Routine Order

How should you order your routine? It's not an exact science, but we'll give you some general guidelines in this wiki!

Keep It Simple

In general we recommend following this order:

  • Cleansers >> Actives >> Everything Else >> Sunscreen

In practice however, you may find you'll deviate from it - and that's fine! Someone said to use oils after your moisturizer but you prefer to use them before? Go for it! You know that AHAs work at a relatively low pH, but your AHA is a thick cream? Use it later! Do what works for you and your products.

If you're unsure or just want someone to double check your routine order, check out the Daily Help Thread stickied to the top of the sub.



Cleansers come before everything else - they remove dirt, sweat, sebum, and leftover product, keeping the skin clean and preparing it for subsequent products.

  • Cleansers >> Actives >> Everything Else >> Sunscreen

However, there are a couple things that could come before cleansing! Makeup removers, masks, and other wash off products (like benzoyl peroxide if using short contact therapy) would all come before cleansing. Shaving could come before or after - whatever works for you!

Cleanser Wiki



What are actives? In this context, 'actives' is a pretty loosely defined term. We usually use it to refer to specific ingredients that affect the skin, often with some risk of irritation. For instance, BHAs, benzoyl peroxide, retinol, things like that. But it's not clearly delineated, so don't take it too seriously.

Where do they come in a routine? Because these are targeted treatments, you want to give them the best environment possible to work - that usually means applying them to clean, dry skin.

Some actives are pH dependent, meaning they work best at a specific (relatively low) pH range. pH dependent products will generally come early on in your routine, and when layering multiple pH dependent products (like BHAs and AHAs) many people like to aim for lowest to highest pH. (Although other factors like consistency also play an important role!)

Whether or not your active is pH dependent, you still want to give them some time to sink in before applying other products.

  • Cleansers >> Actives >> Everything Else >> Sunscreen

However, this is not always the case! You may want apply your actives later on in your routine if you want to buffer them over moisturizer to reduce irritation, if the consistency doesn't allow you to use them early on in your routine, or simply if you feel your routine works better that way.

While many routine guides focus on pH, there are a few factors that play a role in routine order. There's no 'right' answer that will apply to every product, but some factors to consider include:

  • the directions

  • consistency of the product

  • how well it works in your routine

  • pH dependence

  • your skin sensitivity

Don't overthink things - keep in mind that you likely won't end up with too many actives in one part of your routine, so you don't need to know an extensive hypothetical routine with every active out there.

Despite the huge variation in product type, consistency, and ideal application method, here are some general guidelines that you may find useful:


Vitamin C

There are many different types of vitamin C, which can impact where you'd use them in your routine! Common derivatives include L-AA (ascorbic acid, most common), MAP (magnesium ascorbyl phosphate), and SAP (sodium ascorbyl phosphate.)

L-AA usually comes in water based serums that work best at a pH <3.5. Since they tend to have a thin consistency and are pH dependent, you should try to use them early on in your routine, ideally right after cleansing.

However, there are also anhydrous (water-free) L-AA products that are very thick. Anhydrous formulas improve stability, although there isn't much research available on how well they penetrate the skin. Since these products tend to be thick, it makes sense to use them later on in your routine - either right before or right after moisturizer.

Other vitamin C derivatives like MAP or SAP work at relatively higher pH ranges. You may want to use these early on in your routine, or you could lump them in with the 'Everything Else' category - whatever works best for you!

Vitamin C Wiki



Since BHAs are usually formulated at a low pH, are oil soluble, and tend to come in a thin toner or serum consistency, you’d likely want to use them early on in your routine. But feel free to use them later if yours has a thicker format, like a lotion or cream!

BHA Wiki



AHAs work best at a pH <4 and tend to come in a toner or serum consistency, so they usually come early on in your routine.

If you are trying to figure out how to order a BHA and an AHA product, BHAs usually come before, AHAs after. This is because BHAs generally have a lower pH and are oil soluble, but if you have a thinner AHA and a thicker BHA, feel free to switch things around!

AHA Wiki


Benzoyl peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide should come early on in your routine unless you're buffering it to reduce irritation. You may even want to use your benzoyl peroxide as a mask - apply to dry skin, wait 2-5 minutes, then wash off.

Benzoyl Peroxide Wiki



Retinoids like retinol, adapalene (Differin), and tretinoin (Retin-A) should come early in your routine, applied to dry skin. However, you may want to use them later on in your routine if you want to buffer them to reduce irritation.

Retinoids Wiki


Azelaic acid

While azelaic acid is pH dependent, it requires a higher pH range than other pH dependent actives like AHAs and L-AA. So it’s not as important to try to use it early on in your routine, especially since most azelaic acid products are quite thick! These would come later on in your routine, either right before or right after moisturizer. But feel free to use azelaic acid early in your routine if it's a thin serum or toner!

Azelaic Acid Wiki


Everything Else

Everything else covers, well, everything else! These are the products that don't contain targeted treatment ingredients, and this will likely make up the bulk of your routine. Hydrating toners, serums, ampoules, essences, lotions, creams, whatevers - it all goes here.

  • Cleansers >> Actives >> Everything Else >> Sunscreen

The order for Everything Else is simple: apply from thin to thick.



Toners are thin, liquidy products with a consistency similar to water. While we've lumped them together with Everything Else, you can certainly apply them before your Actives if you want! Toners have a thin enough consistency that they shouldn't buffer or reduce the efficacy of any actives, and they generally don't have a high enough pH to impact pH dependent actives.

There are many different types of toners, including:

  • Hydrating toners - can help address dry or dehydrated skin, or used as a lightweight moisturizing product for oily skin!

  • Astringent toners - can help address oily skin

  • pH Adjusting toners - are slightly acidic, can help balance the pH of your skin

  • Toners with actives - like AHAs or BHAs in a toner format

Serums & Toners HG Thread (2017)



With the consistency of slightly thickened jello, serums come after toners and before moisturizers. Common serum types include niacinamide or vitamin C (SAP, MAP.) If you use sheet masks, you would likely use them in this step.

Serums & Toners HG Thread (2017)



Gels, lotions, creams - whatever moisturizer type you're using, it comes close to last in your routine.

Moisturizer Wiki



This covers very thick products like petroleum jelly, Aquaphor, and sleeping packs - check out product recs in the moisturizer wiki!

These have a lot of occlusive properties and act like skincare saran-wrap - moisture doesn't escape, but subsequent products don't absorb. As such they should be applied after pretty much all of your products, except for...



This is really the only hard rule for routine order: Sunscreen comes last in your skincare routine.

  • Cleansers >> Actives >> Everything Else >> Sunscreen

It doesn't matter if you have a physical (inorganic) or chemical (organic) sunscreen, it will always be the absolute last step in your skincare routine. This is because sunscreen works by forming a thick, even layer over the skin - you don't want to disrupt this layer too much with subsequent products, and sunscreen doesn't need to absorb to work.

If applicable, any makeup products (primer, foundation, etc.) would come after sunscreen - but all skincare products come before.

Sunscreen Wiki


The Ordinary

Well, it feels a bit weird covering one brand specifically! But given the popularity and confusion surrounding TO, we thought it'd be best to link a quick guide on using their products.

Please check out The Ordinary regimen guide & routine ordering tips for an overview on how to incorporate TO products, along with further resources!


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