When it Comes to Your Skincare Routine, Do You Apply Serum Before Moisturizer?

Aside from taking care of your health and diet, skincare is one of the most essential forms of self-care a person can do for themselves. A good skincare routine gives your skin a fighting chance to look its best. A thoughtful skincare regimen is important at any age — in fact, developing healthy skincare habits in your 20s and 30s can help prepare and strengthen your skin for the effects of aging that will inevitably happen in the distant (or maybe not-so-distant) future.

We may not realize it, but we shed skin cells throughout the day, so we want to make sure to keep our skin healthy and glowing. An effective skincare routine can help with a myriad of skin concerns such as treating and preventing acne, warding off wrinkles, and keeping your skin looking luminous so that you can put your best face forward. Below, we break down the order and optics of an ideal skincare regimen so that you can get your skin primed to be in the best working order.

Serum vs. Moisturizer: What's the Difference?

Moisturizer has long been hailed as a skin saviour to all sorts of skin issues. But what is the purpose behind this “miracle” product? Let us peel back the layers.

Moisturizers are described as emulsions of oil and water — as well as other ingredients for nourishing, treatment, and preserving the skin — that help replenish hydration and keep the skin from drying out. Moisturizers improve skin hydration by increasing water content and directly providing hydration to the skin. It also covers small skin fissures, providing a soothing protective film. Moisturizers also protect skin from friction.

Using the right moisturizer for your skin type can help maintain the pH balance because when skin is too dry or too oily, many skin issues like acne can start to pop up all over the place.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but dermatologists recommend moisturizing even skin that is on the oily side. In this case, skincare experts advise looking for lotions rather than heavier creams. Additionally, it would be beneficial to find a moisturizing lotion that has an exfoliating ingredient so that dead skin cells don’t have a chance to build up.

If, on the other hand, your skin tends to be on the dry side, a cream will work best because they often have higher oil content. In fact, even acne-prone skin can benefit from a moisturizer. Moisturizing balances out the complexion and can help soothe, even out, and even prevent blemishes.

Moisturizers can also ward off wrinkles and help your skin slow down the aging process. That healthy glow and firm feeling that you get after moisturizing isn’t just an illusion according to the world’s best dermatological journals: people with properly moisturized skin actually accumulate wrinkles at a fraction of the rate than those with dry skin!

A serum is a lightweight topical agent — it’s lighter than moisturizer but thicker than water — that has a high concentration of active ingredients which are absorbed into the skin. Even a pea-sized amount of serum can be highly effective. Serums are used to hone in on specific skin care concerns or problem areas such as acne and discoloration. Serums are an excellent addition for working on wrinkles and fine lines. Retinol and vitamin C are two very popular and results-driven types of serums.

So what’s the main difference between a moisturizer and a serum? A serum usually has smaller molecules combined with a high concentration of ingredients designed to penetrate, nourish and improve the skin. A moisturizer's job is to hydrate the skin and prevent water loss.

What is the Perfect Skin Care Routine?

There is no perfect skin care routine to suit everyone’s skin. A consultation with a dermatologist or skincare expert can help identify any personal skincare concerns and get you on a customized regimen that can have a huge impact on the health and look of your skin.

At the same time, there are certain products that act as the nuts and bolts of a common skincare lineup. These include:

  • Makeup removers or cleansing oils
  • Cleansers
  • Eye creams (if you feel you could benefit from one)
  • Toners to take off every ounce of any leftover pore-clogging residue
  • A retinol serum at night (retinol is a Vitamin A derivative that fights acne, wrinkles, and promotes collagen)
  • Spot treatment, if your dermatologist recommends it
  • And of course, a moisturizer
  • Sunscreen is also strongly advised for during the day — even in the winter months!

Skin experts say that both face serum and moisturizer are essential for a holistic and healthy skin care practice. A serum cannot replace a moisturizer and for its part, a moisturizer alone can’t give your skin all of the ingredients — like vitamins and nutrients — it needs to be at an optimal level while looking great for years to come.

So this begs the question: should you apply serum or moisturizer first? According to skin experts, because serums are formulated to deliver active ingredients deep into the layers of the skin, the moisturizer forms a seal to make the serums more effective. Serums are also lighter than a face cream, oil, or lotion. For these reasons, it is ideal for the serum to go first. Most experts advise waiting 30 to 60 seconds before applying moisturizer.

In What Order Should I Apply Skincare Products?

Read on for a step-by-step playbook on the path towards pristine-looking skin.

