The Right Way to Apply Beauty Products for Long-Term Results

Yes, there is a right and wrong way to apply your products. Here's how to layer like a pro.

Whether you're a two-product minimalist or a 10-product maximalist, the order in which you apply your go-to beauty products makes a real difference in your long-term skincare results. Even if you're a seasoned skincare pro, sometimes basic application questions arise, like whether or not you should slap on that serum before (or is it after?) moisturizing at night. Clueless about the right way to approach your skincare routine? Allow our definitive beauty guide to answer all your application questions.

01 of 08

Which comes first: serum or moisturizer?

Serum. A general (logical!) rule: Apply a product that has a lighter consistency before a heavier one to ensure that they both sink in. If you put on a moisturizer before a serum, "you're just wasting the serum, because it won't penetrate through the moisturizer," says Ellen Marmur, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. For best results, use a serum containing active ingredients, like antioxidants (which help to fight the free radicals responsible for aging) or hyaluronic acid, then wait one minute so that it has time to settle in to the skin's surface. Lock in hydration with a moisturizer.

02 of 08

Which comes first: eye makeup remover or cleanser?

Eye makeup remover. "Eye makeup remover formulas are concentrated to specifically remove stubborn eye makeup, dirt, and oil particles, making it easier for a cleanser to do its job," says Joshua Zeichner, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. If you cleansed first, "you would risk being overzealous with rubbing the sensitive eye area, which can trigger low-grade inflammation and lead to pigmentation changes, fine lines, and wrinkles," says Dr. Zeichner. Finishing with a cleanser ensures that no greasy makeup remover residue is left behind.

03 of 08

Which comes first: night cream or eye cream?

Eye cream. "Some night creams contain high doses of potentially irritating ingredients, such as retinol and vitamin C. But eye creams are formulated to be gentle on the delicate skin around the eyes, so they are the only product that should go there," says Doris Day, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. "Tapping on eye cream first helps provide a barrier to prevent any night cream from creeping up." Besides causing irritation, "the night cream could clog glands around your eyes and lead to milia—small, hard, deep white cysts that are harmless but difficult to get rid of," she says. Afterward, apply your night cream, concentrating on dry areas, like the cheeks and upper lip.

04 of 08

Which comes first: sunscreen or moisturizer?

Moisturizer. Think of it this way: Your moisturizer is like a sweater, and your sunscreen is like the coat you wear over it. "It's your outer protective layer," says Dr. Zeichner. "You want to make sure that nothing interferes with it." When you put it on last, the sunscreen can intercept and/or block the sun's damaging rays before they get to your skin. Also keep in mind that if you apply the sunscreen first, you might rub some of it off when you slather on your moisturizer, which means you won't get as much protection as you should, says Dr. Marmur.

05 of 08

Which comes first: foundation or concealer?

Foundation. For the most natural-looking finish, apply a light veil of foundation first and blend. This acts as a filter, blurring imperfections and evening out skin tone. Since concealers are heavier and more opaque, the less you use, the more real (and less cakey) you'll look. Concealer should be used as a finisher on the flaws that are still visible post-foundation. If you're lucky, "sometimes foundation is all you need," says Troy Surratt, a makeup artist in New York City.

06 of 08

Which comes first: lip liner or lipstick?

Lipstick. "The classic approach was to apply lip liner first around the perimeter, then all over the lips, to create a clear border, symmetry, and a base for lipstick," says New York City makeup artist Katie Jane Hughes. Because today's lipstick formulas have such staying power, that is no longer necessary. Instead, apply lipstick first, then use a lip liner just along the outside of the lip lines to "add definition and fake fuller lips," says Surratt.

07 of 08

Which comes first: eyeliner or eyeshadow?

Your call. If you apply eye shadow first, "you'll create a nice backdrop of color. Then a creamy pencil can glide onto the shadow and give added definition to the eyes," says Surratt. Picture Adele's signature look—shimmery shadow with a crisp cat-eye. Alternatively, you can "prep your eyelids with a touch of pencil, then buff it out using a small brush and follow with shadow for a more lived-in, gradient look," says Hughes.

08 of 08

Which comes first: detangler or styling serum?

Detangler. If you have thick, coarse, or curly hair, your first order of business after washing is smoothing out knots, so call on a detangler (a conditioning mist that contains polymers or oils to smooth the hair cuticle). This will help the brush glide through snarls with less pain and damage. "If you have fine hair, you can probably skip the detangler. Your in-shower conditioner may be enough," says Harry Josh, a stylist and a creative consultant for John Frieda Hair Care. Next, whatever your hair type, use a moisturizing serum (a liquid typically packed with silicones or oils to smooth, soften, and hydrate hair) only on your ends, since they're the driest part of the hair. Air-dry or blow-dry, then use a dab of the same serum to add shine and tame frizz wherever needed, Josh adds.

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  1. Addor FAS. Antioxidants in dermatology. An Bras Dermatol. 2017;92(3):356-362. doi:10.1590/abd1806-4841.20175697

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