We're often asked how long you should wait between applying the various products in your daily skincare routine and the order of products. It’s a logical question, given the wide variety of products you can use. Luckily, the answer is simple in most cases: You don't have to wait between steps. Waiting tends to be more about personal preference than necessity. Let us explain.
How can skin handle so many products all at once?
With very few exceptions, immediately applying your skincare products one after the other won’t interfere with their ability to permeate into the skin, nor will it hinder efficacy. Skin can easily handle many beneficial ingredients all at once.
Ultimately, it’s more about preference—some people just like the feeling of waiting between skincare steps, while others prefer moving through their skincare routine more quickly.
How long does it take for skincare to absorb?
Short answer: Skincare ingredients penetrate on contact and go to work instantly.
Long answer: There can be nuance as the delivery system factors in. Some skincare ingredients are encapsulated to deliver control release, meaning a small amount of the ingredient is slowly introduced to the skin over an extended period, usually no longer than 12 hours. Regardless, the encapsulated ingredient is still being absorbed into the layers of skin where it needs to go, and you don’t need to wait before applying other products.
Generally, the optimal order of skincare application goes as follows:
- Chemical exfoliants
- Apply the rest of your skincare treatments (including concentrated boosters, serums, and moisturizers) in order of thinnest to thickest textures
- During the day, always finish with sunscreen as your final step before makeup.
How much time should be between serum and moisturizer?
There is no wait time required between applying your serum and moisturizer. You can even mix them in the palm of your hand before applying. (Exception: a daytime moisturizer with sunscreen shouldn’t be mixed into other formulas since doing so could hinder the level of protection).
How long should I wait between applying a retinol and moisturizer product?
No need to wait, a retinol product and moisturizer can be applied simultaneously. Doing so will not deactivate the retinol’s effectiveness. More to the point, some people find that applying a water-based, non-occlusive moisturizer before a powerful retinol product helps their skin tolerate it better.
How long should you wait between toner and serum?
You can apply your serum immediately after your toner. As with other skincare products, there is no concern about one interfering with the effectiveness of another.
What about AHA and BHA exfoliants?
A well-formulated AHA or BHA chemical exfoliant will work effectively regardless of what you apply over it or how soon you apply it. In fact, it can pave the way for the products you apply afterwards to work more efficiently.
The concern some people have is that the other products they apply will change the AHA or BHA’s pH, thus diluting and altering its efficacy. The truth? The pH of a product doesn’t shift that fast, especially when the other skincare products you are applying also have an acidic pH (which the products you use should be, as skin’s pH is naturally acidic) or a pH of 7, which is neutral.
Exceptions to skincare wait times…
There are always exceptions to skincare guidelines, but in the case of wait times, they’re pretty minor.
When you should wait:
If the combination of products you're using tends to roll or ball up when you apply them in order, then it's probably best to allow the first product to dry before applying the next product in your routine.
Because sunscreen always needs to be the last skincare product you apply, it's a good idea to allow a few minutes for it to set before you apply your makeup. If you’re following up with a foundation or tinted moisturizer that contains SPF 30 or greater, this is less of a concern because layering sunscreen and SPF-rated makeup products have been shown to help ensure adequate protection.
Note: We previously advised waiting when using a benzoyl peroxide product alongside skincare formulas rich in antioxidants. This was out of concern that the antioxidants could weaken the benzoyl peroxide, making it less effective. However, based on newer research, we now know the efficacy of benzoyl peroxide remains steady regardless, not to mention replenishing skin with antioxidants pre- and post-benzoyl peroxide use has benefits.
To learn more about what each product in our line does and how they can be used together, check out our article: How Paula’s Choice Essential Skin Care Routines Work.
Shop award-winning skincare from Paula’s Choice Singapore today to build an effective routine for your skin.
Reference for this information
Modern Applications of Bioequivalence & Bioavailability, September 2017, pages 1-3
Skincare Research & Technology, September 2021, pages 751-757
Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, October 2016, pages 1,170–1,173