Which skincare products in which order?

Can you use argan oil before Retin A?

I get a lot of these questions on the blog, so thank you.  It reminds me that this area is very confusing.  And to complicate matters, there’s very little  science on the best order. Skincare products are usually tested on their own, or just in conjunction with a bland moisturizer and a gentle cleanser. Here’s what makes sense to me at this time, and with what we know now.

Serums and gels are generally very similar since there’s no standard definition in the skincare product world.  Both have no or very little oil. Serums are usually very thin, and gels are a little thicker.  They often have some alcohol in the base, but not always.

Skincare product order in the morning:

  • Gentle cleanser plus a gentle scrub 2-3 times a week to remove make-up, sunscreen, and dimethicone (a silicone) containing skincare products. The scrub could be a washcloth!  If you are very oily or have acne, you may want a more drying cleanser or one that contains benzoyl peroxide.
  • Antioxidants or other serums.   Examples are the C&E Ferulic (3 antioxidants in 1), or a Vit B5 hydrating serum with a hyaluronic acid-base, for example.   Or growth factors like the TNS serum.
  • Moisturizer or skin-friendly oils, if needed.  If very dry, look for one with more modern technology that boosts our natural skin lipids.  Lipids in skin occur naturally and protect us from skin water loss and kind of help glue the skin cells together.
  • Eye creamWhy because this area may age more rapidly due to the lack of oil glands in the skin around the eyes.  And, it’s thinner.
  • Sunscreen – every morning.  Best are those with high zinc (7-20%).  It’s the only sunscreen active truly natural, blocks the most UVA & UVB, and doesn’t hurt the environment.
  • Make-up if needed.

Skincare product order in the evening:

  • Gentle cleanser and make-up remover, if needed.
  • Antioxidants or other serums like above.
  • Moisturizer or skin-friendly oils, if needed.  Many people prefer a lighter moisturizer during the day, under sunscreen, and a more emollient (thicker) one at night, since no sunscreen. If very dry, look for one with more modern technology that boosts our natural skin lipids.  Lipids in skin occur naturally, and protect us from skin water loss and kind of  help glue the skin cells together.
  • Eye cream. Try using your eye cream on your lips.  It works well.
  • Vitamin A creams like retinol or Retin A (tretinoin).   If you are very oily and with tough skin, you can probably use this first and then put on moisturizer.  Most of us need the moisturizer first and then the Vitamin A cream.

Be careful about layering too many products on at one time, since we really don’t know if that helps or hurts skin!  One approach is to find a regimen that you know works for you and use it for 2-3 months.  Then……..change one product at a time, adding in the new one for 2-3 months, then decide if it’s making a good difference.  Clearly if you have irritation from it or an allergic reaction, stop using it and contact your doctor for help!

Hope this helps,
Dr. Brandith Irwin
Founder, SkinTour
Director, Madison Skin & Laser Center
Follow my skin tips and travels on Instagram!



Dr. Brandith Irwin, MD

Ask me your skincare question!

Hi, I’m Dr. Irwin. I believe that consumers deserve a medically trained and unbiased skin care advocate.

  • All our content is written and researched by myself.
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One of the best investments in your skin is your daily skincare. Why? Because you can prevent many problems with blotchy skin color, lack of glow, texture, some types of acne, and fine lines with good skincare products. You can also correct some of these problems with effective skincare products. Great skincare is often more expensive because quality ingredients are expensive. Some companies spend on research/development which benefits all of us and adds to the cost. Are they worth it? In general - yes! I have handpicked some of what I consider to be the best skin care products, and offer them for sale on SkinTour's shop. This is based on my team and I's testing and research at our clinic. Many of the products are in my own regimen. What could be better than using skin care products a dermatologist uses?!