Skincare routines and the order of application is something many people have strong opinions about. But, at the end of the day, personal preference is the thing that matters most. If you want to apply your oil before your moisturiser, or exfoliate before you cleanse – you do you!
But here is how science says this should go:
Cleanse is always number one.
This is a no-brainer, why would you add stuff only to wash it off again of course. But within this cleansing bucket, which product should you use first?
If you are a double-cleanser, oil cleanse first and then follow it up with a foaming cleanser, like Bliss or Deep Green. If you have very dry skin, you can skip that step and just use an oil cleanser.
To tone, or not to tone? That is the question.
I have always been ambivalent about toners. They are useful for several reasons; if you have dehydrated skin, they are another way to add more hydration (water) and often come loaded with humectants to draw more water to the skin. They are often acidic, so useful to help restore your acid mantle if your cleanser isn't pH balanced (which is unusual now, unless you use a soap-based product).
But I personally prefer using a gentle cleanser and following this up with moisturising on a damp face. But again, personal preference is key so you do you.
What about exfoliation?
Great question. Should you scrub before you cleanse? Or is it the other way around?
There is not a lot of science out there that really shows one way is better than the other, so you can do what you prefer here.
There is no harm in cleansing after you scrub and the reverse is also true.
Depending on what kind of exfoliator you use, you may skip cleansing entirely. If it foams, and your skin feels clean, don't feel you should cleanse again. It really does depend on what your exfoliator is. If you simply use a face cloth, then you might want to use a product to remove makeup and dirt before. If you use an oil based exfoliant and don't like the slick feeling they can leave behind, maybe cleanse afterwards. The power is yours.
When I use our Gingersnap face scrub in the morning, I don't cleanse before OR after as Gingersnap contains a surfactant so removes dirt and oil too, as well as scrubbing away dead skin cells. If you were doing it at the end of the day, you might want to cleanse first to remove makeup, then follow with Gingersnap.
There can be a tendency to over cleanse, particularly in those with oilier or acne prone skin. This can actually cause you more harm because you disrupt the acid mantle (more about that here.) So, unless you really feel you need to double cleanse after exfoliating, I would recommend you skip it.
How do I use a serum and what skincare routine order is best?
Serums come in many shapes and sizes, with broad categories being: oil-based, silicone-based, and water-based. Some are centered around actives, like ceramides, or fan favourites like niacinamide or vitamin c. How they go in your routine, depends on which one you've chosen. First and foremost, read your brand's recommendations. Secondly, understand what you are trying to achieve with your serum as that will guide your routine.
Generally speaking, water-based serums should go under a moisturiser. Oil and silicone based should go afterwards.
So, enter the biggest debate of all: oil or moisturiser first?
Oil doesn't hydrate skin. Water is the only thing that adds moisture to your skin. Oil helps by preventing transepidermal water loss (TEWL) by sealing it in there. Oils don't form an impermeable barrier, but they can slow down evaporation and help your skin remain hydrated.
The theory is if you apply oil, then your moisturiser, the water in your moisturiser will have a harder time moving through the layers of oil into your skin. Whereas if you apply moisturiser first (and on damp skin please), then oil, the oil ‘seals’ the water in a little more. This will also vary a little though depending on the oil themselves as they have different properties; some are lighter, some heavier, the fatty acid profile and much more.
I've seen bold proclamations like ‘the science is settled' when it comes to oil vs moisturisers, but science is very rarely ‘settled’. We are always learning more. There is very little evidence out there showing oil should be before or after moisturiser that has been tested in real world settings that I can find. There is the above theory, and some in-vitro (means in-glass – so basically lab testing) but whether that translates to the real world is debatable.
So again, if you want to apply a face oil or oil-based serum before your moisturiser, you can! It just may not provide you with as much benefit as the other way around. And there is some evidence that oil under SPF is dilutive or will prevent it applying evenly, so your SPF may be less effective. That is why I only use oils in the evening.
So, what is my Ethique skincare routine?
- Deep Green cleanser (1-2 times a week I will use our Gingersnap scrub to exfoliate)
- Splash of water to ensure damp skin
- Vitamin C serum
- Bliss Bar cleanser as it removes makeup and I prefer one step personally
- Splash of water
- Retinol every 2-3 days, or an AHA chemical exfoliant (we don't have these... yet..)
- The Perfector moisturiser
- Saving Face Serum
Whichever way you choose to use your products, there are some golden rules:
- Don't go to bed with makeup on
- Wear sunscreen every day
- Drink plenty of water
- Get plenty of sleep
And finally, a word on complexity. There are some incredible skincare gurus and scientists out there who have wonderfully thought-out skincare routines and spectacular skin to show for it. You don't have to build something enormously complex straight out of the box. Start small, add something new and see how it works for you before jumping straight into an 11-step program.
If you end up creating something you don't see any benefit in and that you find time-consuming (not to mention, expensive!), you won't stick to it. So go one step at a time and have fun experimenting!
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