Step 1: Cleansers

Cleansers are the foundation for any skincare regimen. Experts often recommend double cleansing to get all that gunk from the day off.

Step 2: Toners

Many people have a habit of skipping the toner, but this product goes the extra mile when it comes to sweeping out what your cleanser might have missed. It also refines skin pores for a more flawless look and feel.

Step 3: Serums

We’re back to the beauty of serums. Applying this next whether your serum is a vitamin C product by day or the revolutionary retinol by night. It’s important to note that vitamin C is activated by the sun, so it is best for during the day. Retinol, on the other hand, makes skin super sensitive to the sun, so it should be applied at night.

Step 4: Spot Treatment

You may wish to use a spot treatment to target any problem areas — especially if it is prescribed by your doctor or dermatologist for acne.

Step 5: Eye Cream

Eye creams are great for bags under the eyes, or moisturizing the delicate skin around our peepers. Eye creams can also be great for crow’s feet and fine lines or as an anti-aging preventative product.

Step 6: Moisturizer

Make room for moisturizer because it is likely to be a tried and true staple to your skincare. Instead of a cream or lotion, you can also opt for a moisturizing face oil here instead.

Step 7: Sunscreen

Last but definitely not least: make sure to swear by your sunscreen every day! Broad spectrum sunscreens protect us from both UVA (responsible for prematurely aging the skin) and UVB rays (think sunburns) — especially during the summer months. Sunscreen will also reign supreme in your arsenal to help anti-aging.

What to Look For in a Moisturizer

When you’re on the hunt for the ideal moisturizer for your skin, dermatologists say to look for ingredients like hyaluronic acid and dimethicone, which put water in the skin, helping it to stay well-hydrated. Glycerin, propylene glycol, proteins, and urea also help attract water to your skin. Ingredients like lanolin, mineral oil, and petrolatum also lock in the moisture.

Most skincare professionals usually suggest moisturizing twice a day: once in the morning and once at night — both times after cleansing, of course!. This ensures that your skin’s moisture levels remain constant both throughout the day and while you sleep. The result will be supple, healthy-looking skin. Many moisturizers are fragrance-free and hypoallergenic for sensitive skin types. Talk to your dermatologist because they can recommend the best option for you.

What to Look For in a Serum

Look for serums made with humectant ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, glycerin, betaine, and panthenol. Humectant ingredients retain and preserve moisture,drawing moisture from the air and infusing it into the skin. Serums made with coconut extract, ceramides, plant-derived lipids, essential fatty acids, and antioxidants such as vitamin E are also fabulous for pumping and plumping the skin with moisture. A vitamin C serum can be ideal for targeting wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, photoaging, dryness, sunburn, and an uneven skin tone.

Retinol — one of the most sought-after skincare products — does a whole host of things: it exfoliates the skin, increases cell turnover and stimulates collagen, which is something we lose with age. Retinol is readily absorbed from the surface of the skin when applied topically. It’s wise to consult with a dermatologist who can recommend a retinol product that’s right for you because retinol comes in different concentrations. You’ll likely want to start off with something minimal and work your way up. Until your skin gets used to retinol, you might experience some itchiness and peeling. For this reason, your dermatologist may advise starting out with using a low concentration retinol twice a week or every other day so that your skin can build up some tolerance to the ingredient. Again, please remember to use retinol only at night.

The Best Moisturizers For Every Skin Type

For dry, dehydrated skin, we recommend Picture Perfect Day Daily Moisturizer, Guava & Vitamin C, e.l.f. Daily Hydration Moisturizer, or Revlon Eterna 27 All Day Moisture Cream to combat everything from crow’s feet to flaky skin.

For combination skin, Neutrogena Naturals Multi-Vitamin Nourishing Moisturizer has a fantastic combination of ingredients: vitamins B, C, and E — not to mention an ample amount of antioxidant omega bio nutrients to perfectly penetrate the skin. It also won’t clog pores, so it’s ideal for both combination and acne-prone skin.

For oily skin, Seriously Shine Free Mattifying Moisturizer, Aloe Vera & Bamboo or Olay Whip Luminous Face Moisturizer, SPF 25 will seriously take care of any shine. Both of these can also be great for acne-prone skin as well.

If anti-aging is the name of the game, then go for either L'Oreal Paris Collagen Daily Face Moisturizer or Eucerin Q10 Anti-Wrinkle Face Creme, Unscented. Either one will have you covered. This unscented formula also works well on sensitive skin.