The Correct Order to Apply Your Skincare Products.

One of the questions I get asked the most is what skincare product to apply, when!? With so many products out there (serum! toner! essence! oils!) layering your skincare products can feel really overwhelming! It doesn’t have to be, though. The general rule is to layer your products from thin to thick; and to apply the products with the highest percentage of active ingredients first.

Keep in mind I’m not an expert, but I have talked to a lot of experts about this, and this is what I have been told. I’ve talked about product order before in my bedtime skincare routine but today I wanted to break things down in full. I think the biggest “controversial” part of my routine (if skincare routines can be controversial?) is whether to apply face oil before or after moisturizer. I’ve been taught that it’s the last step, but if you want to apply it before your moisturizer, do that! Pampering should be fun… applying things in a slightly “wrong” order is not going to ruin your life.

Cleanse and exfoliate:

Obviously this is the first step. But I included it because if you are doing a double cleanse (more on that here),you should use the creamy/oil cleanser first. These are frequently applied to dry skin and the point is to use that rich cleanser to get your makeup off, and then use a gel cleanser to get your skin extra clean. If you are doing a face scrub, that’s the last part of your cleansing process.

my favorite creamy cleanser // my favorite oil cleanser // my favorite gel cleanser // my favorite face scrub


For the longest time, I didn’t think toner was necessary but recently changed my position. Toner should be the last step of your cleansing routine. If you use a toner, this is where you do it. Pat skin dry and apply all over with a cotton pad.

Essence (or P50) 

The next step is your essence. Whereas toner is the last step of cleansing, essence is the first step of skincare. (If you use it – you can read about my love of SK-II in this post.) I apply my essence (SK-II) in the morning after cleansing, and my beloved P50 in the evening. I’m going to do a longer review of P50 at some point (so many skincare requests!) but in the meantime Helena did a great review of it!

The two products are totally different, but they are applied at the same time in your routine. SK-II is for anti-aging but it’s really gentle and soothing, P50 is also for anti-aging but it’s more like a peel. I use it in the evening as it makes my skin a little red.


Serum is the next step. The way you want to think of your product order is that you want to apply the ingredients with the highest concentration of active ingredients first, so that they’re closest to the skin and absorbed first. Essence is packed with actives, as is serum. But because essence is more viscous (it’s consistency is like water), you want to apply that first. My favorite serum is Vintner’s Daughter but I also love Advanced Night Repair in the evening.


My second to last step is always my moisturizer. I love a thick, velvety moisturizer. Right now I’m really into this one from Tata Harper but I also really love Chuddha. For daytime, I always use a moisturizer with sunscreen and this is my favorite.

Special Moisturizers

If you use an eye cream or a neck cream, this is when to apply these! I put optional as I don’t think you truly NEED a separate eye or night cream, but I like to do one because I’m a fancy lady.

favorite eye cream // favorite neck cream


The last step in your routine should be face oil. This is what seals it all in! I like to let everything I’ve applied sink in for a minute or two while I brush my teeth, and then gently pat on my oils. For me, oils are saved for nighttime as after serum AND moisturizer I’m already pretty shiny, but I really like to lock in all that moisture. My favorite is Everyday Oil, though I’m also testing this Eve Lom oil right now and have been pretty impressed by it so far.

Leave a Comment


  1. This clears so many things up, thank you! I typically put on my facial oils before my moisturiser… had a feeling I’d gotten it wrong. 🙂

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

  2. shannon says 3.7.18

    What about vitamin c?

  3. Sarah says 3.7.18

    I think the challenge is that sometimes there are serums that have an oil consistency, i.e. Sunday Riley UFO oil or Kiehls Midnight Concentrate or Vintner’s Daughter. They feel like an oil, but they are technically a serum.

    I’m embarrassed how much I spend thinking about my skincare…

    • Agreed!!! Vintner’s daughter is confusing as it feels like an oil. Full disclosure, sometimes my skin feels so good after Vintner’s Daughter that I skip moisturizer and oil.

      I too spend an embarrassing amount of time thinking about this.

