How to layer your skincare products

23 December 2021
By Fashion Quarterly

Order up your skincare products the right way.

Image: Shutterstock.

The order in which you apply your skincare products is highly debatable, especially since everyone seems to do something different!

To get to the bottom of the matter once and for all, we talk to Biologi’s dermal specialist Lucy Macdougald to find out what she really thinks.

Apply basic chemistry

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of product layering, Macdougald advises applying the basic rules of chemistry. Firstly, oil and water don’t mix. Therefore, if you’re using an oil-based product first, it can leave a film on your skin, meaning water-based products can’t penetrate.

Secondly, Macdougald cautions to take care when using active ingredients. Layering certain ingredients together may ‘cancel’ each other out, meaning they have no effect, or worse, cause a reaction.

For example, layering vitamin C with an AHA or BHA is destabilising, rending the vitamin C useless. And layering retinol with AHAs or BHAs can cause excessive skin sensitivity, redness, and irritation, so it’s best to be careful.

Lucy Macdougald

Is there a correct order to layer your skincare products? 

While skincare isn’t black and white, and everyone’s skin is different, it’s hard to generalise. However, Macdougald says the following guidelines will help: 


1. Cleanse

2. Tone

3. Apply serum

4. Moisturise

5. Apply SPF

You should typically apply your products going from the lightest to heaviest. So you’d start with a lightweight serum, followed by a moisturiser, then perhaps an oil, and SPF. SPF should be the last step in your skincare routine because it typically sits on top of the skin. Your other layers may not penetrate and go to waste if it goes on first. 

Biologi skincare.


1. Cleanse

2. Exfoliate (1-2 times a week) 

3. Tone

4. Treatment (e.g. an AHA, BHA or retinol) 

5. Serum 

6. Apply moisturiser or night cream

7. Oil (if your skin needs extra hydration)

When it comes to exfoliating, Macdougald advises doing this one to two times a week because as well as ridding the skin of excess dirt and residue, exfoliating also depletes the skin of natural oils. This may cause issues like excessive oil production, which can, in turn, lead to blemishes, as well as inflammation. 

Whether you apply just a serum or add a moisturiser on top, it’s up to you. Macdougal uses the Biologi Bm Regenerate Anti-Ageing serum, which she says is hard-working so that it can be used on its own. And does your skin need an extra hit of hydration? Macdougal uses the Biologi Br Organic Rosehip oil, which soaks into the skin and plays a role in ceramide formation—a substance that keeps the walls of skin cells strong so they can better retain moisture.

Ultimately, layering your skincare products is an art, and it may take time to figure out what works best for you. Some experts recommend waiting a minute or two in between each product to maximise their effectiveness — but it’s not necessary, especially if you’re short on time. If you’re unsure which products to use, it’s best to consult a specialist, and if in doubt, keep your skincare routine simple! 


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