Best skincare routine

The Correct Skincare Routine Order, According to a Dermatologist

“Perfection starts from cleansing,” she tells us. “I believe that we should always cleanse not only our face but the entire body before going to bed. Taking a shower at night has so many benefits. Our bed should never be in contact with our clothes that we wore outside, or our skin covered with everything from being outside (i.e. dust bacteria and free radicals). Before you sleep, take a cool shower that will lower your body temperature and it can make it easier to doze off into a sound slumber.”


One of the best ways to care for your skin is with a daily routine that addresses your skin’s unique needs. The right skincare routine for your skin type can help keep your complexion looking healthy, hydrated, and radiant—while keeping skin concerns like dryness at bay.

To help you achieve your skincare goals, CeraVe has created simple, yet effective skincare routines for all skin types using our gentle cleansers, non-comedogenic moisturizers, broad-spectrum sunscreens, and more. Our skincare routines feature dermatologist-developed products with proven ingredients, including hyaluronic acid, retinol, and three essential ceramides.

Browse our routines and learn more about how to create a skincare regimen that works for you in a few easy-to-follow steps.

  • Skin Smarts
  • Skin Concerns
  • Skincare Tips and Advice
  • Skincare Routines
  • Skincare for Baby
  • Strength of Ceramides

Which Skincare Routine Is Right for You?

Which Skincare Routine Is Right for You?

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CeraVe Solutions: A Men’s Facial Skincare Routine for All Skin Types

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The Correct Skincare Routine Order, According to a Dermatologist

byrdie writer kaitlyn mclintock headshot

Kaitlyn McClintock contributed to Byrdie for over two years, most recently covering beauty news for the brand.

Julia Siegel

Julia A. Siegel, MD is a board-certified dermatologist based in Boston, Massachusetts. She is a member of the American Academy of Dermatology and has authored several peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters.

Michelle Regalado

Michelle Regalado is a seasoned editor, fact-checker, and content strategist with expertise in women’s lifestyle news.

woman applying skincare

In This Article

With so many serums, lotions, creams, and toners being added in to our skincare routines, many of us are left with a big question: How exactly do we layer all these things? It turns out, there’s a method. In fact, the order in which you apply skincare makes a real and significant difference to your skin. If you’re not following that order, it could be compromising the overall efficacy of your routine.

Meet the Expert

  • Craig Kraffert is a board-certified dermatologist and the president of Amarte Skincare.
  • Shani Darden is a celebrity facialist and esthetician, and the founder of an eponymous skincare line.
  • Alexandra Accardo is an esthetician and the founder of Alexandra Accardo Studio.

“The order you place your skincare products matters,” says celebrity facialist and esthetician Shani Darden. “In general, you want to apply products thinnest to thickest.” This ensures that all the product is getting time in direct contact with your skin, and that no potent ingredients are wasted.

In an effort to determine the correct order in which to apply skincare products, we turned to Darden and other experts to spell it out.

The Morning Routine


First things first. Cleansing always takes precedence. It sounds obvious, but some people insist on going without cleanser each morning. Their reasoning is that they wash their face each night. There’s no makeup or dirt coming in contact with their skin while they sleep, so they just splash water on their face. This could be a mistake, according to Craig Kraffert, board-certified dermatologist and president of Amarte Skincare. “Why not just splash water on your face in the a.m.? Because even the best products won’t work if debris or oil is on the skin. You will gain quite a lot from cleansing, as opposed to just splashing water on your face in the morning, because the products you use work their best and absorb most efficiently on debris-free skin.” This makes sense, considering your skin can still produce oil and come in contact with environmental pollution at night.


After cleansing, your skin should be smooth, fresh, and clean. That’s when you reach for toner, which is a thin veil of hydration that should always precede moisturizer. “Toners are wonderful products to use, and while not everyone needs to use them, everyone can use them: They’re calming and provide an additional layer of hydration to prep the skin for makeup,” says Kraffert. People who have acne and/or oily skin will benefit most from using toner since “they’re formulated to remove sebum, oil, and dirt from the pores.”

Keep a toner in your gym bag, carry one, and keep one at the office for an instant hydrating complexion boost that saves you from taking five minutes to ‘freshen up’ your skin.

If you don’t have oily or acneic skin, Kraffert says to treat toner as you would a face mist or facial wipe. “They can be especially convenient for use while traveling or refreshing skin on a hot day without ruining your makeup.'” For the latter, we like using CLE’s Lifting Mist ($42), which is compact enough to carry in your bag and has every quality you could want in a toner.


