A Guide to Layering Your Serums, Moisturizers, and More

PHOTO: Bianca Gonzalez Marra

So you’ve finally found the best cleanser, an effective serum, the most plumping moisturizer—not to mention an eye cream, a lightweight sunscreen, a miracle potion that actually zaps zits—and anything else you might want to put on your face. But how in the world are you supposed to apply all that stuff? Does the order matter? What about the method of application? Yes, there are rules, and yes, they matter. We turned to the experts for guidance.

The Order
"As a general rule, you go thinnest to thickest,” says Dallas-based esthetician Renee Rouleau. Toner—if you use it—should be the first thing you reach for post-cleansing. “It goes on like water and you want to leave it damp so that whatever you put on next seals in all that hydration and any other active ingredients.” Serum, which can range in texture from liquid to gel, comes next, followed by the moisturizer of your choice.

The Extras
Once your skin’s moisturized, you’ll probably have another step. Depending on the time of day, sunscreen and eye cream are up next. “Don’t let the eye cream touch your lashes,” Rouleau says. “If you blink, you get it in your eyes, which will water, and then you’re puffy.”

As for sunscreen, an alarming amount of women depend on their tinted moisturizer, BB Cream, or even foundation for sun protection. But you’re applying minimal amounts of those (usually low-SPF) products. So look for a moisturizer with built-in sunscreen. (Few tinted moisturizers are actually moisturizing enough to take the place of a cream anyway.) If you’re making your own tinted moisturizer by mixing foundation with your favorite moisturizer, stop. “Sunscreen is a drug that’s been tested and approved by the FDA in its final form,” Roleau says. “And anytime you alter a drug, you don’t really know what’s going to happen; you can’t feel 100% confident that it’s going to protect you.” (Check out our favorite SPF moisturizers in the slideshow below.) If you’re treating a pimple, Rouleau recommends rubbing a wet Q-tip on the spot to remove the products you’ve already applied and then applying treatment as your last step.

The Method 
There are two schools of thought regarding how you actually apply products. First, that you should rub everything into your skin. “When you rub, you’re stimulating a bit of blood flow to the skin,” says Rouleau. On the other hand, there’s patting, a method championed by Clarins. “Rubbing pulls and stretches at the skin which can break the collagen and elastin, leading to the first signs of aging,” says the French brand’s resident skin expert, Jean Fayard. “So you shouldn't do anything that will over-stimulate the skin.” Instead, Clarins teaches their customers how to press the products into their skin, starting from the center of the face and moving out toward the lymphatic nodes behind the ears. “It works with our body's lymphatic system; you’re helping to move the toxins away from your face and decrease puffiness,” Fayard says, noting that you’re still stimulating circulation. “We believe in the benefits of increased circulation, there’s just a gentler way of achieving that.”

The Neglected Spots
​While speaking with Fayard, she detailed how to pat eye cream into and around the brows. Huh? It turns out you should be applying all the way around the socket! “Warm the product in the hand first and press with three fingers starting at the inner corner of the eye, out toward the outer corner, and massaging into the upper cavity,” Fayard says of the circular motion.

Meanwhile, Rouleau cautions against forgetting about your neck and decolletage. You might not want to use twice the amount of costly products like serum and night creams, but at the very least apply sunscreen. And though you’ll often hear it’s best to rub upward, to fight gravity’s effects on your skin, Fayard votes down: “Everything from the head to the heart goes downward and everything below the heart goes in an upward motion,” she says. “You want to work with the body's natural system.”

Think of it like a recipe for your face: you don’t have to follow all the rules, but everything turns out a bit better if you do.

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Aveeno Positively Radiant Daily Moisturizer Broad Spectrum SPF 30

Aveeno Positively Radiant Daily Moisturizer Broad Spectrum SPF 30

Aveeno, $15
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Lancome Bienfait Multi-Vital SPF 30 Lotion High Potency Daily Moisturizing Lotion

Lancome Bienfait Multi-Vital SPF 30 Lotion High Potency Daily Moisturizing Lotion

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Olay Complete Defense Daily UV Moisturizer SPF 30

Olay Complete Defense Daily UV Moisturizer SPF 30

Olay, $12
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Clinique Even Better Skin Tone Correcting Broad Spectrum SPF 20

Clinique Even Better Skin Tone Correcting Broad Spectrum SPF 20

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Origins A Perfect World SPF 25 Age-Defense Moisturizer with White Tea

Origins A Perfect World SPF 25 Age-Defense Moisturizer with White Tea

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Philosophy Hope In A Jar SPF 25

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Perricone MD Photo Plasma SPF 30

Perricone MD Photo Plasma SPF 30

Perricone MD, $69
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Cetaphil Dermacontrol Oil Control Moisturizer SPF 30

Cetaphil Dermacontrol Oil Control Moisturizer SPF 30

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Neutrogena Healthy Defense Daily Moisturizer SPF 30

Neutrogena Healthy Defense Daily Moisturizer SPF 30

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Yes to Grapefruit Even Skin Tone Moisturizer SPF 15

Yes to Grapefruit Even Skin Tone Moisturizer SPF 15

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EXPLORE: Skin, Aveeno, Lancome, Olay, Clinique, Origins, Philosophy, Perricone MD, Cetaphil, Neutrogena, Yes to Grapefruit
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