If the thought of having any sort of skincare routine at all, let alone separate morning and evening regimes, is overwhelming, we’re here to help. From how to layer skincare, including the recommended skincare order and the best skincare routine steps, we’ve (hopefully) answered your questions below.
We also let you know which products are an essential investment (spoiler alert: it’s SPF. Always SPF), and which products you can pass if you’re in a hurry.
Before we go through the recommend skincare order, we want to stress that it is just that – a recommendation.
Different products work more effectively when used in conjunction with others, which is why knowing how to layer skincare is important, but not absolutely crucial.
For instance, the reason moisturiser comes at the end of a skincare routine is that it creates a barrier to lock in moisture. It also protects your skin against pollution and the elements.
This means if you put moisturiser on too early, the other products you layer on afterwards either don’t absorb as well, or don’t do as good a job. When products cost £25 plus in some cases, you don’t want to be wasting them!
That said, if you just don’t have time for a weekly exfoliation, or want a two-in-one multipurpose product because it’s cheaper and easier, then you do you! Please take this as a guide to help inform you, not preach. You can also learn more about what kinds of products will suit your skin best in our What skin type do I have? guide.
If you want a simple way to remember the skincare order:
That morning glow that you may sometimes have when you wake up? That’s sweat. Wash it off!
Even if you’ve washed/cleansed your face the night before, you still sweat during the night. There may be products leftover or your face may have been rubbing against a pillow that’s not spotless.
Whilst some swear by warm water and a washcloth for the morning, we prefer a gentle cleanser to remove any dirt or sweat that has accumulated in the night, and to leave a clean and smooth base for makeup.
We love the CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser (Lookfantastic, £9.50). This cleanser effectively washes away dirt and makeup residue without drying out the skin.
Toner is often dropped from a morning routine but it does have its benefits.
It helps remove any traces of cleanser and it can help balance the skin’s pH levels, preparing it for serums and moisturisers that follow. Toners can be great for minimising clogged pores, too. You can read more in our What does toner do – and why is it so important? guide.
Toner tends to get a bad rep for drying our your skin but long gone are the days of harsh, alcohol-based toners. You can now buy gentle, hydrating toners for all skin types and this makes them better suited to using morning and night.
Toner is especially good for oily, congested, or acne-prone skin and it can be a quick and easy way to add clarifying and exfoliating active ingredients into your skincare order without having to buy separate exfoliators.
If you want to combine treatment and a toner, we recommend the Pixi Glow Vitamin C (Pixi Glow, £10) tonic with Ferulic Acid.
The latter isn’t cheap – well neither of them are – but the Clarins toner comes in a huge bottle that has lasted us more than six months and counting. And the Fenty Skin toner doubles up as a serum, so can save money on buying separate toners and serums.
A morning treatment is a step that can be skipped if you’ve snoozed your alarm three times already (we’ve all been there), but it can give your skin a fantastic boost and its works beneath your makeup to improve the natural appearance of skin over time.
We love the Ordinary’s Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5 (The Ordinary, £5.90) for dry, dehydrated skin.
Hyaluronic acid is a powerful humectant that can attract up to 1,000 times its weight in water for optimal moisture.
The addition of B5 supports the formula to preserve surface hydration, creating the perfect glowy base for makeup. Ensure to apply this to damp skin for best results.
The C15 Super Booster from Paula’s Choice (Paula’s Choice, £46.00) also contains Vitamin E and Ferulic Acid to protect the skin from environmental damage throughout the day while protecting against the signs of ageing.
Glossier’s more affordable Super Glow serum (Glossier, £24) is similarly infused with Jojoba Oil, Shea Butter, and Sunflower Seed Oil to further hydrate the skin.
While cleansers, toners, and moisturisers are designed to clean and hydrate the upper layers of the skin when you’re learning how to layer skincare, a serum works below the surface.
It targets the layers you can’t see with typically high concentrations of active ingredients.
The concentrated nature of serums work well in delivering anti-ageing ingredients, like antioxidants, that help slow down DNA damage in your skin. This is, largely, what causes your skin to slump, sag and look sallow or dull.
You can buy countless serums for different skin concerns and many you can mix and match. You can read more in our guide to the science of serums and discover our recommendations in our best face serums list.
Eye cream is another product that you can skip in the morning if need be (or skip entirely), but if you want to keep your eyes looking fresh and youthful, it’s worth taking the extra time.
It is possible to hydrate the skin around your eyes with your day or night moisturiser, but we recommend you get a cream or gel designed specifically for the delicate, fragile area.
The skin around your eyes is much thinner than elsewhere on your face and body. It also doesn’t contain any oil glands, so dries out much faster than the rest of your face.
