There are the most basic rules of proper skin care — like that sunscreen should be worn every day and makeup should be removed before bed. But once you get past the fundamentals and seek to adopt a more sophisticated routine, things can start to feel a bit confusing. When do moisturizers get used if you’re also applying SPF? Where does a toner fit into your regimen? Do you apply face oil or serum first?
The questions about skin care routine order can go on and on — but, to be fair, it’s with good reason. Following the best practices ensures your products work as effectively as possible, after all. To help you figure out exactly how to work both your serum and face oil into your regimen, Bustle spoke with the experts — keep scrolling for everything you need to know.
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Face Oils Vs. Serums
Quite like your average face lotion, face oil works as a type of moisturizer. The consistency may seem more similar to serum than that of a cream, but oils are more closely related to a lotion since they’re meant to hydrate and seal in moisture on top of the skin. According to Dr. Marisa Garshick, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at MCSD Dermatology, those who are especially prone to dry skin tend to opt for face oils.
Face oils aren’t for everyone, though. “For some people, oils are great — they hold in that moisture,” says Dr. Renée Moran, owner of Dr. Renée Moran Medical Aesthetics and founder of RM Skincare. “For others, they can be irritating, or cause breakouts. It’s really just figuring out what’s best for your skin.” That said, plenty of oil formulations exist that are actually beneficial to oily and acneic skin, which is why it ultimately comes down to personal preference.
Then there are serums, which are the potent elixirs that tend to contain the most active ingredients of your regimen. These can use skin-transforming all-stars like retinol, vitamin C, or chemical exfoliants to treat a specific concern (think hyperpigmentation or breakouts). Serums are less straightforward when it comes to their consistency: You can find them in oil (heavier) or water-based (lighter) formulations, but the function will essentially be the same — as long as you apply it in the proper order within your beauty routine.
Do You Apply Face Oil Or Serum First?
The absolute easiest way to remember the order in which to apply skin care products is quite like how you’d dress for a cold winter’s day: Start with the thinnest item (think: a T-shirt), and conclude with the thickest (a puffer coat). “When you have something that’s thick — something very viscous, or like a cream — remember to put that on at the end,” says Moran. Garshick echoes this, adding that the thinner the product, the easier it is to absorb. So in regards to the beauty products in question, that would mean applying your serum before your face oil.
If you’re extra dry and using a face cream and an oil, you’ll still apply your oil last. “Oils are actually considered thicker and should be applied as a last step,” Garshick says, clarifying that the proper order of operations, then, is as follows: cleanser, toner (if you’re using one), serum, moisturizer, face oil. And then there’s one more important rule to remember: “If it’s your morning routine, the last thing that goes on your face should be your SPF,” says Moran. But of course.