While having a dedicated skincare routine is a key part of Kiehl’s healthy skin philosophy, it’s only half the battle. You also need to know the correct skincare routine order to get the most out of your chosen products. The texture of a formula, its weight, and its ingredients can affect when a product needs to be applied and determine how it is used in your routine. Ultimately, knowing what order to apply skincare products is just as important as what you use: Layer your products wrong, and you could end up missing out on a lot of skin benefits (at best) or hurting your skin (at worst).
Since many skincare routines include several different steps (just look at the popular 10-step Korean beauty routine) and sometimes dozens of different products, things can get a bit confusing. Luckily for you, we’re experts when it comes to caring for your skin—and here, we’re sharing our best advice about the correct order to apply skincare products. Ahead, discover eight skincare routine steps to follow morning and night for healthy-looking skin.
How To Determine The Correct Skincare Routine Order
The most important thing to consider when trying to determine the correct skincare order of application is, of course, to follow the instructions outlined on your products. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all rulebook. That said, when trying to remember the correct order to apply skincare products, a general rule of thumb is to layer your products, starting with the thinnest, water-based formulas and ending with the thickest products. The goal is to allow each product to absorb before layering on your next product, and lightweight, water-based formulas are typically more penetrable and quicker to absorb than heavier products.
With that in mind, we’ve put together a general guideline for the most effective way to layer your skincare products. Read on for the skincare order we recommend.
Ultra Facial Cleanser
A clean canvas is crucial if you want your skincare products to work their best, which means that in your order of skincare products, cleanser should come first. We recommend reaching for a mild facial cleanser, like our classic Ultra Facial Cleanser. The non-stripping formula, which contains olive-derived squalane and glycerin, gently removes dirt, oil, and other debris without over-drying your skin. It’s pH-balanced to help maintain your skin’s natural protective barrier, and it’s suitable for all skin types, including sensitive skin. Apply a dime-sized amount to damp skin and massage it over your face in upward circular motions, then rinse with lukewarm water.
Kiehl’s Tip: For a deeper clean, try double cleansing. Double cleansing is a method that involves washing your face twice: First with an oil-based cleanser to remove dirt, oil, and makeup, and then again with a foaming cleanser to ensure a deep clean.
Once your skin is clean and dry, the second step in your routine is to apply toner. The purpose of toner is twofold: First, to remove any oil, dirt, or residue that remains after cleansing, and secondly, to prepare your skin for the more concentrated treatments, like serums, that you’ll be applying later in your routine. We recommend trying a gentle, alcohol-free formula, such as Calendula Herbal-Extract Toner—it’s been a Kiehl’s customer favorite since the 1960s. The soothing toner, which contains calendula extract and whole calendula petals, helps calm and soothe the skin after cleansing. It’s also clinically-demonstrated to help relieve redness and discomfort and diminish the appearance of enlarged pores with consistent use.* Use a clean cotton round to apply the refreshing formula—just pour a bit onto the cotton round, then gently sweep the moistened pad over your face, avoiding the immediate eye area.
*Results based on expert grading in a four-week clinical study on 62 subjects.
Essences are similar to toners in that they’re both liquid formulas that can help improve the appearance of your skin. Essences, however, aren’t designed to cleanse like toners; instead, their purpose is to help address skin concerns. Since they’re lightweight and absorb easily, essences make for an ideal first treatment step in your skincare routine.
After toning, we suggest splashing Ferulic Brew Antioxidant Facial Treament with Lactic Acid directly onto your skin, avoiding your eye and mouth areas. The antioxidant-packed formula with ferulic acid and lactic acid helps defend the skin against damaging free radicals that can contribute to the early signs of aging. Additionally, the powerful essence visibly diminishes fine lines and evens the skin’s tone to reveal a smoother, glowier appearance over time.
If you use a serum, this is the time to apply it—and if you don’t, read our article, Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Face Serums, to find out why you should. The short version: These targeted products are designed to help improve a myriad of skin concerns by delivering highly-concentrated formulations of active ingredients. As one of the most potent products in your routine, serums are essential for maintaining healthy-looking and feeling skin.
In the morning, we recommend using a vitamin C serum, like Powerful-Strength Vitamin C Serum. The radiance-boosting formula, which contains 12.5% vitamin C, smooths skin’s texture and helps minimize the appearance of enlarged pores. Over time, it works to visibly reduce fine lines and wrinkles for smoother, firmer-looking skin.
For your nighttime skincare routine, try a retinol serum, such as Micro-Dose Anti-Aging Retinol Serum with Ceramides and Peptide. This anti-aging serum with pure retinol helps promote gentle skin surface turnover to visibly reduce wrinkles and refine skin’s texture. The fast-absorbing cream is carefully formulated to be suitable for all skin types, and it delivers visible anti-aging results with minimal dryness, redness, or discomfort (even for first-time retinol users). We suggest smoothing one pump onto clean, dry skin in the evening prior to moisturizing to help reveal more youthful, even-looking skin.