This is why dark circles are so visible and why the first signs of ageing typically occur around your peepers in the form of fine lines and creases.
Due to the fact it’s thinner, this skin requires certain levels of hydration.
Plus when you start applying your eye makeup, if it’s not hydrated enough it can make your makeup and concealer gather and look noticeable.
We like to use a thin cream in the morning (we’re currently using The Inkey List’s Caffeine eye serum) and then use a thicker mask-like balm at night.
We highly recommend The Body Shop Drops of Youth bouncy eye mask and the Tropic Eye Dream Age Defying Overnight Butterbalm.
FURTHER READING: Best eye cream for dark circles, wrinkles, fine lines and bags
Moisturiser provides an essential base for makeup and is vital in preventing your skin from becoming dry and dehydrated throughout the day.
It’s a product best picked according to your skin type; if your skin becomes oily and shiny throughout the day, opt for an oil-free gel formula, and if you have dry skin, we recommend picking a richer, heavyweight option.
Those with combination-oily skin are best suited to gel-based moisturisers. These provide deep hydration without leaving an oily sheen, won’t contribute to build-up of oils throughout the day, and won’t break down your makeup.
The Liz Earle Skin Repair Gel Cream (Liz Earle, £23) is hydrating and refreshing and absorbs quickly so that you can get on with your morning.
For drier skin types seeking a boost of hydration, and the perfect base for makeup, Glossier’s Priming Moisturiser Rich (Glossier, £29) is sent from the heavens.
FURTHER READING: The science of moisturiser
Sun protection is the most important, yet most overlooked, of your skincare routine steps – and not just during the summer.
Firstly, SPF protects the skin from UVA rays, which penetrate deep into the skin to cause ageing and even skin cancer.
The intensity of UVA rays remains the same in summer and winter, so it’s essential to apply at least SPF 30, even on dark, grey days.
Sun damage can also result in some of the key signs of ageing, including fine lines, dark spots and discolouration. That doesn’t mean it’s just for mature skin, though – start using SPF young, and you’ll be able to slow the development of these tell-tale signs of premature ageing.
However, finding the perfect sunscreen can be tricky. Often SPF can be thick, tacky, or even leave a white cast, which can be especially unflattering on darker skin tones.
To avoid this, we love the La Roche Posay Anthelios Ultra-Light Invisible Fluid SPF50+ Sun Cream (Lookfantastic, £17.50). It really does what it says on the tin – provides lightweight and invisible sun protection without a white cast, and without affecting the application of your makeup on top.
You can find more recommendations in our What SPF do I need? The best moisturisers with SPF, from Supergoop’s Unseen Sunscreen to Heliocare 360 guide.
FURTHER READING: What is SPF and why is it so important?
Evening skincare routine steps tend to be slightly longer and more complicated because you’re giving your skin the most nutrients right before its most restorative stage.
Research has shown that even one night of disturbed sleep can cause hanging eyelids, red and swollen eyes, pale skin and an increase in wrinkles and fine lines. This is because sleep is when your skin – particularly the epidermis – repairs itself.
Whereas you can get away with a single cleanse in the morning, we recommend you do a double cleanse in the evening. Put simply, this means cleansing your face twice at the end of the day.
Cleansing twice is essential to ensure that you remove all the makeup, oil and dirt that builds up on your face throughout the day. If you’ve ever thought your skin was clean, only to wake up in the morning to foundation stains on your clean white pillow, you’ll understand why the second step in your cleansing routine is vital.
Whilst you can cleanse twice using the same product, we recommend using one product to firstly target removing makeup, and a second product to target any skincare concerns and reach deeper into your pores to remove build-up.
Oil cleansers and cleansing balms are our favourite for removing makeup effortlessly, without scrubbing at or irritating your skin.
The Body Shop’s Camomile Silky Cleansing Oil (The Body Shop, £12) is the perfect choice for sensitive skin, with soothing camomile that nourishes the skin whilst removing even waterproof makeup. We also love Wishful Skin’s Cleansing balm.
For dry to normal skin types, a second cleanse is useful to wash away the last remnants of makeup and prep skin for any treatments.
A gentle cleanser such as Glossier’s Milky Jelly Cleanser (Glossier, £15) is ideal for this, as it contains skin conditioners to nourish skin, as well as gentle cleansing agents that will remove even stubborn waterproof mascara.
For oily or acne-prone skin, we love cleansers with additional clarifying benefits, especially those with salicylic acid. We love The Inkey List’s Salicylic Acid Cleanser (Cult Beauty, £10.99) to unclog pores and minimise oil production.
