How to Layer Your Skincare Products and Their Active Ingredients

When it comes to skincare, there is no one size fits all.

There is no single product that contains all the necessary active ingredients to address all skin concerns for all skin types. However, layering your skincare products in the right order will do just that. Layering your skincare is a great way to address multiple core skin concerns simultaneously. For this reason, many people customise their skincare routine based on their skin’s needs. You may find that using a 4 step routine is more than enough for your skin, whilst having a  10-12 steps routine may not lead to much of a significant difference. The truth is, there is no set rule of how many steps you should follow during your skincare routine, as long as you layer the products in the correct order. Not following the correct steps can deem your products ineffective and could potentially irritate your skin.

As a skin doctor, a common question I receive from patients visiting our clinic is what is the correct order to apply each product in ones skincare routine. The general rule of thumb is to apply the products based on their consistency, from thin-to-thick. The idea is to allow the thinner products like serums to be properly absorbed in the skin before locking them in with a thicker product such as a moisturiser.

However, this won’t ensure you get all the benefits from your skincare products. Knowing how to layer the active ingredients is the tricky bit because not all ingredients can be applied at once. For example, Niacinamide mixed with your Vitamin C serum could lead to complications, and using Vitamin C with Retinol can irritate your skin.

We have illustrated a daily skincare routine based on the most common and most beneficial active ingredients.

This illustration shows the order in which products and their active ingredients should be layered to maximise the benefits of the products used for your skin.

You will notice that the routine does not include exfoliants such as AHA/BHA because I would not necessarily recommend using exfoliating acids on a daily basis.

If you are using AHA/BHA or any other exfoliants, I would recommend applying them after the cleanser, before the toner/essence. I would also recommend skipping the retinoids on the evenings you exfoliate your skin to avoid irritations, sensitivity and redness. 

Once you understand how each active ingredient works on your skin, layering your skincare products correctly will become straight forward. So, let’s take each product and active ingredient at a time.


This product is self-explanatory. Before applying any skincare, you must ensure the skin is clean of any impurities. If you wear make-up, I recommend double cleansing (using a make-up remover followed by cleanser or an oil-based cleanser followed by a water-based cleanser). There are a variety of cleansers on the market so when it comes to the active ingredients you want in your cleanser you have a choice. I would recommend choosing your cleanser based on your skin type and the areas of concern.

My personal favourites are:


A toner will mainly balance the ph levels and remove any other impurities left on the skin after cleansing. Toners will hydrate and prepare the skin for the products to follow because skincare products will always be absorbed better on a damp skin. With that being said, there are also toners used to address certain skin concerns and these usually tend to use exfoliating acids.

An essence has a slightly thicker composition than the toner but is thinner than a serum. An essence would normally follow after the toner and again it is normally used to hydrate and prep skin for the next products in your routine. This is an optional step, especially if you are using a toner. Personally, I always recommend keeping the routine simple and easy to follow so I would recommend a good toner followed by effective serums. However, if you want that extra hydration, you can add an essence after your toner, prior to applying the serums.


Vitamin C is one of my favourite products and the holy grail of my morning routine. It provides so many benefits for the skin from fighting free radicals to increasing collagen production in skin. What makes it highly effective is that it is suitable for all skin types and all ages. The main form of Vitamin C is L-ascorbic acid. L-ascorbic acid, unlike other derivatives of Vitamin C will deliver the best results for the skin. However, it is a very unstable ingredient that starts oxidising once it makes contact with air. This is why, while there are many products on the market containing L-ascorbic acid, it is extremely important to choose the right products that are as stable as possible.

The Skinceuticals C E Ferulic is probably the most popular and most recommended Vitamin C serum – and rightly so. With over 30 years of scientific research, Skinceuticals perfected the Vitamin C serum formula. This product is formulated with 15% L-ascorbic acid, the most potent form of Vitamin C, Vitamin E and Ferulic Acid, another two powerful antioxidants that maintain the stability of the L-ascorbic acid. This formulation will ensure you get the most benefits from this potent ingredient. Some Vitamin C serums can irritate the skin due to lower ph and high acidity, but the Skinceuticals formulation was developed to fit all skin types, especially dry or sensitive skin. 

With a slightly lower L-ascorbic acid concentration (10%) than the C E Ferulic serum, we have the Skinceuticals Serum 10.

This is a great choice if you have sensitive skin or are new to Vitamin C and want to slowly increase your skin toleration for the ingredient.

A similar product is the Vichy Liftactiv Specialist Peptide-C Ampoules. The packaging makes it great for travelling. 

A similar formulation of the Skinceuticals C E Ferulic, is the Skinceuticals Silymarin CF.

With 15% L-ascorbic acid, Vitamin E and Ferulic Acid, the formula also contains 0.5% Salicylic Acid which is a powerful ingredient used to treat acne prone skin, acne and clogged pores.

While the product was formulated for acne prone skin, due to the low but effective concentration of salicylic acid, it is suitable for daily use. This formulation will actually help the l-ascorbic acid absorb better into the skin because the salicylic acid also plays the role of prepping the skin.

If you are new to Vitamin C and are looking for a slightly lower concentration of L-ascorbic acid (10%) but still wish to take advantage of the extra benefits of the salicylic acid, you can start with the La Roche-Posay Pure Vitamin C Serum. and work your way up to the Skinceuticals Silymarin CF.

With a slightly lower concentration of L-ascorbic acid (10%) than the C E Ferulic or Silymarin CF serums, the Skinceuticals Phloretin CF serum will give your skin all the benefits of the Vitamin C while addressing melasma and hyperpigmentation. That is because this formula also contains 2% Phloretin, a powerful antioxidant that can brighten your complexion whilst targeting dark spots.


