Instead of just slapping on five creams — then washing your face because, seriously, that stuff is heavy — follow the lead of the pros.
1. Start light.
Serums — the thinnest products — go first, because a) that just makes sense and b) “they deliver active ingredients into the skin most efficiently,” says Ranella Hirsch, a dermatologist in Boston. Plus, they’re easy to customize. Pick two or three serums that each treat one of your concerns: formulas with peptides for wrinkles (we like Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair) salicylic acid for oily skin (try The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution), and licorice or aloe to calm redness (like First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Hydrating Serum).
2. Add an antioxidant.
Vitamin C is one ingredient every skin type needs. “It brightens, protects against sun damage, and promotes collagen production,” says cosmetic chemist Ni’Kita Wilson, who recommends using a potent serum (such as Obagi Professional-C Serum 15%).
3. Take a coffee break.
“If you give each product a minute to dry, it won’t pill,” dermatologist Fredric Brandt told Allure in 2014. “I flow my skin care in with the rest of my morning routine. For example, I put on a product, have coffee, then put on a second product, then brush my teeth.”
4. Lock it down.
Moisturizer is key to any layering routine because “it seals serums on your skin, which can make them more effective,” says Wilson. Feel free to keep it basic: Try Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream for normal and oily skin and bareMinerals Butter Drench Restorative Rich Cream for dry skin.
5. Know when to go in reverse.
If your sensitive skin reddens at the thought of using even one treatment product, try putting on a simple, fragrance-free moisturizer first and then serums on top. “The cream will reduce the potency of the serums,” says Hirsch, “but they’ll also be less likely to cause irritation.”
6. Add an oil.
In small doses, oils make skin radiant. Put them on dry areas after creams — as a rule, oils can penetrate moisturizers, but not vice versa. We like Rodin Luxury Face Oil, with sunflower-seed and jojoba oils. Skip the oil if you’re wearing more than two serums under your moisturizer, though—at some point, you can’t avoid looking greasy.
7. Don’t forget protection.
“Sunscreen is your last step in the morning,” says Jeannette Graf, a dermatologist in Great Neck, New York. “It sits on top of your skin, so if it goes on first, it prevents other ingredients from penetrating.” Supergoop Unseen Sunscreen is lightweight enough to layer over multiple products.
8. Have a nightcap.
It’s not as sexy as a snifter of whiskey. But ending your nighttime routine with a retinoid makes you look a whole lot younger. (Every dermatologist recommends this superingredient.) “I put my retinol over a serum and a cream — moisturizing helps retinol to penetrate better with less irritation,” says Brandt, who uses his own Dr. Brandt Do Not Age Transforming Pearl Serum and Time Reversing Cream..