Next is serum. Darden prefers using a vitamin C serum each morning since it provides skin-protecting and anti-aging antioxidants. Vitamin C smoothes the skin’s texture and treats and prevents signs of aging. Celebrities like Jessica Alba and Chrissy Teigen swear by it. There are also more than a few members of the Byrdie team who can attest to its skin-refining magic.

Kraffert, on the other hand, recommends using a water-based serum like Amarte’s Aqua Veil Pure Hydration Serum ($65). “Your serum should be full of botanical extracts and antioxidants and lightweight yet powerful hydration properties as a primary benefit,” he says. The potent blend of good-for-skin ingredients is subsequently why serums are usually the most expensive part of a skincare routine—and also why I’m committed to using it correctly, which means applying it before moisturizer and after toner.

Click Play to Learn How to Build a Skincare Routine


After serum, apply moisturizer to keep your skin balanced, hydrated, and plump. For people with dry skin, reach for a thick moisturizing cream—we like Tatcha’s Dewy Skin Cream ($70). For those with oily skin, try a lighter gel moisturizer like Neutrogena’s HydroBoost Water Gel ($30). The latter is one of our favorite drugstore moisturizers at the moment. Kraffert recommends using your moisturizer as another opportunity to treat your skin. “You want your lotion or moisturizing cream to have some brightening properties and then follow that with a light formulation of SPF coverage.”

Apply Eye Cream

The final moisturizing/treatment step of your skincare routine should be eye cream, which should hydrate the delicate under-eye area while keeping fine lines and wrinkles at bay. Kraffert says it should always be “the last step in your regular routine.” He recommends using it twice a day. Ole Henriksen’s Banana Bright Eye Cream ($42) is our current favorite morning eye cream. It promises to support your skin’s natural collagen production while brightening the look of dark circles thanks to its potent vitamin C.

Spread on Sunscreen

The final step to a well-ordered skincare routine is sunscreen (of course). It’s the best tool for preventing signs of aging—namely hyperpigmentation, fine lines, and wrinkles. “Sunscreen should go after skincare and before makeup. It would not be ideal to put SPF under a lotion or cream moisturizer because, by nature, SPF products block sun’s rays (and anything else) from absorbing into the skin,” Kraffert says. Just don’t forgo the use of sunscreen for an SPF BB or CC cream. Kraffert says the recommended amount of SPF for daily wear is 50, and most BB creams provide much less coverage than that. We like Algenist’s Ultra Lightweight UV Defense Fluid SPF 50 ($28), which is lightweight and non-greasy, made for wearing every day underneath makeup.

The Nighttime Routine

Skincare during the day and night can look vastly different, so we consulted Alexandra Accardo, esthetician and founder of Alexandra Accardo Studio, as to what her perfect nighttime skincare routine looks like.


“Perfection starts from cleansing,” she tells us. “I believe that we should always cleanse not only our face but the entire body before going to bed. Taking a shower at night has so many benefits. Our bed should never be in contact with our clothes that we wore outside, or our skin covered with everything from being outside (i.e. dust bacteria and free radicals). Before you sleep, take a cool shower that will lower your body temperature and it can make it easier to doze off into a sound slumber.”

In terms of the face, Accardo believes in a milky cleanser for all skin types. “It doesn’t strip our skin, and it removes impurities without messing up hydrolipidic layer. Oily skin will actually get the message that there are enough lipids and it will not produce more. As when we strip our skin from it, it sends the wrong message, and skin tries to make up for what is gone and the overproduction starts causing the oiliness.” She recommends Biologique Recherche Lait U.

“While cleansing you can definitely use the power of massage. Use your hands in an upward motion, and make sure you lift, lift, lift,” she encourages.


“It is a must to keep your skin balanced,” Accardo proclaims. There’s a science to it. “Your skin’s normal pH level is between 4.6 and 6.4, making it slightly acidic. I love Biologique Recherche Lotion P50 ($68). This is really a magical product that I call ‘facial in the bottle.’ It’s more of a treatment—it purifies, detoxifies, and balances the skin’s pH. Bringing your skin to where it’s the strongest and feels the most comfortable. It’s a micro exfoliant that uses active ingredients.” She recommends you see an aesthetician to determine which Lotion P50 is best for you, as both the original and revamped formula have their own disparate qualities.

