I have received several emails regarding the right order to apply skin care products especially regarding prescription topicals and here are information from two sources I have gathered.
The first, is from the book “Your Future Face” by Dr Dennis Gross, who is a dermatologist as well as the founder of the M.D. Skincare product line. According to Dr Gross, one of the keys to maximizing the benefits of any product in our daily skincare regimen is to apply products with a thinner consistency before the thicker more creamy ones, no matter what their active ingredients are. This is because products with heavy consistencies can block lighter-weight ones from penetrating the skin and doing their job.
This view is also echoed by Dr. Jeannette Graf, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at New York University School of Medicine according to this useful how-to guide on what comes first: eye cream or moisturizer at Total Beauty.
Day skincare regimen
Hence, after cleansing your face in the day, you should be applying your toner, followed by any prescription topicals, then serums or gels before you apply your moisturizer in the form of lotions which are usually milky in texture to lock in benefits from the other products and boost their efficacy. After which, you can apply your sunscreen followed by your makeup primer or foundation.
The exception is when you use a chemical sunscreen which absorb UV rays and neutralize them in the skin tissues, and hence they should go on clean, bare skin first because in order to be effective, it must interact with our skin cells. (see my entry Tips on sunscreen protection & application for more details.)
Night skincare regimen
In the night, the same order is true but your moisturizer could be in the form of a cream and you would of course omit your sunscreen and makeup. Also, I’ve read that if you’re applying bleaching creams in the night, it is best to apply at least an hour before bed so that the cream won’t slide into your eyes when your face presses against the pillow.
Dry or damp skin
While I have written earlier that both moisturizer and serum should be applied to toner damp skin to seal in the hydrating benefits from the toner deep into the skin but if you’re applying prescription topicals, then you should wait for your toner to dry before you apply the topicals on your cool, clean and dry skin, to enhance their penetration as well as decrease any chances of irritation.
Another highlight is that if your face is red for some reasons after showering or cleansing, it is best to apply any products to your skin only after the redness has subsided and calmness has been restored.