Dermatology Centre