Which Comes First, Toners, Creams, or Serums?

Serum or Face Cream?

It’s complicated; you have a cabinet full of toners, creams and serums and you don’t know what goes on when. Using products in the wrong order could mean you’re not getting the most for your money. Here’s a guide to make it easy for you.

1. Toners

Toners are astringents, which means they contract tissue like pores, making your face feel tighter. They often contain alcohols and are used to remove oil from the skin as well as tightening. Therefore, you should use them first. If you have dry or sensitive skin, however, you might skip them completely because they can make dryness worse.

2. Serums

Serums are liquid cosmetics. They usually have antioxidants or peptides to minimize the day’s damage done to your skin and to give you a more youthful appearance. Serums are applied first so that there’s nothing between their expensive ingredients and your skin. The exceptions are serums that contain silicone or dimethicone. Silicone helps lock moisture in your skin, but it also acts as a barrier hindering anything above it from getting to your skin. Silicone serums should be applied last. Like expensive serums, any prescription medications should also be applied first to ensure that their active ingredients penetrate the skin unhindered. If you have both, then apply the prescription first and the serum second.

3. Eye Cream and Face Cream

Face and eye creams can be simple moisturizers or complex anti-aging products. Eye creams usually have antioxidants to help restore this most delicate skin. If you have one, then apply it before your face cream. Otherwise, by applying your face cream first, you risk rubbing it into your eyes. Once your prescription medications (if any) serums, and eye creams have absorbed, then apply your face cream last. If your serum has silicone or dimethicone, then apply it last, so its protective ingredients are the outermost barrier.

Photo: Kavehkhkh, Flickr

9 thoughts on “Which Comes First, Toners, Creams, or Serums?”

  1. Great post! Could you also talk about the amount of time we have to wait between applying products? Sometimes I hear 15 minutes, sometimes I hear an hour!

  2. Very helpful post. Many people want to follow a proper skin care regimen but have no idea which products to use or how/when to apply them. @Sandra, I think that once you can feel that the product has been absorbed into the skin, you can apply another product on top. Serums, especially, absorb pretty quickly. Maybe the doc will disagree with me, but that is what I do and what we did in my aesthetics school.

  3. @sandra I agree with Hollistically Haute: once it’s absorbed, you can move on to your next product.

    @susan Applying a fade cream after a serum is likely fine, although most dermatologists would recommend that any prescription products be the first applied after washing.

  4. In another post you mentioned a study suggesting that oral antioxidant supplements are harmful, but it is still believed that topical antioxidants are a good idea? Just want to know if I should continue investing in expensive antioxidant serums. Thanks!

  5. Francine Glick says:

    My head is spinning from trying to find a good moisturizer for aged skin. I also applied a liquid vitimin C to my skin and now wondering what am I doin? Thanks

  6. Thanks for clearing that up.

  7. My head is spinning from trying to find a good moisturizer for my skin because I wan’t to be and beautyful someday.


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