A Beginner's Guide To Layering Skincare (And The Products You Actually Need)

·4 min read
When it comes to skincare layering, “less is definitely more”, say the experts. (Photo: Getty)
When it comes to skincare layering, “less is definitely more”, say the experts. (Photo: Getty)

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Heard of the term ‘skincare layering’ but not quite sure what it’s all about? We’re here to walk you through it.

Perhaps your grandma or mum told you to “cleanse, tone and moisturise’. Well, layering is just a step (or two)) up from the same principle: applying multiple skincare products in a specific order to get the very best results for your skin.

But which products and how many layers are too little or too many? To clear up any confusion, we’ve spoken to some skincare experts to get your questions about product layering answered. (Spoiler alert: you really don’t need a mega 12-step layering routine that takes hours to complete.)

What does layering your skincare really mean?

If you take your skincare seriously, chances are you already have a beauty bag – or cabinet – full of lotions, serums, and creams. But is there a process that allows you to maximise their effectiveness? Yes, and it’s called layering.

“Skincare layering is basically an application of skincare products in a certain order,” explains Irina Evans, an aesthetic nurse prescriber who works with skin and medical grade skincare. The main aim of layering is giving the active ingredients in products the chance to work on your skin cells, she says.

Dr Sidra Shakir, a cosmetic specialist at the UK skincare clinic, Sk:n, agrees. Layering enhances the absorption of skincare products so that you can target skin concerns in a more effective way,” she tells HuffPost UK.

How should you layer your skincare?

So, sounds like the extra time it takes to layer skincare *actually* makes a difference. But how should you approach layering your go-to products?

Most dermatologists recommend following a process of: cleanser (some suggest double cleansing), toner, serum, eye cream, moisturiser, facial oil, then SPF for mornings, and retinol for evenings. As Bruce Green, founder of SOS Serum Skincare, says: “The key to layering is first to cleanse, then tone, and then nourish the skin. Start off with a good cleanser (this is the most important step of any skincare routine!), then apply your serum, moisturiser and SPF.”

There are different approaches to the exact order of the layers, but as a general rule of thumb, experts advise the best approach is to layer products from lightest to heaviest formula. “Lighter-weight formulas should be applied to the skin first, followed by the heavier formula,” says Dr Sidra. “This will ensure they are more easily absorbed by the skin to achieve maximum benefits.”

(Photo: Galina Zhigalova / EyeEm via Getty Images)
(Photo: Galina Zhigalova / EyeEm via Getty Images)

“It is always important to layer from the thinnest product to the thickest,” agrees Evans. “The purpose of this is to allow products, such as serums, to be absorbed first before the thicker consistency products, as if applied the other way thinner consistency products will not be able to penetrate into the skin cell and will just remain on the top layer.”

Your morning and evening routine should look a little different. Evans recommends that while morning skincare should end with SPF, your evening skincare should be finished off with an application of your retinol of choice.

Retinoids, like retinol, reduce fine lines and wrinkles by encouraging the skin to produce higher amounts of collagen – they also help to improve skin texture and can aid the fading of darker patches.

Products containing higher doses of retinol are available on prescription only, whereas lower dose products can be bought over the counter.

How many products do you *really* need for layering?

If you spend any time on TikTok, you’ll have seen some of the 12-step skincare layering routines that are popular amongst influencers right now, and are probably wondering whether so many steps are really necessary.

The short answer is no. It’s in the beauty industry’s interest to plug as many products to us as possible. But it’s the quality – and how you apply them – that matters, say the skin experts, not the quantity.

“Every person is different,” says Dr Sidra. “However, a good skincare routine with high quality products is key. Ideally, the minimum products should include a good moisturiser which repairs the skin barrier, a vitamin c (serum) and a retinol. An SPF is also a must, even if it is cloudy or snowy outside!”

Green agrees. When it comes to skincare, “less is definitely more”.

So, while you can opt for a seven-seven (or even, gasp, 12-step) routine, you can also simplify things down to just a few key products. One of the great things about layering skincare is the chance it gives you to personalise your skincare to suit your timetable, your budget – and, yes, your skin.

Fancy updating your routine? Here, we round up some best buys for your starter layering routine.

This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.

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