Skincare Steps in Order: The Importance of Caring for Your Skin

Caring for your skin is essential for maintaining a youthful, healthy glow. With so many skincare products and tips, trying to figure out the proper routine can get confusing. To help simplify things, here is an overview of the essential skincare steps you should follow daily, in order.


“The first step to great skin is to thoroughly cleanse your face morning and night to remove dirt, oil, and impurities,” says dermatologist Dr. Sasha Huang. Cleansing preps your skin to better absorb the treatments that follow.

There are a few things to keep in mind when cleansing:

  • Use lukewarm water, which is less likely to strip your skin
  • Gently massage the cleanser into your skin using circular motions
  • Rinse thoroughly

Be sure to pick a cleanser suited to your skin type. Some popular options include:

  • Oily skin – Gel or foaming cleansers
  • Dry skin – Creamy, milky, or oil-based cleansers
  • Combination skin – Gel or cream cleansers


After cleansing, toning helps restore your skin’s pH balance and provides an extra layer of cleaning. “Toner removes any residual dirt while priming your skin to receive the treatments to follow,” says esthetician Jessica Wu.

When applying toner:

  • Soak a cotton pad and sweep over face and neck
  • Avoid rubbing—be gentle
  • Check the ingredients to ensure the toner is non-drying

Those with oily skin can use toners with antibacterial ingredients like salicylic acid while dry skin benefits from hydrating toners packed with glycerin.


With clean and toned skin, it’s time to apply serum. “Serums deliver concentrated doses of ingredients directly to your skin so they can target specific concerns like wrinkles, dark spots, hydration, and skin tone,” says Dr. Rachel Nazarian of Schweiger Dermatology Group.

Some things to keep in mind with serum:

  • Pat a few drops gently onto skin when it’s slightly damp after toning
  • Allow it to fully absorb before applying other treatments
  • Store serums properly to protect potent ingredients

Hydrating and antioxidant serums are ideal for all skin types while those targeting signs of aging often contain retinol or vitamin C.

Targeted Treatments

“After serum, I recommend applying any medicated prescription acne creams, hydroquinone for dark spots, or Retin-A,” advises dermatologist Dr. Heidi Waldorf. These powerful treatments target specific skin issues so apply them before moisturizer.

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A few notes on proper use:

  • Only apply treatments to the affected areas and use per label instructions
  • Allow them to fully dry first
  • Start slowly – about 2-3 nights a week if new to using

Using other antioxidants, alpha hydroxy acids, peptides, etc. can also be effective when applied after cleansing and before moisturizing. Discuss with your dermatologist.


No skincare routine is complete without moisture. “Ideally, you want to help seal in hydration and reinforce your skin barrier function with moisturizers,” says Waldorf. Consider a few key pointers when picking and applying moisturizer:

Picking Moisturizer

  • Choose a moisturizer suited to your skin type and concerns
  • Seek hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid, ceramides, aloe vera
  • Layer lighter gel or lotion formulas under richer creams

Applying Moisturizer

  • Gently massage into face and neck
  • Focus on dry areas like cheeks and under eyes
  • Allow serums and treatments to soak in first
  • Mix with a few drops of face oil for added moisture

Using products packed with hydrators and locking it all in with moisturizer keeps skin looking plump and fresh.


The final step to great skin is daily SPF. Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Gary Goldfaden recommends, “Protecting your skin from UV exposure is incredibly important to keep it healthy, youthful, and reduce skin cancer risk.”

Here’s how to properly use sunscreen:

  • Apply generously – Use 1 oz to cover exposed skin
  • Reapply often – Reapply at least every 2 hours
  • Don’t forget – Lips, ears, hands, and décolleté need SPF too
  • Seek broad-spectrum – Protects from UVA and UVB rays
  • Know the expiration – Replace sunscreen every year

Finding a facial sunscreen suited to your skin type ensures you’ll use it as part of your daily routine. Those with darker complexions benefit from mineral formulas while lightweight gels work well for those with oily skin.

The Order Simplified

If those steps seem complicated to remember, just think CLEANSE – TONE – TREAT – HYDRATE – PROTECT.