The skin around the eyes is significantly thinner than the skin on the rest of the face, so it’s no surprise that it’s one of the first areas to show visible signs of aging. To help keep it looking its best, we recommend incorporating an anti-aging eye cream into your usual skincare routine. Try Super Multi-Corrective Anti-Aging Eye Cream, which contains niacinamide and collagen peptide. The multi-tasking eye cream helps lift the brow bone area, smooths the lid, brightens and de-puffs the under-eye area, and visibly improves the appearance of crow’s feet at your outer corners. The unique gel-cream formula absorbs quickly and can be worn alone or layered under makeup for smoother, more youthful-looking eyes.
Kiehl’s Tip: To help instantly revive tired, puffy eyes, keep your eye cream in a skincare fridge. Applying the chilled cream directly to your eyes helps to reduce puffiness and give your eyes a wakeful boost—even if you’re half asleep.
Moisturizing daily is an essential skincare step in every routine, regardless of skin type. What kind of moisturizer you pick, however, is heavily dependent upon your skin: A person with oily skin wouldn’t benefit from a super-heavy, rich cream, while a person with dry skin would find little relief in a lightweight gel moisturizer. You can seek out a moisturizer designed specifically for your skin type, or use one that’s suitable for all skin types, such as Ultra Facial Cream with Squalane. This customer-favorite moisturizer delivers up to 24-hour hydration and absorbs easily with a lightweight texture. Additionally, the squalane-infused formula helps restore and strengthen the skin’s natural moisture barrier, leaving your skin feeling softer, smoother, and healthier with continued use.
At night, we suggest reaching for a night cream, like Midnight Recovery Omega Rich Botanical Night Cream. The lightweight, cloud-like moisturizer sinks in beautifully and helps replenish the skin’s natural moisture barrier overnight, revealing a more supple, radiant appearance by morning. Plus, the omega-rich formula boasts a soothing lavender scent that helps relax your mind in preparation for sleep. Smooth a pea-sized amount onto your face, patting in any excess formula, then go to bed. You’ll wake up to plumper, more youthful-looking skin that feels deeply nourished.
Next among your skincare routine steps is applying face oil. If you have oily skin, you may be wary of putting oil directly on your skin out of fear of breaking out. However, if applied properly, using a facial oil can actually help keep your skin balanced since hydrated skin often produces less oil than dehydrated skin. Of course, we wouldn’t recommend slathering just any oil on your skin, as formulas that aren’t designed specifically for the face can clog your pores. Additionally, the type of oil you use may vary based on when you’re applying it: Daytime formulations tend to be lighter-weight and more readily absorbed, while evening variations are often heavier and richer.
Daytime Face Oil
For daytime, a lightweight facial oil is ideal. Try Daily Reviving Concentrate—the antioxidant-rich formula helps correct the visible signs of fatigue and keeps the skin fresh and radiant-looking. Plus, it’s non-comedogenic and non-acnegenic, so it’s suitable for all skin types (oily skin included). In regards to your skin routine order, a daytime face oil should be applied after your moisturizer but before sunscreen—just let it absorb fully before applying your SPF.
Nighttime Face Oil
In the evening, you can apply a slightly richer facial oil, like Midnight Recovery Concentrate. This moisturizing facial oil with squalane and evening primrose oil boosts essential moisture to help restore the appearance of tired-looking skin. Pat a couple drops onto freshly-moisturized skin before heading to bed for more radiant, youthful-looking skin by morning.
We know you know it, but we’ll say it again: Wearing sunscreen every day is a vital aspect of any daily skincare routine. Get your morning face routine order right by applying sunscreen daily after moisturizing. Current guidelines recommend using broad-spectrum sunscreens with an SPF, or sun protection factor, of at least 15. Additionally, those with fairer skin may do better with a higher-SPF sunscreen.*
Super Fluid Daily UV Defense
Super Fluid Daily UV Defense is our pick—the lightweight, non-comedogenic formula provides broad-spectrum protection from UVA and UVB rays and is suitable for all skin types. Apply it as the final step in your daytime skincare routine, every day, smoothing it on at least 15 minutes before sun exposure. Be sure to also take other sun-protection measures, such as avoiding direct sunlight at midday and wearing a hat when in the sun. It’s not just about protecting how your skin looks or preventing annoying sunburns—it’s about keeping you healthy, inside and out.
Routine Booster: Face Mask
Once or twice per week, after cleansing and toning but before the rest of the steps in your skincare routine, apply a mask that targets your skin’s specific concerns. We’re crazy about Rare Earth Deep Pore Minimizing Cleansing Clay Mask, which features fairly-traded Amazonian white clay and works to detoxify skin, absorb excess oil, and diminish blackheads and clogged pores. It’s suitable for normal and oily skin and helps reveal a smoother, visibly more refined appearance.
Routine Booster: Exfoliation
After cleansing your skin but before toning, brighten and soften your skin with a facial exfoliator, such as Epidermal Re-Texturizing Microdermabrasion scrub. Our gentle scrub is formulated with finely powdered seashells known as diatomaceous earth. This exfoliating step helps to remove dead skin cells on the skin’s surface, leading to softer, brighter-looking skin. Removing dead cell buildup also helps ensure skincare treatments, like those in your daily skincare routine and your nighttime skincare routine, effectively penetrate the skin’s surface.
Kiehl’s Tip: This skin-boosting, pampering step shouldn’t be part of the skincare order you follow every day. Start by exfoliating once per week, and increase to two or three days per week based on your skin’s response.