How to Layer Your Skincare

Komal Basith

There was once a time (very, very long ago) when skincare comprised of a splash of water  in the morning and a dollop of cold cream. Then in 1968, Clinique introduced the 3-step system of cleanser, toner and moisturiser, a vast departure from the overly simplified regimes of the time.

Fast forward to the present day, when we’re constantly being bombarded by information about ‘skincare essentials’ - peels! Serums! Masks! Cleansers! Pre-cleansers! - inspired, in part, by the perennial Asian quest for flawless skin. It is not uncommon for some Korean women to incorporate as many as fifteen steps into their skincare regime, and beauty brands have been quick to meet the rise in demand.

This isn’t entirely a bad thing – more choices, compounded by significant scientific developments, means that we now have more solutions than ever to choose from, but it can get confusing. So how do you separate the basics – the essentials, if you will – from the add-ons? And once you’ve done that, which order is it all meant to go in?

So here it is; a basic skincare regime in six steps. These are the essentials; while masks, peels, exfoliants and the like are great additions to any skincare regime, your skin could do without, and might even benefit from, only using them every once in a while. Focus on doing these six things, twice a day everyday, and you’ll do just fine.


Step 1: Cleanser

A good cleanser rids your skin of the dirt, oil, pollution and excess sebum that accumulates as you go about your day and the dead skin cells that your skin sheds while you’re sleeping, and does so without stripping it of essential moisture.

A common piece of advice that you often hear from dermatologists is to only use soap from the neck down; this is because soap is too harsh for the skin on your face and strips it of its natural lipids.

A cleanser is the first step to any skincare regime; start and end every day with it. They come in a host of formulations, from gels and oils to creams, milks and lotions - picking one is merely a matter of personal preference. 

The Classics: Eve Lom Cleanser, Neutrogena Deep Clean Facial Cleanser.


Step 2: Toner

There are some schools of thought that believe that if your cleanser is doing its job right it should render a toner ineffective, since there should be no residual traces of makeup or grime to remove. This might be true; however, the main reason for using a toner is to harness its pH balancing properties, as tap water can often be harsh on your skin, depending on where you live. 

“Neutralising tap water?” you might be thinking. “Isn’t that a bit precious?” Of course it is; but so’s your skin. Besides, toners also add a host of additional properties to your regime - witch hazel to balance oily skin and reduce the production of sebum, spring water to neturalise the effects of the aforementioned tap water and botanical extracts which do everything from moisturise dehydrated skin to soothe sensitivity. They’re an often overlooked part of the skincare regime, especially in recent years - and while you could technically do without, if you’re on the fence, try adding one to your routine; you’ll notice a difference. 

The Classics: Claudalie Beauty Elixir, Vichy Eau Thermale.


Step 3: Eye Products

The skin around the eyes is much thinner than that of the rest of the face and is often the first to show the signs of aging, lack of sleep, or general tiredness in the forms of fine lines and wrinkles or crow’s feet, dark circles and puffiness. Your eye treatment, whether a gel, serum or cream, should be the first thing you use after your toner has dried to allow it to sink in without any additional barriers on the skin, like sunscreen or moisturiser. 

The Classics: Kiehl’s Creamy Eye Treatment With Avocado Oil, L’Oreal Youth Code Dermo Expertise Eye Cream.


Step 4: Serum

Concerned about fine lines? Wish you could erase your sun spots? Hoping to minimise your pores? A serum will do the trick. Formulated with smaller molecules than moisturisers to aid with deeper penetration, serums are the specialists of your skincare arsenal. A relatively recent development, they're formulated with a higher concentration of ingredients than moisturisers, be they retinol, Vitamins C, K, E, natural extracts, ceramides or glycerin (hurrah for modern science!) and deliver targeted treatments for acne, pigmentation, wrinkles, uneven skin texture and a host of other concerns.

Think of them as an added boost to the benefits of your moisturiser. They don’t, however, provide much hydration, so it’s helpful to follow your serum up with a moisturiser - both to balance your skin’s hydration levels and to lock in its benefits.

Because of the high concentration of ingredients, always read the instructions carefully before using a serum - many are suitable for use during the day, but some contain ingredients like retinol or glycolic acid which increase the skin’s photosensitivity, or tendency to burn in the sun, and are best used at night.

The Classics: Estee Lauder Advanced Night Repair, Dermalogica Overnight Repair Serum.


Step 5: Moisturiser

A moisturiser’s basic function is to lock moisture into your skin during the day and while you sleep. They range from the most basic formulations to those fortified with a host of ingredients to target everything from acne to aging. If you have oily skin, you might think you could do with skipping this step, but even the oiliest of skin needs hydration – skipping moisturiser can lead to your skin becoming dehydrated, which leads to an overproduction of sebum to counter the dehydration, which leads to more acne. Some moisturisers work best at night and some are meant for use during the day so again, read the label before use.

The Classics: Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturizing Gel, Olay Total Effects 7 in 1 Day Cream.


Step 6: SPF

“If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it.” So begins one of the most popular songs of the 90s - and it's true! Protecting your skin from the sun significantly aids in the prevention of skin cancer, caused by exposure to UVA rays, while countless studies have proven that protecting yourself from UVB rays is the best, most effective way to delay the signs of aging - wrinkles, uneven texture, open pores and pigmentation. Look for a sunscreen with broad spectrum (UVA and UVB) protection and wear it all day, every day, even when you’re indoors. Your skin will thank you for it. For further proof, have a look at this. Many moisturisers now come with added SPF but unless it has an SPF of at least 30, which dermatologists say is the basic level of coverage required, follow it up with a sunscreen. 

The Classics: Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry Touch Sunblock SPF 50, Murad Oil Free Sunscreen SPF 30.


There you have it - your basic skincare regime. This is merely a suggestion; feel free to add steps in as you like. Some women swear by daily exfoliation, while for some cleansing involves two steps with the use of an oil-based formula followed by a water-based one. What’s your regime like? Drop me a line with questions or opinions, and we’ll try and answer them in our weekly Ask Us Anything section. 






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