This post explains how to layer skincare and thus how to use moisturizers in your skin care routine.
Skin care layering isn’t always as straightforward as the famous saying: “from thinnest to thickest”. This is a rule of thumb, yet when it comes to moisturizers that’s not always right.
How should you be using your moisturizer and what things should you consider when layering skincare?
Firstly, you need to consider what is the main component of your products. Are they water or oil based?
1. Water-based products
You should start with water based products. These are mists and toners.
The main ingredient is water, followed by water-soluble substances. However, mists and toners may also contain ingredients that aren’t water-soluble. Solubilizers, like polysorbates, allow those non-water soluble ingredients to be solubilized in water.
Serums come after the water-based products. This is when it starts to become tricky, in fact some serums are a mix of oils, some are water-based and others are liquid emulsions. An example of liquid emulsion serum is the Granactive retinoid 2% emulsion from The Ordinary
Proceed with the water-based serums.
In principle, after these you should proceed with the moisturizer and then with oil-based serums.
However, many prefer to use serums ahead of face creams because they want to make sure they are getting al the benefits form the active ingredients. Depending on the kind of moisturizer used, the risk is that the moisturizer will ball up and pill. Here is why.
Moisturizers are emulsions that can have an external oil-phase (W/O water in oil) or an external water-phase (O/W oil in water emulsions). Simply put, O/W emulsions have oils dispersed in water, thus water is the external phase.
While these kind of emulsions go well after water-based products, they tend to ball up if used after oil-based products. The ideal pH of a moisturizer should be in the range 4.5-5.5. Read here why.
On the other hand, W/O emulsions are characterized by water being dispersed in oil. Hence, oil is the external phase.
How can you know what type is your moisturizer? Don’t panic! The majority of moisturizers are O/W. Only some moisturizers for extremely dry skin are W/O.
It’s really easy to recognize them. Put some of your moisturizer in a glass and add some water. Now mix. If the moisturizer gets homogeneously mixed with water, it’s an O/W emulsion. It will look like a watered-down version of your moisturizer.
In contrast, no matter how much you mix, if you stil have bits of moisturizer floating around the water, you have a W/O moisturizer.
Another thing to consider is that the moisturizers for dry skin, though still O/W, are often formulated with occlusive ingredients like butters and waxes. As a result, the application order will change.
4. Face oils
After moisturizers you should conclude your routine with oils, obviously if you like using them.
In a nut-shell
To sum it up, depending on your skin type, this is where your moisturizer should be placed in a routine:
- Oily to normal skin. Moisturizer type O/W very little (if none) occlusive butters and waxes:
Cleanse, mist and/or toner, water based serums, O/W moisturizer, emulsion serums, oil based serums, oils.
- Normal to Dry skin. Moisturizer type O/W, some occlusive butters and waxes:
Cleanse, mist and/or toner, water based serums, emulsion serums, O/W moisturizer, oil based serums, oils.
- Extremely Dry skin. Moisturizer type O/W, rich in occlusive butters and waxes:
Cleanse, mist and/or toner, water based serum, emulsion serums, oil based serums, W/O moisturizers, oils.