Are you making this skincare mistake? Doc reveals how to safely layer products

Close-up of a woman applying serum of facial oil from a dropper in front of a bathroom mirror
A dermatologist has revealed the most common mistake he sees skincare lovers are guilty of -- and it has to do with the order of product application.

Between advice from online beauty gurus and TikTok-touted ten-step skincare routines, caring for your complexion can feel like a hassle rather than heavenly.

Anti-aging skincare isn’t just for the aged: Gen Alpha — kids born after 2010 — have sparked frenzy over top-tier skincare formulations. But truly seasoned skincare enthusiasts know that premium ingredients are moot if you’re not applying those pricey products correctly.

To help those of us aged 13 and up get ahead of today’s self-care-obsessed young’uns, The Post spoke to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Muneeb Shah to help beauty buffs design a proper step-by-step routine for a healthy, youthful complexion.

Jacob Lund – stock.adobe.com
Jacob Lund – stock.adobe.com

“They’ll buy a niacinamide, a retinol, an azelaic acid, and then you have eight or nine products to solve a single problem and you don’t know how to layer them,” Shah told The Post of one of the most common mistakes he sees.

“And I genuinely don’t know if you can even mix some of these ingredients the way that they’re formulated as single-ingredient products, which is one of the challenges.”

When products with a single active ingredient — say, for instance, retinol — are manufactured, they are only tested for stability against the other ingredients within the formula, the dermatologist explained, meaning that they don’t necessarily know how the retinol will interact with other products.

“Then we don’t know if that particular formulation of retinol is stable with the other ingredients that you’re layering it with,” said Shah, who just launched his brand called Remedy Skin, with products containing multiple active ingredients proven to play well together.

“So, that’s why I like products that are formulated with multiple actives in them … because they’re shown to like be stable together in the same formula.”

The wealth of products, ingredients and formulas can be perplexing for those just wading into the waters of skincare beyond moisturizer and sunscreen. Orawan – stock.adobe.com
The wealth of products, ingredients and formulas can be perplexing for those just wading into the waters of skincare beyond moisturizer and sunscreen. Orawan – stock.adobe.com

While they may not always harm the skin if combined, sometimes products can neutralize each other and render one or multiple useless. In other words, many of the costly, multi-step nighttime routines hawked by influencers for the perfect “glass skin” might not be the complexion cure-all you’d hope for.

“What I do recommend to people mostly is to just use one or two products in the evening, rather than several products where we just genuinely don’t know if you’re able to even layer them,” said Shah, who boasts over 18 million followers as the DermDoc on TikTok.

While there’s “no perfect science” to layering products — recommendations are based on existing dogma and a bit of guessing, Shah added —  the general rule is “thinnest to thickest,” with more liquid formulas applied first to be better absorbed, followed by denser products, like heavy creams and petrolatum-based balms used for “slugging.”

After cleansing your face, the skin should be dry before applying any products. Maridav – stock.adobe.com
After cleansing your face, the skin should be dry before applying any products. Maridav – stock.adobe.com

Some products can be layerd in rapid succession while others need time to sink in. For example, Vitamin C in the morning or retinol in the evening should be applied to dry skin. When the skin is damp, it causes “spongiosis,” where skin cells “almost separate a little bit underwater,” which increases the absorption of products, which can be both good and bad, explained Shah.

“Some people want their products to be more effective, but with ingredients like retinol or exfoliating acids, when you apply them to damp skin, they can be more irritating for people,” he said, adding those who have sensitive skin may want to apply a moisturizer and let it dry before using the potentially irritating products.

While the wealth of options in the skincare aisle can be overwhelming, the perfect product for the skin is entirely dependent on what concerns need to be addressed, from fine lines and wrinkles to acne or dark spots. For the average person, however, Shah recommends stocking up on niacinamide and retinol.

“Both of those are going to have impacts on pretty much every skin condition that we see,” he said.