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“I recommend my patients cleanse, followed by toner, antioxidant serums, their prescription acne creams or Retin-A, and ending with moisturizer and SPF,” says Waldorf. Below is a cheat sheet to the order:

  1. Cleanser
  2. Toner
  3. Treatment serums
  4. Spot treatments
  5. Moisturizer
  6. Facial oil (optional)
  7. SPF

Huang notes this order allows the products to build on each other: “Cleansing removes impurities so toning and treatments absorb better. Humectant serums and moisturizers hydrate while occlusive moisturizers seal it in so the hydrators don’t evaporate.” Ending with sunscreen tops it off providing UV protection.

Customizing Your Routine

While those are the overall steps, you’ll want to personalize based on your individual skin. Goldfaden says, “Treating skin concerns like acne, pigmentation, fine lines, and more can require targeted steps with medicated prescription products.”

Below are some tips on customizing your routine:

Acne-Prone Skin

  • Use oil-free, non-comedogenic cleanser
  • Incorporate salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide treatments
  • Hydrating serums help balance oil production

Hyperpigmentation and Dark Spots

  • Gentle cleansers protect skin barrier
  • Brightening serums with vitamin C and alpha hydroxy acids can help fade spots
  • Always follow with SPF in the AM to prevent spot darkening

Anti-Aging and Fine Lines

  • Non-drying, creamy cleansers are best
  • Collagen-stimulating retinoids help treat and prevent fine lines
  • Hydrating serums and moisture-locking oils and creams are key

Talk to your dermatologist about adding prescription retinoids to boost collagen and customized light treatments to target pigmentation and fine lines based on your specific concerns.

Developing Good Skincare Habits

Caring for your skin not only requires using the right products in the proper order. It also means practicing good skincare habits daily.

“Having a consistent routine where you actually follow the steps with quality products suited to your skin will provide the best, longest-lasting results,” says Nazarian.

Start Slow and Simple

When trying new products, go slowly – test 1 new serum for 2-3 weeks before adding another to see how your skin reacts. Starting with a basic gentle cleanser, moisture-boosting serum, rich cream, and daily SPF makes it easy to layer products properly.

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Commit to AM and PM Routines

Get in the habit of caring for your skin twice a day. In the morning protect your skin starting with cleansing, antioxidant serums, moisture, and SPF while your PM routine focuses on removing the day’s impurities to treat and hydrate.

Seek Custom Expert Guidance

Seeing a dermatologist helps take the guesswork out of choosing products. “An expert can examine your skin, discuss your concerns, and devise a regimen with medical-grade cleansers, cutting-edge topical treatments, and professional procedures,” says Goldfaden.

Allow Time for Products to Soak In

After gently applying serums, creams, and spot treatments, give them a few minutes to fully absorb before layering on the next steps. Follow the proper order and take your time patting in products.

The Glowing Benefits

Committing to a twice-daily, multi-step routine tailored to your skin requires dedication but the effort pays off. “It’s the best way to achieve healthy, flawless skin at any age,” says Huang. Below are just a few benefits of proper skincare:

Boosts Collagen – Active ingredients stimulate collagen production reducing fine lines and wrinkles for firmer skin.

Fades Dark Spots – Exfoliating acids and brightening agents diminish pigmentation and even out tone.

Minimizes Pores – Regular cleansing, toning, and oil-absorbing treatments maintain unclogged pores for a flawless look.

Hydrates Skin – Hyaluronic acid, ceramides and nourishing moisturizers replenish moisture for supple skin.

Calms Inflammation – Soothing botanical extracts and vitamins decrease redness and irritation from acne breakouts.

Protects from Sun Damage – Broad-spectrum SPF shields from UV exposure leading to fewer fine lines, dark spots and skin cancer risk long-term.

When you take good care of your skin, your skin radiates good health in return. The shine, smooth texture, even tone, and lack of irritation, breakouts, fine lines, and hyperpigmentation you’ll notice just weeks after starting a proper multi-step routine spotlight your skin’s stellar condition. Committing to an effective skin regiment tailored to your specific needs keeps your complexion clear and flawless regardless of age.


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