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Picky Guide: How to Layer Skincare Products

Discover how to maximize the results of your skincare products

We know that most of you feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of skincare products available in the market right now. To make things even more complicated, there are so many different categories of products! We often have users asking us this question: “Which product should I use first in my routine?”. If you are feeling lost and clueless about how to layer skincare products, you’re not alone!

This is Picky’s guide to how to layer skincare products, a practice that can totally level-up your skincare game. Not only will proper layering help your skincare products to work better, it will also save you from massive skincare no-no’s such as product piling or skin irritation! 

Disclaimer: we believe there is no absolute right or wrong in skincare. While we will be recommending a certain order of layering in this article, do whatever feels right for your skin and for yourself.

Also, don’t be afraid to change up the order of how you currently layer your skincare products after this post. Who knows, you may experience improved results after the change!

The order of how you layer skincare products does matter

Each product plays a different function and role in your skincare routine. For example, a toner is a product that is meant to restore your skin’s pH to normal pH levels, while also providing hydration. A serum serves to deliver the most potent amount of active ingredients to your skin and to target your specific skin concerns. Moisturizers, on the other hand, perform like a guard at your front door to prevent things from coming in and out of your skin. 

In this context, imagine if you were to put on your moisturizer before your serum. By doing so, the moisturizer will prevent the active ingredients in your serum from being absorbed by your skin and from doing its job! Imagine all that wasted product and money spent!

Remember: no matter how well-formulated your products are, with the incorrect order of application, you may not be able to see their full potential. 

The rule of thumb for layering skincare products

The easiest and most basic rule to follow is this — start with the product with the thinnest consistency to the thickest one. This means that you should always start with something that has a more watery texture, building up to the product that is the most occlusive or “creamy”.

Most products with thin consistencies, for example toners, have higher water content and replenish hydration without much “protective” properties. Instead, they help with the absorption of products that are applied afterwards, like serums.

The final step is usually sealing all these products with a creamy moisturizer with more occlusive properties on top. This helps firmly lock in all the hydration and active ingredients applied onto your skin.

We know that there are way more products than just toner, serum and moisturizers. We have two basic AM and PM skincare routine guides for you to study and emulate, based on the layering principles that we have just discussed!

How to layer skincare products – General Guideline 

(AM) Morning routine: 

Your morning routine should focus on these three objectives: cleansing, moisturizing and protecting!


Cleansing is a very crucial step for each skincare routine. Always make sure to start off your skincare routine on a clean canvas. This will ensure that any excess dirt or sebum produced by your skin overnight is removed.

Toner (optional)

  • Exfoliating toners 

Exfoliating toners are meant to remove any excess dead skin cell buildup on the surface of your skin. You can use them as the first step of your routine, so that your next product can be absorbed better into your skin.

  • Hydrating toners/mists

Hydrating toners are used to help balance our skin’s natural pH, and to replenish moisture to our skin. If you have dehydrated skin, you can benefit from this extra step. Well-hydrated skin can help facilitate the penetration of your active ingredients in the products that you layer next.

Essence and boosters (optional)

An optional step that, again, makes your skin extra hydrated. Just like wetting a sponge before before putting on any soaps, these steps ensure that the following products layered onto the skin will be absorbed better. After all, a wet sponge absorbs better than when a dry one! 

Serums (optional):

  • Antioxidant serums 

This is another optional step that your skin will not complain about. Antioxidant serums can really help to boost sun protection. It will fight off the free radicals, one of the leading cause of premature aging!

  • Treatment serums

Depending on your skin concerns, you may have already committed to several treatment serums. These may include concerns such as redness, acne, hyperpigmentation or aging. However, do avoid applying retinoids in the morning, since it can increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun. You can keep it for your night time routine!

Sheet mask (optional):

Who loves to pamper themselves with a sheet mask in the morning while doing chores? That extra step provides the skin with a potent amount of active ingredients and a boost of moisture. 

Eye Cream (optional):

That extra TLC for the most delicate area on your face! Make sure to apply your eye cream before your moisturizer. This will keep the active ingredients as close as possible to your skin. 


  • Pick one or more of these: Emulsion, Lotion, Cream 

The amount of moisturizing properties present in a moisturizer can be depend on its consistency. Emulsion is usually the lightest on the skin and great for oilier skin types. Cream moisturizers are, well, the creamiest, and usually best for dry skin. The best way to decide is to try it on your skin, and remember the golden rule — always apply from lightest to thickest! 


The most essential part of your morning skincare routine is your sunscreen! Sunscreen helps to protect your skin from the harmful UV damage, especially when you’re out and about in the AM. Apply your sunscreen as the last step of morning skincare routine. 

(PM) Evening routine:

Your night time routine may look a little different from your morning routine, with more focus on cleansing, treatments, and hydration. A PM routine is all about replenishing and repairing your skin. The night is your skin’s prime time to shine!


Unlike your morning routine, you may need to pay double the attention to your cleansing process in the evening. More makeup, pollution, dirt and grime also mean that a more thorough cleansing process is necessary to ensure that your skin is clean before you start on your skincare routine.

  • Oil-based cleanser

You may already be familiar with the concept of double cleansing. Start off with an oil-based cleanser that will help to melt away heavy-duty makeup and remove excess sebum. Since oil attracts oil, this step ensure that all product on your skin is dissolved, without stripping your skin of its natural oils!

  • Water-based cleanser

Follow up with a water-based cleanser. This is to ensure that you have completely removed the oil-based cleanser used earlier, and any residual dirt and makeup left on your face. 


Exfoliating toners/hydrating toners: the same rules apply from your morning routine apply here.

Essences, Boosters (optional)

Again, follow the same guidelines from your morning routine.


  • Treatment serum

Just like in the morning, you can use treatment serums based on your personal skin concerns. Apply them after toners for best results. If you have a retinoid-based serum (or any other product), the PM is the best time to use it. Retinoids will help refine your pores and signal your skin to produce more collagen for younger-looking skin over time.

Sheet mask (optional): 

Wanna pamper yourself with something extra on a Friday night? Sheet mask to the rescue! Pick a sheet mask of your choice and put them on your skin for 15–20 minutes and your skin will thank you.

We know that it’s tempting, but don’t leave it on overnight. That would actually dry out your skin instead of moisturizing it!

Eye cream:

Same rules apply as your morning routine.


Just like a morning moisturizer, you have to put your evening moisturizer in this step of your routine. The only difference is that you have an extra option of putting on a sleeping mask. A sleeping mask/pack usually has more occlusive and emollient properties to help lock in all the moisture from the products used before this step. 

Oils (optional): 

Oil is another great option for dry skin. If you have really dry skin, consider adding a facial oil on top of your moisturizer. Oil works as an occlusive to boost your moisturizer and keeps your skin hydrated throughout the night.


The rules of how to layer your skincare products are not absolute. At the end of the day, you have to listen to your skin and experiment with your products to create your own unique formula.

This guideline can be a great starting point, but feel free to switch things up as you wish. After all, your skin is unique, and no one else knows it better than yourself! 

Ready to build your own skincare routine? Log into your Picky app now to find products across categories that are compatible with your skin type. Click here to read more from the Picky blog!

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