Skincare 101: The Best Order to Apply Skincare Products, Top Brands and More

Everything you need to know about applying skincare products, from cleanser to sunscreen, and our favorite products.

Skincare 101: The Best Order to Apply Skincare Products, Top Brands and More


5:57 AM PST, February 28, 2024

If you’re just starting your skincare journey, you’ve probably noticed the staggering amount of items that you can apply to your face.

From “foaming cleansers” to “retinol” to “toners,” the amount of potential products you could add to a skincare routine is more than a little confusing. Further, when you finally figure out which products to buy and what they're for, one huge question remains: in what order do you apply skincare products? Do you layer on a moisturizer directly after washing your face? And why do you need to put on sunscreen every day, anyway?

We get it. Skincare can be confusing. And as skin ages, things can get even more complicated. That’s why we’re here to help.

Welcome to Skincare 101. Whether you’re a teen headed to Sephora or Ulta looking for that moisturizer you saw touted on TikTok, or in your mid-thirties, baffled by the difference between a toner and a serum, we’re here to make learning how to care for your skin as easy as hitting that “add to cart” button on products you only know about through their social media hype.

No matter your age or skin type, there’s a basic routine you can follow to start your skin down the road to being happy, healthy, and well-moisturized (and slathered with sunscreen, we hope). That means a better fresh-faced no-makeup look, easier makeup applications if you wear it, and a comfortable you — less acne, less dry skin, and, in turn, more confidence.

So kick back, relax, and check out our product recommendations for each step of your daily basic skincare routine. We’ve included a few of our favorite product picks at low, medium, and high price points where available, so even if you’re working with a smaller budget, you can have an effective regimen.

We’re going step by step here, so let’s get ready to build your first simple skincare routine together.  

Step 1: Cleanser

Whether you’re rinsing the excess oil and sebum from your face that collected overnight with a morning wash or removing an entire makeup look, cleanser is always going to be your first step. You need a blank canvas on which to apply all the skincare products necessary to make up a routine, and making sure your face has been properly cleansed of makeup, dirt, or other impurities is important so your efforts for happy, healthy skin aren’t made in vain. These cleanser options do a great job of leaving a fresh face behind. 

Step 2: Toner

After cleansing your face, it's a good idea to apply a toner. Toners are a great way to prep your face for additional serums or treatments because they can penetrate your skin quickly and get rid of excess dirt or makeup left behind after your regular cleansing. They're typically very thin and watery. In fact, you might not even think they're doing anything when you put a toner on due to how weightless they seem – but your skin will thank you for it. Apply a toner after you wash your face with a cotton ball or cotton pad and let it dry before moving on to your next step. 

Step 3: Serum

Your third step should be a face serum. Serums come in all forms and are made with a variety of different ingredients. That could include anything from vitamin C (for brightening) to hyaluronic acid (for hydration) and other additions to make your skin sing. They're thin in viscosity and they should go on freshly cleansed and toned skin, so your skin can soak up all their delicious benefits. It'll be up to you to decide which benefits you'd like to deliver to your skin, which is something you'll need to address over time as you assess what kind of things you'd like to work on with your skincare routine, be it acne, fine lines and wrinkles, or skin sensitivity. 

Olay Super Serum

Olay Super Serum


Olay Super Serum

This serum smooths on quickly and leaves no tacky residue as it delivers niacinamide, Vitamin C, collagen peptide, Vitamin E, and alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) for hydration and a more even skin tone.

Step 4: Eye Cream

After your serum has soaked into your skin, it's time to give your eyes some much-needed TLC. Eyes are the window to the soul, after all, and you want to make sure yours look great. Eye creams work to target your undereye skin specifically as they can help reduce puffy eyes, and dark circles, and even lessen the appearance of crow's feet, fine lines, and dullness. You'll also add more protection from the sun's harmful UV rays with this layer on your undereye area. The most important thing to remember here is to apply very gently to the area with your ring or pinky finger so as not to pull or tug when applying your eye cream. That will help you avoid damaging the delicate skin there. 

Step 5: Moisturizer

Moisturizer is your next step after smoothing on eye cream. Though your skin should be feeling quite smooth and hydrated after your first few passes, you need to make sure you seal all of that in. Keeping your face hydrated is one of the most important steps in any skincare routine, and for good reason. It helps stave off dry, irritated skin, and can even help to delay early signs of aging. Plus, it makes for a smooth base for your final step: sunscreen. 

Step 6: Sunscreen

Whether the sky is cloudy or the sun is beating down on you, you should be wearing sunscreen. If you do no other step of your skincare for the day before heading out, at the very least apply SPF. Just a short time outside could cause UV damage from the sun's powerful rays. That means advancing the signs of aging or even potentially developing skin cancer. Apply sunscreen to your face and neck, and if you want to protect the rest of your body, it's a good idea to apply it there, too. Just be sure to reapply every few hours if you're remaining outside for any significant amount of time. Since this is the final step in a basic skincare routine, feel free to apply makeup after your sunscreen has dried.