However, P50 isn’t the only trick Accardo has up her sleeve. “Micro-needling is a great idea as well. It is the key to better penetration of a product (even up to 80%.) This instrument was designed to enhance the perfusion of the ingredients in the products. By rolling the needles on the skin we create the channels, which helps the product with faster absorption and better penetration of our skin.” As always, you should check with a doctor if it is safe for your skin as at-home microneedling can increase the risk of infection and scarring.


Next up is exfoliant. This sloughs off dead skin and pore-clogging impurities, so other skincare products can sink in and work their magic. “Both cleansing and exfoliating are essential for keeping skin youthful and fresh, but in many cases, you can combine cleansing/exfoliating into one step,” Kraffert says. “Save time by using a daily exfoliating cleanser like Amarte Daily ExfoliPowder ($48), which uses ultra-fine corn starch for just a touch of gentle manual exfoliation while also cleansing and removing makeup.” Kraffert says a gentle exfoliant, like Amarte’s, is gentle enough for everyday use. “The ‘old school’ way of thinking was to not exfoliate more than a few times a week, but these types of exfoliant cleansers can be used every day and eliminate the need to use both a cleanser and an exfoliating treatment separately.” If you’re using a more intense exfoliant, go old-school and span it out to a few times a week.


Now your skin should be ready to receive a treatment. Accardo shared a formula for treatment decisions, “We always start from the serums (smaller molecules go first- to simplify thinner to thicker.) This is when we address areas of concern.” Similarly, at night, Darden will sub the morning’s vitamin C serum out for a retinol serum like her Resurface Retinol Reform ($88).

But a serum isn’t the only treatment you should use to aid your skin, and Accardo’s personal routine reflects that. “On the nights where I have more time, I definitely add a sheet mask (if you use a cream, mask make sure you do it before applying your serum, since you don’t want to wash the serum off, or just simply reapply.)” For the sheet-mask-averse, multi-masking is an option: “You can also choose from various types that target a particular skin concern. Skin concerns such as aging, fine lines, excess oil, dehydration, hyperpigmentation, and redness. You can even use masks to target your undereye area, eyelids, and lips.”

Orveda’s mud masque is hydrating and cleanses your pores, so you don’t have to choose between dry skin or acne.


You might keep the same moisturizer for the morning and the night, but you can also use this opportunity to target two separate conditions. Only you know which moisturizer you need—anti-aging, brightening, extra hydrating. And only you know whether you want to use a cream, gel, or somewhere in between.

Some of the most popular night creams out there are anti-aging, which Accardo goes into great detail about: “Anti-aging creams help combat visible signs of aging, such as fine lines, wrinkles, and sun spots. They have hydrating properties, and include ingredients that smooth and brighten the skin for a more youthful appearance. Alpha hydroxy acids and beta hydroxy acids, for example, help exfoliate dead cells and stimulate collagen production so your skin looks firmer. Other anti-aging creams contain retinol that helps speed up cell turnover and boost collagen production.”

“When it comes to cream I would definitely suggest adjusting your cream to the season,” she advises. “[For] winter use a heavier, more protecting cream. In the summer, use a lighter version or even a gel form.”

You should also use an eye cream at the end of this step.


The key to the best nighttime skincare routine? Sleep. But there are certainly some ways you can make even sleeping more effective. “Don’t forget to sleep on a satin pillowcase! It is hypoallergenic, cool, and super comfortable,” Accardo emphasizes. “Also, it will not absorb the products that we just applied on our face.”

The Few-Times-A-Week Routine

High-Powered Tools

Accardo suggests “using LED light and a face massager a few times a week.” She recommends Joanna Czech’s facial massager tool ($189), saying that it’s something “everyone should have at home.” She extolls the benefits of it, telling us about how “massaging the skin speeds up circulation, bringing more oxygen to the tissue, resulting in brighter, healthier skin! It’s like a gym for your face muscles.” Protip: keep it in the fridge.

Chemical Exfoliant

Chemical exfoliants are a great route to smooth, bright skin—but they shouldn’t be used too often. Chemicals can be aggressive and using them too often could lead to red, irritated skin. So start with once or twice a week, ad build up to every other night if you can tolerate it.

Face Mask

Face masks are a great once-a-week addition to your skincare routine. While masks don’t typically lead to transformative results in the way that a daily product can, they can offer a temporary brightening effect (so try them before a big event to reap the most benefits).

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  1. Telang PS. Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian Dermatol Online J. 2013;4(2):143-146. doi:10.4103/2229-5178.110593