Question: What goes on first? Moisturizer? Makeup? Sunscreen?


If you use more than one product on your skin, it can get confusing knowing which skin care product goes on first. Generally, after cleansing you should use the following products (if you use them) in the following order:

  1. Treatment (ex. serums, Rx products, acne treatments, etc)
  2. Moisturizer
  3. Sunscreen
  4. Makeup

The rule of thumb is to apply lighter feeling products first and heavier, denser products last. However, treatments should always go on first to maximize their penetration and effectiveness. Sunscreen, on the other hand, must always go on after moisturizer but before makeup.

What order to apply more than one active?

Things can get tricky if you are using more than one active treatment product. For example, let's say your skin care routine includes AHAs, BHAs, retinoids, and Vitamin C. (Generally speaking, a routine with AHA, BHA, and retinoid is too much, so this is purely hypothetical.)

The best way to use all of these products is to use the Vitamin C and BHA in the morning with the AHA and retinoid at night. Vitamin C actually adds some sun protection to your skin and unlike AHAs, BHAs don't make your skin more sensitive to UV rays. Since AHAs and retinoids do make your skin more sensitive to sunlight, they are best used at night.

Vitamin C goes on first before all other treatments because it absorbs immediately into the skin. If you put something on your skin before Vitamin C, it could prevent the Vitamin C from penetrating your skin. After applying your C serum (10 min or so later), you can then put on your BHA treatment and go about your regular routine.

Retinoids themselves provide pretty good exfoliation, so an AHA is extra and most likely unnecessary. However, if you still want to use an AHA, you can alternate nights, using AHA one night and retinoids the other. If your skin can handle it, you can use AHAs and retinoids together. The AHA will go on first and then your retinoid. Depending on the formulation, AHAs can help your retinoid penetrate more into your skin. Just keep in mind that that could make it more irritating.

Moisturizers go on after treatment products. It's probably a good idea to wait 10-20 minutes before moisturizing so your skin can absorb the treatments. Sunscreen is the next step after moisturizers. For sunscreen, you want to wait 30 minutes after applying to put on anything else so it has time to bind and form a protective UV shield on your face. Finally, all makeup items go on last.

To figure out what order to use your skin care products, apply the lighter ones first and heavier ones last (if they are all the same kind of product, i.e. all treatment products.) Also, reserve products that increase sun sensitivity for night time use only. The order you apply your skin care products will enable them to be more effective.

Last updated: September 23, 2012

Next »

FAQ: What is the best product for __(XYZ skin problem)__?

Back « Skin FAQ