  4. Megan says 3.7.18

    Great post! It is reassuring to realize that I had it mostly correct, but the introduction of “essence” into my life really threw me for a loop. I’m looking forward to trying some of your product recommendations, and now I really feel like I need to bite the bullet with P50!

    • Glad you enjoyed it.

      I HIGHLY recommend P50. I get sent a lot of products to try for the blog and P50 is one of the few products I repeatedly buy over and over again with my own money. It’s seriously awesome.

  5. Angie says 3.7.18

    I’d number ,7 a good product

  6. CT says 3.7.18

    What about sunscreen during the day?

    • Last step – as moisturizer, or separately, right before makeup.

      • Tara says 3.13.18

        Hi Grace–related question, if my moisturizer for day has SPF in it, would adding face oil on top of that negate the SPF, or do you simply wait 5 minutes and then do oil? I usually do moisturizer with SPF as a last step but don’t use face oil during the day. Maybe I am missing out? Thanks!

        • grace at the stripe says 3.13.18

          I don’t use oil during the day. I wouldn’t take any chances, it might negate the effects. I think saving oil for night is the best strategy.. otherwise yes, switch up the orderr.

  7. Erin says 3.7.18

    Love reading your posts. You always crack me up “I’m a fancy lady” haha. THANK YOU for sharing the skincare routine steps. I can never remember to get it right haha.

  8. Patricia says 3.8.18

    I enjoyed the above article, but being on an extreme budget, what are the drugstore equivalents? I am a 54 year-old with a very oily t-zone.
    Thanks much

    • Hi Paula,
      I have lots of drugstore beauty product recs on my blog

      but it sounds like we have totally different skin types (mine is very dry). If I were you I would join the Fat Mascara community page on Facebook and pose your question there. Someone will have a great rec for you!


  9. dana says 3.8.18

    UGH! I need to get on board with doing this to my skin. I typically just cleanse and moisturize!

    The Champagne Edit

  10. Megan says 3.8.18

    Grace, I think you would really like the new Forever35 Podcast ( Two friends in their thirties, talking about serums and self-care. For someone who is into skincare, it’s a fun and interesting listen.

  11. Caitlin says 3.8.18

    Very interested to know about the neck cream since I’m slightly over 30 😉 but the link goes to the eye cream. Could you please update?

  12. Lauren says 3.8.18

    This is a helpful post, but most of these items are SO expensive so I can’t really follow it unfortunately…!

    • I’m sorry – I linked to my personal favs. The point of the post is the order though, not the actual products. 🙂

  13. Lindsey says 3.11.18

    I don’t even understand what I should be applying? What am I aiming for hydrolic acid, other acid. . ., moisturizers, oils, serums- it’s all too much for me to figure out.

  14. Katya says 3.13.18

    I guess it is not that difficult to keep things in order. Most specially skin care products, you have to know what to choose first until the very last. But this will sure to help a lot.

    StyleSprinter Blog by Katya Bychkova

  15. Megan says 3.16.18

    Great article! This is so helpful and has been something I’ve constantly wondered about (yet never thought to research). Question… when it comes to washing your face, do you cleanse morning and night? My skin also dries out so easily, but I’m also prone to little breakouts here and there so it’s a tough balance.

    • grace at the stripe says 3.16.18

      I kind of just listen to my skin and give it what it needs. I always wash my face at night so I don’t always need it in the morning. But sometimes I’ll wake up and it will feel like it needs to be washed so I will.

  16. Brianna Rooney says 4.24.18

    It is prob bad how many times I have referenced this post but I am slowly getting better!

  17. dreams says 9.27.18

    Your style is so unique in comparison to other people I have read stuff from.
    I appreciate you for posting when you’ve got the opportunity, Guess I will just book mark this

  18. Lauren says 5.6.19

    Hi Grace, I keep coming back to reference this post (so helpful, thank you!!) and was wondering if you have any updates to it now that you use retinol more regularly? Just wondering where it fits and if there are certain thing you should/shouldn’t use when doing a retinol night?

  19. student apartments says 7.27.19

    Wonderful post.Ne’er knew this, appreciate it for letting me