FURTHER READING: The Inkey List launches affordable hair care range
In the evening, you can get away with using slightly more intense toning treatments as your skin is not going to be seen by anyone, and has time to regenerate and repair.
Glycolic Acid is an alpha hydroxy acid that provides gentle exfoliation to improve the radiance of the skin.
The evening is the ideal time to apply any prescribed skin treatments, such as acne creams, but we recommend speaking to your doctor before you introduce any active ingredients to your skincare order. Especially if you’re being treated medically for any skincare concerns.
The Inkey List’s Tranexamic Acid Overnight Treatment (Cult Beauty, £14.99) is one of the lesser-known but most effective treatments on the market.
This treatment works as you sleep to reduce discolouration, smooth the texture, and naturally brighten the appearance of skin. It is a real all-rounder if you have oily or combination skin.
For mature skin, the evening is also the perfect time to introduce a gentle retinol treatment.
Retinol is clinically proven to have anti-ageing benefits, including the reduction of the appearance of fine lines, dark spots, and enlarged pores.
La Roche-Posay’s Redermic Anti-Wrinkle Retinol Treatment (Lookfantastic, £32) is the perfect option for starter retinol as it is gentle and suitable for sensitive skin. We also recommend Avon’s Plumping Shots because they contain Protinol, a retinol alternative without some of the downsides.
Ensure to introduce a retinol treatment slowly into your skincare routine, and always use SPF protection. You can read more in our What is retinol and what does it do to the skin? guide.
We’ve also handpicked retinol products in our best anti-ageing cream list.
It’s perfectly fine to use the same moisturiser morning and evening, but the evening can be a great time to introduce a more heavy weight formula since it won’t interrupt your makeup and has time to sink in while you sleep.
For dry or mature skin, we recommend Embryolisse Laboratories’ Lait-Crème Concentré (Cult Beauty, £13), a powerful hydrating cream enriched with fatty acids and vitamins to soothe dry patches and plump skin.
For combination or oily skin, we love the budget-friendly Simple Water Boost Skin Quench Sleeping Cream (Simple, £6.99) to give a boost to dull, dehydrated and sensitive skin. It’s water-based so it won’t encourage your skin to produce excess oils or block your pores.
FURTHER READING: Best foundation for oily skin, acne, spots and blemishes
A luxurious facial oil is the final step in our evening skincare order, locking in all the moisture and goodness applied before it and adding an extra layer of hydration and nourishment.
They’re also perfect to use when doing a facial massage to decrease puffiness and soothe tired skin. You can find out more in our Skin serum, facial oil or moisturiser: What’s the difference and which one do you need? guide.
Facial oils don’t have to come with the luxury price tag – the Ordinary’s Organic Cold-Pressed Rose Hip Seed Oil (The Ordinary, £9) provides intense moisture and is rich in linoleic acid and pro-vitamin A, which reduces signs of ageing and helps to fade acne scarring.
We also love the Virgin Marula Luxury Facial Oil from Drunk Elephant (Cult Beauty, £61.00), which has antioxidant benefits to protect against environmental damage and free radicals, working to reverse signs of ageing.
It is also rich in omegas 6 and 9 which help to hydrate and nourish stressed-out skin, soothing redness, and discolouration.
In addition to your morning and evening skincare order, there are products you can use weekly to give your skin an extra boost.
Neither are necessary but they can make a big difference.
Face exfoliation, using face scrubs, is one of the best ways to rid yourself of dead skin cells and replenish moisture.
This helps prep your skin for makeup, helps fight the signs of ageing and keeps your skin clear from acne, spots and blemishes.
You can also do weekly peels, which involve slightly harsher ingredients that help refresh the skin.We highly recommend The Ordinary AHA and BHA peel.
A face mask or sheet mask isn’t a necessity in the skincare order of things, but is a worthwhile luxury for when your skin needs a little extra pampering. There’s a wealth of options available on the market for every skin concern, and these are a few of our faves.
For dull and congested skin, we love the Caudalie Instant Detox Mask (Cult Beauty, £22), which contains pink clay and coffee to cleanse pores of dirt and oil, and papaya enzymes to visibly brighten the appearance of your skin.
If you’re in need of a boost of hydration that requires some TLC we love the Intense Hydration Mask from Saturday Skin (Cult Beauty, £4.60), which is packed with moisturising ingredients including hyaluronic acid and watermelon and aloe vera extracts.
After graduating from the University of East Anglia with a degree in History, Katie has gone on to pursue a Master’s Degree in Human Rights at University College London and is currently interning at a legal representation charity. When she’s not poring over books on politics and legal theory, she’s obsessing over cat TikToks, playing with makeup, or prowling ASOS