My 3 Simple Rules for Layering Anti-Aging Skincare

I get so many questions about layering skincare from “what’s the proper order to apply?”, “should I wait in between steps?”, to “which ingredients should never be used together?” So today, I’m going to answer those questions and share my 3 Simple Rules for Layering Your Anti-Aging Skincare.

I put out my skincare routine a couple times a year in which I explain how I choose the best products and how I use them to get the maximum efficacy out of them which I developed over time by researching which ingredients are most effective for anti-aging.

But before we get into layering skincare I just wanted to mention that after 2 years of thinking about it, I finally got some lip filler last week! I will be doing a full video on it soon but it’s only been 5 days and my lips are still a little bruised & swollen so I want to wait for it to fully heal before I make that video, but just wanted to mention it in case you notice a change in this video!

Ok, so back to layering. I think we’re all looking to apply our skincare the best way to make it the most effective but it’s hard to tell what that is when you see so many articles telling you “You’re Doing it All Wrong! and “These Ingredients Should NEVER Be Used Together” when the truth is that it’s pretty hard to mess up applying skincare. Unless you’re applying petroleum jelly 1st and then putting serums on after or using too many harsh acids without giving your skin time to acclimate then what you’re doing is probably just fine!

In addition, there actually are NO ingredients that absolutely should not be used together. There are ingredients that you should be careful with because they can cause irritation.

My 3 Simple Rules for Layering Anti-Aging Skincare:

  1. Trap water into the skin
  2. Get maximum absorption of “active” ingredients”
  3. Most important goes first

  1. Trapping water on the skin is important because Trans Epidermal Water Loss (TEWL) increases as we age. Other components of our skin like collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid decrease as we age which contribute to making us look older. At the same time our skin becomes less able to hold onto the water in the skin so we want to slow down TEWL and trap water into the skin with our skincare.
  2. To get maximim absorption of my active ingredients I don’t wait for my skin to dry before applying my skincare and I don’t wait between products. That’s because skin is more absorbent when it’s slightly damp and less absorbent when it’s bone dry. I pat my face with a soft towel and then go right in with my skincare. The only exception to this was in the beginning before my skin was acclimated to Retin-A, more about this later).
  3. When deciding what order to apply my products I rank them by importance and most important goes first! I let science be the guide here and the ones with the most research proving they work are most important. So my #1 most important is my Retin-A (tretinoin) which has 40 years of research and use proving it works. Retin-A has to be used at night so it goes on first in my night routine and it doesn’t budge. Everything else goes on after or is shifted to the morning.

Let’s go through my skincare routine and I’ll explain the placements of each product:


  1. Wash Face: I use Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gentle Cleansing Lotion for Sensitive Skin. Rinse with lukewarm water & pat dry 
  2. Antioxidant Serum: Timeless 20% Vitamin CE Ferulic Acid Serum ($5 Off at Timeless Skincare use this link: ($5 discount will automatically be applied at checkout, no code needed)) or Maelove The Glow Maker: This is my 2nd most important serum overall but I don’t use it at night to avoid irritation so I shift it to the morning where it goes on 1st. There’s a debate over whether vitamin c is best used AM or PM but research shows the reservoir needs replenishing every 8 hours so ideally you’d use it 2-3X a day.
  3. Alpha Hydroxy Acid Serum: The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + 2% HA: This is my 3rd most important overall but it’s another acid so I don’t use it with Retin-A to avoid irritation so it’s 2nd in the morning. There’s a myth that AHAs should be used 1st because it exfoliates the skin and the thinking is whatever you apply prior will be exfoliated off when you apply the AHA. But leave on AHAs don’t work that fast. They loosen the glue that holds dead skin cells on and the skin sloughs off gradually over time, not all at once like bark peeling from a tree.
  4. Peptide Serum: Timeless CoEnzyme Q10 Serum ($5 Off at Timeless Skincare use this link: ($5 discount will automatically be applied at checkout, no code needed)) is 4th most important overall and is hydrating and contains a peptide so I use it in my AM routine.
  5. Moisturizer: CeraVe PM Facial Moisturizing Lotion goes on next to add hydration, lipids, & niacinamide. It contains hyaluronic acid and silicones which will help keep moisture on the skin.
  6. Sunscreen: Elta MD UV Elements SPF 44, Paula’s Choice Super-Light SPF 30, Australian Gold Botanical Tinted Face Sunscreen SPF 50, or Make P:rem UV Defense Me Blue Ray Sun Cream SPF 50+ PA++++. Sunscreen is always the last step in my daily skincare routine. It’s the one thing that needs time after application to set up and form the protective film on your skin. Primer and makeup go on 10-20 minutes after sunscreen if possible.


  1. Remove Makeup: Clinique Take the Day Off Cleansing Balm: Massage this oil based cleansing balm into dry skin, splash with water to remove makeup.
  2. Double Cleanse: Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gentle Cleansing Lotion for Sensitive Skin Massage into damp skin, rinse with lukewarm water & pat dry. 
  3. Toner (Optional): Colleen Rothschild Match Tea Toner or Colleen Rothschild Micro Mineral Toner. I use these two toners currently. The Matcha toner is for my face to add another antioxidant + add more water to my skin, and the Mineral Toner is for my neck to reduce irritation.
  4. Prescription Retinoid: Retin-A, 0.1% Generic Tretinoin, OR Curology: This is my MOST important ingredient and it can only be used at night so it’s 1st in my evening routine. I’ve been using it for 7 years so I can put this on right away. My skin is acclimated to Tretinoin, if yours is not, wait 15-20 minutes for skin to dry completely).
  5. OTC Retinoid (Neck Only): Avene RetrinAl 0.1 Cream, I can’t use my prescription tretinoin on my neck because of irritation. The Mineral toner helps to reduce the absorption of this retinoid.
  6. Peptide Serum: Timeless Matrixyl Synthe 6 Serum is tied with my AM peptide serum for 4th place so it goes on at night right after my retinoids.
  7. Lipid Cream: IT Cosmetics Confidence In A Gel Lotion is a lightweight gel/lotion hybrid that brings ceramides to my night routine.
  8. Face Moisturizer: Olay Regenerist Night Recovery Cream My last step is a more occlusive night cream

Skincare seems really complicated but it’s also really inexact. I mean, I watch 4 or 5 dermatologists on YouTube and they all give different advice for how to layer skincare and how to apply retinoids! Which seems kind of confusing at first, but when you think about it, it’s really freeing to know that many different methods can work and there isn’t one 100% right way to do it!

So stop worrying that you’re doing it wrong and start doing what’s right for you! Or just follow my routine to the letter by using my printable skincare routine guide!

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