This is probably the most popular ingredient on the skincare market. Hyaluronic acid is a humectant, and its main purpose is help draw water in the air onto your skin, so your skin maintains its moisture and hydration. I recommend using hyaluronic acid on damp skin, either after your vitamin C in the morning or after your toner in the evening. This will ensure you get the maximum benefits from this ingredient. Because it is a humectant, applying hyaluronic acid on damp skin will help penetrate and trap the moisture onto your skin rather than being evaporated as it would be the case if applied on dried skin. Whilst there are many products on the market are formulated with hyaluronic acid, I like dedicating one step in my skincare routine to this ingredient alone. My favourite hyaluronic acid serums are the Skinceuticals H.A.Intensifier and the Vichy Mineral 89. Both of these products are suitable for all skin types and will improve skin firmness and plumpness while deeply hydrating the skin surface by maintaining your skin moisture levels. 


Niacinamide is, in my opinion, one of the most underestimated ingredients. The benefits it brings for the skin makes it an all-around must-have ingredient. It helps soothe the skin, even the skin texture, brighten the skin, balance oil production, calm inflammation and tighten pores. While it is a very potent ingredient, I would not suggest layering niacinamide with Vitamine C because it can make the Vitamin C you are using, the l-ascorbic acid in particular, ineffective. So, I would recommend using niacinamide in your evening routine or even in the morning if you are skipping the Vitamin C in your morning routine. One of my favourite niacinamide serums I recommend to my clients is the Skinceuticals Discoloration Defense Serum. With 5% Niacinamide, this will really transform your skin. While it works wonders for treating hyperpigmentation or melasma, it is suitable for all skin types. Another product that I highly recommend is the Skinceuticals Metacell Renewell B3 which is formulated with 5% niacinamide as well. This comes as an emulsion rather than a serum and really focuses on delivering additional hydration to the skin by maintaining the levels of hyaluronic acid and skin firmness. For acne-prone skin, I also recommend the La Roche-Posay Effaclar Serum which combines 2% niacinamide with salicylic and glycolic acids to really address clogged pores and support the natural skin renewal. 


I don’t think retinoids need any introduction as they are quite established in the skincare world as being the go-to ingredient for anti-aging properties. Retinoids work to tighten pores, reduce fine lines and wrinkles, improve skin texture and increase the skin cell turnover. Retinoids come in different forms and can be bought over the counter or on prescription. The most popular form of retinoids is retinol.  

If you prefer a retinol serum, I recommend the La Roche-Posay B3 Serum . If you prefer a retinol cream, as I do, my go to is the the Skinceuticals Retinol 0.3%. Both of these products have a 0.3% retinol concentration, which is the maximum retinol concentration I recommend my patients to start with. If you are new to retinol or have sensitive skin or want a product you can use on a daily basis, these are the products for you. After your skin is accustomed to retinol, you may increase to 0.5% or 1%. However, as a doctor, I encourage clients to seek specialist advice whether a higher concentration is needed. 


The eye cream is the first cream that is applied after the treatment products (serums). Eye creams are used to treat dark circles or puffiness under the eyes and reduce fine lines and wrinkles around the eyes. You can apply eye cream in the morning or in the evening or in the morning and in the evening but you need to be careful of its active ingredients. If your eye cream contains niacinamide like the Cerave Eye Cream Repair I would restrain from layering on top of Vitamin C in the morning so this cream I would recommend using only in the evening. Other products I would recommend using in only in the evening are the La Roche-Posay Redermic R Retinol Eyes which is formulated with retinol for added anti-ageing benefits. In the morning, I usually go for the Skinceuticals AOX Eye Gel which contains l-ascorbic acid for the brightening the under-eye area and repairing photo-damage. Some great products I recommend for daily use, morning and/or evening, are the Skinceuticals Eye Balm and the Skinceuticals A.G.E Eye Complex, both working wonders at reducing dark circles and puffiness. 


The last step of the daily evening skincare routine is the moisturiser. Now that the skin has been treated, the moisturiser will work by locking in all the previous serums and creams  whilst maintaining your skin’s hydration levels. This is why it is extremely important to not forget this step in both your morning and evening routines. With that being said, many moisturisers also work as a treatment. For instance, the Skinceuticals Triple Lipid Restore is formulated with ceramides which fight fine lines and wrinkles. 


SPF helps to block your skin from the sun's radiation. SPF creams are used mainly in the morning and reapplied during the day. I cannot stress enough how important it is, to always, no matter the season, wear SPF protection. I have heard many of my patients believing this misconception that SPF protection is only needed when it’s sunny outside or that – that is not the case. Another misconception I hear  is that as long as your foundation has SPF in its formula, there is no need to apply an SPF protection cream. This is, again untrue.. You can apply the most premium products, with the most potent ingredients but will be doing yourself a disservice if you are not also applying SPF. The technology of SPF is also one of the key reasons why I recommend using Vitamin C in the morning because Vitamin C works great in fighting free radicals and effectively enhancing your SPF potency. I normally recommend a high SPF like the Skinceuticals Ultra Facial Defense SPF50 , which also has a great lightweight texture, to be used on a daily basis.

I hope I shed some light on how to layer your products on a daily basis during your morning and evening routines. Of course, every skin is different, and no size will fit all. You may have different skin concerns that may benefit from additional products, or you may not need all the products I have mentioned. If you are confused about what products are best for your skin type and your skin concerns, please do not hesitate to contact us. Myself and the team at Skin 65 will be happy to assist you, free of charge, in finding the best skincare routine for you.

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