Skincare Order of Operations: Applying Medical Grade Skincare Products Correctly

Skincare Order of Operations: Applying Medical Grade Skincare Products Correctly

It's 7 AM on a Monday morning. The alarm is blaring as you groggily turn it off and slowly get out of bed. You stumble to the bathroom and look at yourself in the mirror - your skin looks dull and lackluster. As you start your morning skincare routine, you grab products off the shelf in no particular order. First the moisturizer, then a serum, followed by toner and finally sunscreen before heading out the door. You go about your day hoping your skin will start looking better soon. 

This may sound all too familiar to many of us who want clear and glowing skin but are confused about how to use our myriad of skincare products. It's easy to fall into the trap of slapping on products without much thought, but using them in the right order is key to getting the most out of your routine. Read on to learn the proper sequence for applying medical grade skincare products.


The first and most critical step is cleansing, which serves as the foundation for the rest of your routine. Cleansing not only removes dirt, oil, and impurities from the day or night before, but also prepares your skin for maximum absorption of subsequent products. 

You should be double cleansing, first to melt away makeup and sunscreen. Start with dry skin and massage the cleanser gently over your face for 30-60 seconds before rinsing. Follow with a water-based gel or foaming cleanser to wash away any remaining residue. Remember, you can use less product with each wash, but you should have the water rinse off all your product more than once to truly get a clean slate.

Exfoliation is also part of the cleansing process. Using a chemical exfoliant such as glycolic acid or salicylic acid 1-3 times per week after cleansing will slough off dead skin cells and encourage cell turnover. Those with sensitive skin may prefer a gentle physical scrub.

Other cleansing boosters include a flash masque applied after washing to deeply purify pores, or an acne-specific face wash containing benzoyl peroxide or sulfur to target breakouts. Consult your esthetician on which options are right for your skin type and concerns.

Toners, Serums, and Moisturizers-

After cleansing, the next products to apply are hydrators, treatments, and moisturizers. Remember to apply products from thinnest to thickest consistency.

First, apply a toner or essence. These watery fluids contain ingredients like hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and antioxidants which provide an extra boost of hydration and prep skin for next steps. Gently pat in with your fingertips or a cotton round.

Next up are serums, which target specific concerns like dark spots, wrinkles, or acne. Dispense a few drops of your serumand gently massage between palms before patting into skin. Allow serum to fully absorb before moving on.

Finally, lock everything in with your moisturizer. Look for a formula suited to your skin type - gel for oily skin, lotion for combination, or cream for dryness. Apply using upward strokes until the product is evenly distributed. 

Using products in this sequence allows lighter products to fully penetrate while thicker products seal everything in. Don't forget your neck and chest area either!

Morning and Night Routine Variations-

While the cleansing and treatment steps remain the same, there are a few key differences between morning and evening routines:

In the morning, the final step is SPF. After applying your moisturizer, let it sink in for 2-3 minutes before following up with a broad spectrum SPF 30 or higher sunscreen. Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours, even if you're not spending time outdoors.

For the evening routine, you may use a heavier moisturizer or night cream as the final step. Those using retinoids or retinol products to improve cell turnover can apply them at the end of their routine at night, building up frequency slowly to avoid irritation. Always use retinoids with moisturizer to not overly dry out the skin.

Your night routine may also include treatments like a nourishing facial oil, antioxidant serum, or hydrating sleep mask. Some ingredients like AHAs and benzoyl peroxide can increase sun sensitivity, so they are best used at night.

Because every skin concern is unique, it's ideal to have an esthetician evaluate your skin and build a customized day and night regimen. They can factor in ingredients that should and shouldn't be used together based on your skin goals.

As the day winds down, you follow your new customized skincare routine step-by-step: double cleanse, tone, target, treat, hydrate. Your skin looks fresh and glowing. All the products have fully absorbed into your skin and you sleep soundly knowing your skin is getting the nourishment it needs.

No more slapping on products and hoping for the best. Now you are armed with knowledge on how to maximize your medical grade skincare routine. Taking just 5-10 extra minutes and following the proper order can make a world of difference in the health and appearance of your skin. So relax and enjoy your new skin confidence, and leave the rest to the professionals!