I’m sharing what I’ve learned about the steps of a beauty routine and why it’s important to apply your skincare products in the right order. It seems overwhelming at first, but it’s really quite simple: cleanse, prep, treat, protect.
Why it’s important to put skincare on in the correct order
Many people who don’t have a skincare regimen admit they are overwhelmed by all the steps.
I definitely was!
It’s the main reason I never bought a regimen myself. Analysis paralysis. Most of us know to start with cleanser, but what’s the order of toner, serum, face oil, sunscreen, moisturizers, and makeup? Should your sunscreen go on first or last?
By using a regimen vs just random products or skipping some steps, you’ll see a more noticeable difference in your skin since the products are designed to work together.
I think this was my biggest mistake prior to switching to a Beautycounter regimen.
I was mixing samples from Birchbox in all kinds of different combinations from different brands so nothing was working synergistically.
Remember that skin is alive, so you might vary your routine slightly or there could be times when steps swap or your skin responds in a non-traditional way, but here are general recommendations for a basic routine.
How to Apply Skincare Products in the Right Order
You can follow these steps with any regimen from any brand you choose. Most collections will follow the same format of cleanse – prep – treat – protect.
You can see my whole shebang on this page. It seems like a lot of products when you line them all up, but it only takes me about a minute or two from start to finish, morning and night.
The average woman uses at least 16 beauty products in her routine! So make sure what you do choose is safe and high performing.
Step 1: Cleanse
Wash your face to remove and rinse away makeup, excess oil, dirt, and environmental toxins that accumulate during the day.
If you’re using a cleansing oil or balm, that can sometimes double as a makeup remover. Or if you prefer use a makeup remover first and then cleanse second.
If you love beauty, you might hop on the double cleanse trend and start with a balm or oil and follow with a targeted foaming, cream, or gel cleanser. Squeaky clean!
What I use: Countertime Lipid Defense Cleansing Oil (AM) or cleansing wipes (PM) and makeup remover when I have extra to take off my eyes.
I massage the cleansing oil onto my dry face with dry hands and then rinse it off with water.
If I’m in the shower, I keep a towel over my shower stall to dry my hands and wash my face first so it’s still dry when I start.
Step 2: Prep
This is a step that many people leave out!
If you’re trying to save money on your routine, you probably want to try to get by with the least amount of products. But if you’re going to spend money on serum, treatments, and moisturizer, you want those to be doing their very best job!
Toners and essences prep skin to receive the nutrients in the treat step to follow by balancing pH and preparing open pores for serum.
what I use: Countertime Mineral Boost Essence
I have always loved the feeling of toner application. I have very dry skin that feels super tight when I first get out of the shower.
In fact, I panic if I have to wash my face and don’t have anything to put on right after (like a quick rinse at the pool).
Even though toner’s role isn’t necessarily to add moisture, I find it really quenches my skin’s thirst and helps with overall hydration.
I think of all the products I use, the Countertime Essence is my very favorite step! I pat it onto skin after cleansing and move to to serum before it dries.
Step 3: Treat
This is where things can get a bit wishy-washy because there are so many options in this step!
Most people use a serum, which is a super-concentrated dose of nutrients designed to target a specific concern like hydration, acne spot treatments, or anti aging. Products like acne treatments, salicylic acid, vitamin C serums, and retinol fit into this category.
This is where I used to get overwhelmed because my concerns were always “all of the above!” A lot of serums are multipurpose, so unless you have a specific need I wouldn’t let yourself get too overwhelmed.
If you do have more than one targeted treatment, it’s best to use one at a time instead of layering them all on at once.
To get the best bang for your buck, do not cause a traffic jam in there of competing products! Surface area is limited.
Some products can even cause others to be less effective. You want your treatment step to penetrate as deep into pores as possible, which is why you should use it after cleansing and toner and before moisturizer, which may inhibit absorption with its thickness.
What I use: Countertime Tripeptide Radiance Serum (AM) and Overnight Resurfacing Peel (every other PM)
The Countertime Serum has a blend of peptides, amino acids, Bakuchiol (a natural alternative to retinol) and Swiss Alpine Rose to increase skin firmness, reduce the appearance of fine lines, and improve the moisture barrier. I like to think this is where the magic happens!
And the Overnight Resurfacing Peel is magic in a bottle. It is composed of 15 different ingredients, including glycolic, malic, and botanically derived lactic acid. I think this product is the gold star to make skin look smooth and radiant and erase dark spots over time.
Step 4: Protect
After you’ve opened pores and cleansed them, prepped them with toner, added nutrition with serum, you want to seal that barrier shut and protect your skin from all the environmental toxins you might come across.
Start with eye cream dotted around the eye area and follow with moisturizer. A natural sunscreen (zinc based) should go on last because the zinc is a physical blocker of sun’s rays.
what I use: Countertime Antioxidant Soft Cream (AM) and Countertime Supreme Cream (PM) plus Countertime Ultra Renewal Eye Cream.
The Soft Cream has Nasturtium flower extract that provides oxygenation benefits and protects your skin from drying environmental stressors.
All three have the Retinatural Complex to give results comparable to retinol without the risks of irritation or sun exposure.
For my daily sunscreen, I use our Dew Skin Tinted Moisturizer which has zinc-based SPF 20. It also includes black currant, peony flower root extract, and vitamin C to enhance skin brightness and hyaluronic Acid hydrates for a smooth look.
If I’m going to be in direct sun for a long time, I use a heavier layer of mineral sunscreen for better coverage.
More Skincare Routine Tips
1. Face oil
Use your face oil as a final moisturizing step, after your night cream, because oil is thicker than cream.
2. Exfoliating with scrubs
Be careful not to over-exfoliate too harshly, which can cause worsening dryness and breakouts.
3. Less is more
Most people use too much of their products. Use just enough to cover face in a very thin layer. You don’t want to be able to feel it after it sinks in. Excess will sit on top. Skincare is expensive and pores are small – make it last.
4. Use half of makeup wipes
Tear makeup wipes in half to double how long a pack lasts. Before tossing, wipe down your sink! (FYI, the Beautycounter face wipes are compostable!) .
5. Chemical sunscreens
If you’re going to use a chemical sunscreen, you want to apply that protection step before your moisturizer because you don’t want to block its absorption and reduce your protection.
If you are on the market for a new regimen, and using safer skincare is important to you, the Beautycounter regimens are a great place to go for all-in-one solutions.
- Countermatch = normal or combination
- Countertime = age prevention
- Countercontrol = oily or acne prone
- Counterman = shave and beard needs!
If you don’t know where to start, fill out this questionnaire and I’ll email you some recommendations!
Or you can use this flow chart to pick the one that is best for your skin type:
More safer skincare:
- Subscribe to my email list for a deeper dive into these products and promotions sent right to you
- My initial review of Countertime
What is your all-time favorite skincare product?!
Tell me in the comments!