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how to layer skincare

Article Summary

  • Skincare product categories
  • Skincare product ordering
  • Example routines

Once you’ve taken the plunge and decided to begin your skincare journey, every beginner has the same question when those products start showing up in the mailbox… how on Earth do I layer these skincare products? 


The first step of layering your skincare routine is breaking up your products into these four categories. We’ll get into why we need these categories in a minute. 

    • Cleansers. These contain surfactants and are used to cleanse the skin of makeup, sunscreen, dead skin cells, pollution, and oil. 
    • “Bare skin” treatments. These are products whose instructions say some variation of “use on clean, bare skin”. These are things like AHAs, BHAs, vitamin C serum, certain prescriptions, etc.


  • SPF. Sunscreen is a category of its own – that’s how important it is.
  • Everything else. For every other skincare product you want to use, just make a note of how thin or thick the texture is.

 how to layer skincare



While it may seem daunting at first to put a multi-step routine in order, it’s actually quite simple. There’s a simple rule (with a few exceptions) – I call it the “I before E except after C” rule of skincare layering.

The rule is:

Thinnest to thickest, except for:

  • Cleansers
  • SPF
  • “Bare skin” treatments

That means that for most of your skincare routine, you’re going by texture and consistency: the thinnest, watery-est products go first (like toners and serums), and then you use consecutively thicker products until you get to your thickest (usually a moisturizer or balm).

The exceptions are:

Cleansers: always go first in the routine.

SPF: always go last in the routine.

“Bare skin” treatments: always go on clean, bare skin immediately after cleansing, even if they have a thicker texture.

Here’s an example AM Stratia routine using this rule:

  1. Cleanse with Velvet Cleansing Milk
  2. C+C Serum (a bare skin treatment, even though it’s fairly thick)
  3. Rewind (a light water-based hydrating serum)
  4. Fortify (a medium-weight facial oil - thicker in texture than Rewind, but thinner than a cream or lotion)
  5. Lipid Gold (a lighter-weight lotion; if you were using a thicker moisturizer as well, it would go after this)
  6. Lipid Gold Eye Cream (a thicker version of Lipid Gold that works to combat dark under eye circles)
  7. SPF

Of course, the best skincare routine is the one that works for your skin. If you find a different order works best, go for it!


Another common skincare question is “which products go in the morning vs at night?”

A lot of this is preference. Some people like lighter steps in the morning and richer ones at night. Your skincare homework will be to see what you like and what feels right for your skin. 

We have a few suggestions to get you started for skincare layering, starting with products that protect our skin better when applied in the morning and ingredients that are best used at night as they’re degraded by light.

Morning Routine:

  • antioxidants
  • sun protection 
  • hydration

Night Routine:

  • double cleansing
  • retinoids
  • richer moisturizers

Our Guide to Skincare Layering & Order

This article is reviewed by Alli Reed, our founder & formulator on 11/7/2023.