Throughout the monotony of successive lockdowns, many of us have had one saviour: embracing skincare. It’s demonstrated that being bored now might be worth it for beauty later – and you can already see your skin improving. As the calls to ‘drop your skincare routine’ increase rapidly, so does your pride. But do you actually know how to layer skincare products correctly? Maybe you have been doing unspeakable things like applying face oil after SPF as though your face was an egg to be fried in the sun. Or mixing incompatible skincare ingredients and hoping for civility. That ends here.
“It’s important to use products in the right order to enable them to do their job properly,” says aesthetician Dija Ayodele, founder of West Room Aesthetics. Cleansers “prepare the skin for what’s to come next by getting rid of makeup, sunscreen, germs and grime,” while “exfoliating products help to shed old skin cells which create a barrier to the penetration of further products and also help to create a smooth surface with more clarity,” she continues. “At this point you can then apply serum – which is usually your powerhouse product – and it will be able to penetrate and effect the skin more efficiently giving you better skin health results.” Then, “moisturiser locks in the goodness of the serum, protects and fortifies the skin barrier with ceramides, peptides and essential fatty acids.” Last of all, “SPF goes on top to protect the skin from UV rays” – “it’s no good if layered underneath another product,” Dija warns.
For cosmetic doctor and GP, Dr Rabia Malik, “an easy way to figure out what goes on when is to apply the runniest products first, followed by those that are thicker in texture.” But “I think the most important steps are an antioxidant-based serum and sunscreen in the morning,” she continues. Ultimately, the bare minimum for your morning skincare routine should be as follows:
“At night you should always start with a double cleanse,” advises Dija. “Begin with an oil-based cleanser to break down SPF and makeup, and then follow this up with an active cleanser,” she specifies. “We favour cleansers with alpha hydroxy acid or enzyme exfoliants in them to really get your skin prepped for the rest of your routine.” Afterwards, the choice is this: a serum or a vitamin A product (which may well be a vitamin A serum). Since vitamin A – also known as retinol – should be used cautiously to begin with, there will be nights in this part of your routine where you “just move straight from cleanser to night time moisturiser,” says Dija. But “you can also use a moisturiser over your vitamin A if your skin is feeling slightly dry,” she continues.
And so the bare minimum for your nightly skincare routine should be as follows:
“The biggest issue I come across is overdoing it when it comes to skincare in general,” says Dr Rabia. “My belief is that less is more and that you actually get the best results with a few products that have a high concentration of active ingredients,” she explains. But “eye creams that are formulated with active ingredients tend to be in lighter formulations and should be applied first” after cleansing, she advises.
For Dija, issues mostly arise in conjunction with vitamin A. “It’s most effective when applied and left alone, but sometimes we see people going to apply heavy moisturisers and oils over the top which can dilute its potency,” she states. Other mistakes are simply an issue of timing: some people use “vitamin c at night, which is technically fine, but it’s better used in the morning,” she says.
Here’s where our experts differ in opinion. For Dr Rabia, “this really depends on the texture of the product and the formulation.” Dija, however, doesn’t see the need for a pause between each step “unless instructed by a specific product.” But their guidance is as follows:
“I usually advise waiting for 1-2 minutes after applying serums to allow for optimal absorption, before applying any moisturiser or sunscreen on top,” says Dr Rabia.
“If you are using an acid-based product or prescription-strength vitamin A (such as tretinoin) at night, then it is advisable to wait 15-20 minutes before applying any moisturiser on top,” she continues.
According to Dija, “some products even benefit from moving swiftly” – hyaluronic acid is one of them. It “works much better applied to damp skin so it has some hydration to cling to,” she explains.
“This really depends on the individual’s skin and their current concerns,” says Dr Rabia diplomatically. But if she had to pick one thing? “I would say get rid of the abrasive scrubs, as these can do more harm than good.”
For Dija, toner “can often be cut from a routine when more potent products are being used.” And she’s not devoted to eye cream either: “unless you have specific concerns about the skin around your eyes, not everyone needs eye cream and many products can be taken up to the eye area anyway.”
In the words of Dr Rabia, “be guided by how your skin feels.”
“This really depends on the formulation,” states Dr Rabia. “A lot of the medical grade skincare products I work with have quite a high concentration of active ingredients, so smaller amounts are required,” she explains. But “products you buy in department stores and pharmacies tend to have a lower concentration of active ingredients, so people tend to use more with no problems,” she continues. If frugality is your thing, medical grade skincare “can actually end up being more economical due to the smaller amounts required to see results, meaning the products last longer.” Either way, “products with a pump have a definite advantage as you get a controlled, measured amount each time,” says Dija.
Here’s the amount of each product that should be used in your skincare routine:
One pump. Or, a raisin-sized amount “in the palm of your hand mixed with some water,” according to Dr Rabia. Dija raises this to “around the size of a 50p coin,” but the single pump remains the principal measurement.
This is something both experts agree on unequivocally: a “grain of rice” for each eye.
One or two pumps. Or, a “pea-sized amount” according to Dr Rabia. For Dija, it’s “around the size of a 1p coin.”
For Dija, a “generous almond-sized squeeze” should suffice. But, for Dr Rabia, it’s “as much as you need for skin to feel sufficiently hydrated.”
One teaspoon is what’s required “for the face and neck to get the maximum sun protection listed on the bottle,” advises Dija.
Alongside the aforementioned antioxidant serum and SPF, Dr Rabia believes that “cleansing skin effectively is the foundation for good skin and the penetration and absorption of products that follow, as well as ensuring the skin barrier is not disrupted.”
According to Dija, “the most important product in any skincare routine is your serums and treatments, where your active [ingredients] come in.” This is where concerns such as hyperpigmentation, dehydration, inflammation and breakouts are targeted.
For night specifically, Dija recommends a vitamin A product “to stimulate the deeper layers of the skin for more hydration, improved collagen, increased but controlled exfoliation [and] fading dark marks.” It’s “the gold standard of skincare and the ingredient that is going to get your skin health to its absolute best,” she advises.
The first sign is often “pilling on the surface of the skin,” says Dr Rabia. This “usually suggests products are not being absorbed correctly, which may also mean they are not being layered or applied in the right way.” For Dija, these “textural changes in the products” indicate “immediately that those particular products don’t interact well together.”
Then again, an absence of textural changes to the product does not necessarily mean that the skincare product is working. “What you will notice in the long term is that your skin concerns are not improving,” explains Dija.
“Your fingers are absolutely the best thing to apply your skincare with,” says Dija. Using your hands means that “you can feel your fingers and your skin at the same time, giving you optimum pressure and also the best chance for your products to absorb properly.” But – global pandemic or not – “washing hands before applying skincare ensures there is no transfer of dirt or bacteria onto the face or into skincare products that you may be dipping fingers into,” Dr Rabia reminds us.