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Dermatologist shares the exact order you should be applying your skincare products


From serums to elixirs, oils, creams, gels and more, when it comes to skincare, there is a vast array of choice on offer – so much so that it can be confusing to know what does what.

But even if you have the most effective skincare regime that money can buy, if you’re applying your products in the wrong order, you might not be reaping the full benefits, or worse, damaging your skin if you’re using active ingredients. 

Here, speaking to FEMAIL, dermatologist Dr Natasha Cook shared the exact order you should be applying your skincare products, and the ingredients to never mix.

Here, speaking to FEMAIL, dermatologist Dr Natasha Cook shared the exact order you should be applying your skincare products, and the ingredients to never mix (stock image)

Here, speaking to FEMAIL, dermatologist Dr Natasha Cook shared the exact order you should be applying your skincare products, and the ingredients to never mix (stock image)

As a general rule of thumb, when applying skin products, you need to go from the thinnest consistency to the thickest - or from liquid to oil - serum always comes before moisturiser

As a general rule of thumb, when applying skin products, you need to go from the thinnest consistency to the thickest – or from liquid to oil – serum always comes before moisturiser

The correct order to apply your skincare 

1. Cleanser: This removes surface debris and primes skin to aid absorption.

2. Serum: Concentrated serums sit best closest to the skin, where the active ingredients can penetrate.

3. Moisturiser: Because this is thicker, it generally takes longer to absorb and hydrate.

4. Facial oil: Apply on top as this takes the longest to absorb.

5. SPF: Needs to sit on the outermost layer of the skin for prime effectiveness. 

Source: Dr Natasha Cook 

As a general rule of thumb, when applying skin products, you need to go from the thinnest consistency to the thickest – or from liquid to oil:

‘The first step in any skincare regime is to cleanse,’ Dr Cook told FEMAIL. ‘This will help to remove surface debris and prime the skin for the absorption of your active ingredients.’

Once your skin is clean, then is the time to pick up any serums with active ingredients – and ‘layer’ these onto your face:

‘Serums are concentrated but lightweight and they usually contain significant percentages of active ingredients which are best when sitting closest to your skin,’ she said.

‘Apply these before any oils or moisturisers so that the ingredients can be absorbed and not diluted.’

'Serums are concentrated but lightweight and they contain significant percentages of active ingredients which are best  sitting closest to your skin,' Dr Cook said (pictured: Lauren Curtis)

‘Serums are concentrated but lightweight and they contain significant percentages of active ingredients which are best sitting closest to your skin,’ Dr Cook said (pictured: Lauren Curtis)

Next is when you apply the staple of many beauty lover’s routine: moisturiser.

‘Hydration is essential for high functioning skin and should be a part of every routine,’ Dr Cook explained. 

Because such creams are thicker, in general they will take longer to soak in and absorb slowly over the course of a few hours.

After moisturiser is the time for any facial oil – which should never be applied before moisturiser, as the water-based product will not absorb as well.

‘Finally, apply sunscreen to finish off your skincare regime,’ she added. ‘You want your SPF actives to sit on the surface of the skin, just below makeup.’

After moisturiser is the time for any facial oil - which should never be applied before moisturiser, as the water-based product will not absorb as well

After moisturiser is the time for any facial oil – which should never be applied before moisturiser, as the water-based product will not absorb as well

Dr Cook (pictured) also revealed the skin ingredients that should never be mixed - including vitamin C and retinol or other acidic products like AHAs and vitamin B3 with AHAs

Dr Cook (pictured) also revealed the skin ingredients that should never be mixed – including vitamin C and retinol or other acidic products like AHAs and vitamin B3 with AHAs

Speaking about the ‘cocktailing’ or ‘layering’ approach to skincare, Dr Cook explained that while it’s good, you can go too overboard:

Ingredients to never mix together – and what to do instead 

* DON’T MIX: Vitamin C with retinol or other acidic products like AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids).

* DO MIX: Vitamin C with niacinimide or vitamin E.

* DON’T MIX: Vitamin B3 and AHAs.

* DO MIX: Retinol with hyaluronic acid. 

* DON’T MIX: Benzoyl peroxide and retinol, unless you know how to stabilise it.

* DO MIX: Retinol and glycerin. 

‘To a point it’s a good idea,’ she said. ‘But you can always layer on too many products and create skin confusion or cause skin issues.’

Not only this, but there are some ingredients – like retinol and benzoyl peroxide – that shouldn’t be mixed together.

‘If you’re using a Vitamin C serum, refrain from using it with low pH or other acidic products like AHAs (or alpha hydroxy acids),’ Dr Cook said.

‘Instead, vitamin C will work well with serums with niacinimide or vitamin E.’

In the same vein, refrain from mixing vitamin B3 and AHAs together, which could cause skin flushing and potential irritation.

Instead, use your drying retinol products with something intensely hydrating like hyaluronic acid.

‘Simplify your routine as much as possible if you want to see results,’ Dr Cook said.

‘Find serums that have a combination of actives so that you don’t have to use too many, and then to simplify things, use one serum in the morning and one at night.’



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