8 Rules of Layering Your Skin-Care Products

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Instead of just slapping on five creams—then washing your face because, seriously, that stuff is heavy—follow the lead of the pros.


1. Start light. Serums—the thinnest products—go first, because a) that just makes sense and b) "they deliver active ingredients into the skin most efficiently," says Ranella Hirsch, a dermatologist in Boston. Plus, they're easy to customize. Pick two or three serums that each treat one of your concerns: formulas with peptides for wrinkles, salicylic acid for oily skin, and licorice or aloe to calm redness.

2. Add an antioxidant. Vitamin C is one in­gre­dient every skin type needs. "It brightens, protects against sun damage, and promotes collagen production," says cosmetic chemist Ni'Kita Wilson, who recommends using a potent serum.

3. Take a coffee break. "If you give each product a minute to dry, it won't pill," says Fredric Brandt, a dermatologist in New York City and Miami. "I flow my skin care in with the rest of my morning routine.For example, I put on a product, have coffee, then put on a second product, then brush my teeth."

4. Lock it down. Moisturizer is key to any layering routine because "it seals serums on your skin, which can make them more effective," says Wilson. 

5. Know when to go in reverse. If your sensitive skin reddens at the thought of using even one treatment product, try putting on a simple, fragrance-free moisturizer first and then serums on top. "The cream will reduce the potency of the serums," says Hirsch, "but they'll also be less likely to cause irritation."

6. Add an oil. In small doses, oils make skin radiant. Put them on dry areas after creams—as a rule, oils can penetrate moisturizers, but not vice versa. Skip the oil if you're wearing more than two serums under your moisturizer, though—at some point, you can't avoid looking greasy.

7. Don't forget protection. "Sunscreen is your last step in the morning," says Jeannette Graf, a dermatologist in Great Neck, New York. "It sits on top of your skin, so if it goes on first, it prevents other ingredients from penetrating."

8. Have a nightcap. It's not as sexy as a snifter of whiskey. But ending your nighttime routine with a retinoid makes you look a whole lot younger. (Every dermatologist recommends this anti-aging superingredient.) "I put my retinol over a serum and a cream—moisturizing helps retinol to penetrate better with less irritation," says Brandt.



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