How To Build the Ultimate AM/PM Skincare Routine
Whether your routine is a two-step wonder or you are conducting a symphony of application every morning and evening, it is important that you get the most out of your beauty products.
Figuring out the correct way to apply skincare is a hassle – are the most important products applied first? Are the heaviest applied last? From unverified (not to mention uncertified) TikTok gurus to shady companies trying to pedal their products, the internet is rife with misinformation.
The face has different needs depending on the time of day, and it’s important that you cater to its needs. Correctly.
Read on to find out what works best, and when.
Why does product order matter?
In order to get the maximum impact from each product, it is imperative that you order them properly. Each product’s active ingredient is different, and it is important that it is used correctly for them to work.
For example, if you try applying a serum after a moisturizer, the serum will not be able to penetrate the skin through the heavy moisturizer, rendering the serum ineffective. It will not offer any benefit to the skin, as it wasn’t able to reach it.
But if you were to apply serum and then moisturizer, the skin would be able to absorb the full benefits of both. How, you ask? We’ll explain later.
AM vs PM routines: should they be different?
Even if you have a light, three-step skincare routine, what you do in the morning should not be what you do at night.
What your face needs in the morning differs from what your face needs at night. Think about it: in the morning, you are preparing your face for a day of activity. Maybe you’re going shopping, or exercising, or heading out for drinks – no matter what you do, your skin needs elements of protection.
The exact order you should apply skincare products
No, you do not need to have an 8-step skincare routine to properly take care of your face – but if you do have more than one step, make sure they go in the right order. Here is the exact order you should apply your skincare products:
Step 1: Cleanser
Both AM and PM
If you’re just beginning on your skincare journey, know this: if you only do one thing to your face, clean it. Cleansing your face is the best thing you can do to keep your skin happy and healthy (outside of applying SPF).
If you intend on completing a multi-step routine, it is imperative that your face is clean first. “For ingredients to absorb properly, you need clean skin that’s totally free of oil and grime,” says dermatologist and clinical professor Mona Gohara, M.D.
Clean your face in the morning before you apply products, and in the evening to remove them at night. To more easily remove makeup, consider using a cleansing oil to really make sure the day has been wiped off. Follow it up with your normal, gentle cleanser for a complete clean.
Step 1.5: Face mask
Both AM and PM
If you’re interested in a little pampering, now is the time to throw on a face mask. Always wear a mask on a clean face. When you’re done, simply wipe off any residue with warm water and let your face air-dry
Like with any skincare product, there are toners out there to suit any need: some may add extra moisture, while others might have ingredients to treat acne.
After cleansing, apply toner to your skin. Wait until it fully dries to apply your next product.
There is a serum for any skincare want: anti-aging, hydrating, skin-brightening, acne-fighting, reparative… and the list goes on.
Serums deliver the bulk of active ingredients. They can be quite potent, so if you have sensitive skin, use it once per day, or even every other day.
If you only invest in one serum, make it Vitamin C. This serum protects your skin from daily environmental damage and it also reduces inflammation, brightens skin, and lightens dark spots.
This lightweight liquid needs to be applied early on in the process, as it wouldn’t be able to properly penetrate through heavier creams.
Step 5: Spot treatments
Both AM and PM
There are many considerations to keep in mind when applying spot treatments, but most importantly, it’s good to think about what all you are adding to your face in a given moment.
If you’re applying an acne cream, you want to be cognizant of the ingredients included in your other products. A dry face is just as bad as an oily one in terms of acne production, so you do not want to dry out your face with harsh chemicals.
Step 6: Moisturizer
Both AM and PM
Moisturizer is so thick because it is there to both hydrate and lock in hydration.
If you only do two things to your face, cleanse it and then immediately throw on some moisturizer. This thick cream moisturizes your delicate face while trapping in the products that you’ve just added, making sure they don’t go anywhere during the hustle and bustle of the day.
Step 7: Retinol
PM use only
Retinoids are Vitamin A derivatives that speed up cell turnover. When your skin cells refresh more regularly, that decreases the amount of wrinkled skin over time.
And when we say over time, we mean it. Don’t expect retinoids to work overnight, or even after two weeks. These take up to 6 months of consistent use to show results.
But retinols aren’t a one-trick pony. “Retinoids trigger collagen production and cellular exfoliation,” says Dr. Gohara, “which means they’ll also fade dark spots, smooth scars, clear pores, prevent breakouts, and brighten skin.”
No product can penetrate oil, so if you do decide to use some, make sure this is your very last step.
It may be counterintuitive, but oils don’t actually hydrate your skin well – they just create a nice barrier over your face that also leaves it smooth when it's dry.
Oils aren’t just for those with dry skin. Like oils for cooking, face oils have different properties that serve their purpose. Whether you have oily-prone skin or a face that’s sensitive, there’s an oil out there for you.