While having a dedicated skincare routine is a key part of the 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 routine. The texture of a formula, its weight, and its active ingredients can affect when a product needs to be applied and determine how it is used in your routine. Ultimately, the order for skincare routine steps is just as important as the products 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 sometimes get a bit confusing. Luckily for you, we’re experts when it comes to caring for your complexion. Our formulas, which fuse advanced scientific technology with natural plant-based remedies, are designed not only to work together but to work in unison to give your skin the best results. Over nearly 165 years, we’ve established a balanced and effective six-step skincare routine to give your skin the nourishment it needs. Keep reading for the full rundown on our proven skincare steps for healthy, radiant-looking skin.
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Determining the Right Order for Your Skincare Steps
The most important thing to consider when trying to determine how to layer skincare products effectively 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 routine order we recommend.
Clean skin is the very first step toward healthier-looking skin, meaning the right way to begin any skin routine is to cleanse the skin with a gentle facial cleanser. To start your daily skincare routine, reach for Calendula Deep Cleansing Foaming Face Wash, a gentle formula designed to remove dirt and excess oil from the skin without overdrying it. After removing your makeup, apply a small amount of the cleanser to damp skin and massage into a lather. Work the cleanser over your face and rinse thoroughly with lukewarm water.
KCR 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 once again with a foaming cleanser to penetrate the skin and 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 reaching for a gentle, alcohol-free formula, such as Calendula Herbal-Extract Toner, which features a variety of soothing botanical extracts to cleanse, hydrate, and prep the skin to readily absorb the treatments that follow.
If you use a serum, this is the time to apply it (and if you don’t, read our article, When Should I Start Using a Serum?, to find out why you should be). 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 the most potent product in your routine, serums are essential for maintaining healthy-looking and healthy-feeling skin.
Our top two serums are Kiehl’s bestsellers for a reason: The highly-concentrated formulas deliver proven results. We believe the key to an effective skincare routine is to use products tailored to your individual concerns, and serums are one of the best ways to target the specifics of what your skin needs.
Our top-rated serum, Powerful-Strength Line-Reducing Concentrate, contains vitamin C and hyaluronic acid to plump and visibly brighten the skin, while Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution is ideal for particularly dull or uneven complexions thanks to its potent formula with vitamin C and white birch extract. These powerful ingredients work together to reduce the appearance of dark spots (such as those caused by sun exposure or acne scarring) and dullness, resulting in a younger-looking, more radiant complexion.
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 reduce the chance of breakouts since well-moisturized 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, antioxidant-rich facial oil, such as Daily Reviving Concentrate, keeps the skin hydrated without feeling heavy or greasy. In regards to your skincare routine order, a daytime face oil should be applied after your serum but before your daily moisturizer and sunscreen.
Nighttime Face Oil
As part of your nighttime skin routine order, you can apply a slightly richer facial oil, like Midnight Recovery Concentrate. This rich facial oil is specifically formulated to work with your circadian rhythm to repair skin overnight (it even contains lavender essential oil to help promote calmness and a more restful night’s sleep).
The skin around the eyes is up to ten times 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. While no one has found a way to stop aging—and we don’t see it happening—you can slow the outward signs of it by using an eye cream specially formulated to plump and brighten the delicate skin around the eyes. Again, this is an area of your routine that you’ll want to tweak based on your skin’s needs.
If your eye area isn’t yet showing visible signs of aging, we recommend keeping your skin healthy-looking and bright with a hydrating eye cream, such as our best-selling Avocado Eye Cream. It moisturizes the delicate skin around the eyes while helping to reduce the appearance of minor age-related concerns, such as puffiness. As for the formula, it contains rich shea butter and soothing avocado oil.
For a more targeted solution to age-related eye-area concerns, we recommend Powerful-Strength Dark Circle Reducing Vitamin C Eye Serum. This antioxidant-rich formula helps address visible signs of aging while also working to protect the delicate eye area from further damage, for a smoother, brighter-looking under-eye area.
KCR Tip: To instantly revive tired, puffy eyes, keep your eye cream in the refrigerator. 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 type: 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. We recommend reaching for an option suitable for all skin types, such as Ultra Facial Cream. This paraben-free formula, which is our number-one best-selling moisturizer worldwide, contains olive-derived squalane and glacial glycoprotein to hydrate dry skin without weighing it down.
If you’re looking for a multi-benefit moisturizer that hydrates while providing anti-aging benefits, we have another recommendation: Super Multi-Corrective Anti-Aging Face and Neck Cream. This effective daily moisturizer contains vitamin A and hyaluronic acid to plump and even the skin for a brighter, more youthful-looking complexion.
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 skincare routine order right by applying sunscreen every day 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 SPF 50+ will be a fit for your routine regardless of skin tone. Apply it as the final step in your daytime skincare routine, every day, smoothing it on 30 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.
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 Cleansing Mask, which features Amazonian clay and works to detoxify skin, absorb excess oil, and visibly reduce the appearance of pores.
After cleansing your skin but before toning, brighten and soften your skin with a facial exfoliator, such as Epidermal Re-Texturising Microdermabrasion scrub. Our gently abrasive 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.
KCR 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. Over-exfoliating your skin can be just as harmful as not exfoliating at all, so keep track of how often you do exfoliate so as not to damage your skin.
Now that you’re up-to-speed on the importance of your skincare routine order, head on over to our article, How to Determine Your Skin Type, for more skincare tips and advice.
*“Sunscreen: How to Help Protect Your Skin From the Sun.” United States Food and Drug Administration. 2019. https://www.fda.gov/drugs/understanding-over-counter-medicines/sunscreen-how-help-protect-your-skin-sun/#spf.