The world of skincare is exciting, ever-changing, and for many, very confusing. So let’s start with a basic understanding of an exhaustive list of products that people tend to use in their skincare routine and most importantly, what order in which to use them and why.

Three Steps Only

An effective skincare routine includes the following three basic steps:

  1. Cleanse to remove impurities.
  2. Treat to troubleshoot specific skin concerns.
  3. Protect to enhance your skin’s innate ability to maintain itself.

Important note: Products marked by a * don’t have any proven benefits to the skin. However, we included them here for the sake of completeness. And of course, a board-certified dermatologist should approve all skin regimens to make sure it fits your unique skin.

AM Routine


  • Cleanser → Non-comedogenic (non-clogging) cleansers remove impurities and overnight build-up of oils on the skin.
  • Toner* aka exfoliator → Toners include alpha (glycolic, lactic, citric) and beta hydroxy (salicylic) acid products that exfoliate accumulated skin cells. Exfoliating the skin is useful if you have oily skin or uneven skin tone, but you should avoid it if your skin is sensitive or prone to redness. It is important to note that these are distinct from astringents, which are more drying and can be irritating.  


Certain treatments perform best in the morning.

  • Acne treatments → Morning is a great time to use acne treatments such as benzoyl peroxide, which decreases bacteria and inflammation that cause acne. This will also avoid deactivation of your nighttime retinoid.
  • Serums →  Vitamin C serum is best used in the morning as the antioxidant effect can protect your skin all day from free radicals that damage your skin. AHA/BHA serums are also preferentially used in the morning to avoid irritation with nighttime retinoid use. You can apply hyaluronic acid, peptides, or other vitamin serums in both the morning and evening.


  • Moisturizer & Sunscreen → Protecting the skin with moisturizer and sunscreen with at least SPF 30 can prevent photoaging and skin damage. You can use sunscreen and moisturizer as a combined product or, if separate, with the moisturizer first and then the sunscreen on top.
  • Hydrating mist* → If you apply makeup, it’s the last step and you can use a hydrating mist to set it.

PM Routine


  • Cleanser → An evening cleanser should remove makeup (if applicable) and cleanse the skin. If you wear heavy makeup or eye makeup, you can use micellar water or dedicated makeup removing pads and then follow with a general cleanser. Removing makeup frees the pores of buildup.


The evening is a good time to apply treatments as they can soak into the skin overnight. They can be performed in the following order:

  • Retinoids →  You should apply this first to clean skin. Retinoids increase the production of collagen.
  • Serums →  Apply any serums after the retinoid to coat the skin and rejuvenate overnight. Excellent serum ingredients include hyaluronic acid for skin volume restoration and azelaic acid for tone correction.
  • Face masks* →  Masks can hydrate, enhance penetration of ingredients, or exfoliate.  


  • Eye cream* → If you choose to use eye cream, gently apply before the moisturizer.
  • Moisturizer → Protecting with skin with cream-based moisturizer overnight can help to heal the skin from daily photodamage and from excessive exfoliation and irritation from the above treatments. An excellent overnight moisturizer can include niacinamide, ceramide, and other healing agents. 
  • Face oils* → Face oils are useful for extremely dry skin and can be used instead of cream-based moisturizers.

So there you have it!  A basic skincare routine consisting of three steps: cleanse, treat, protect. Consistent use with these three steps will result in healthy, happy skin.


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