woman's face

A Dermatologist’s Guide to Layering
Nighttime Skin Care

Every night, no matter what the day has brought—too much sun, too little hydration—we all get the skin-care equivalent of a do-over. That’s because skin naturally goes into regeneration mode overnight. It’s an opportunity to optimize your routine by layering on treatments and hydrators, and getting the order right can make a huge difference. New York dermatologist Whitney Tan is here to show us how. “The general guideline is thinnest to thickest,” she says. “It’s less about the exact products you use and more about their textures. Thinner formulas have smaller molecules, which penetrate more easily if you apply them before thicker ones with larger molecules. There’s no wrong order, but the biggest mistake we can make is that our products don’t absorb properly.”

So start with liquid formulas, like tonics, essences, or toners; move on to serums; then moisturizers if you need more hydration (not everyone’s skin does); and last—this is our favorite new addition—a mask to seal it all in.

Step 4


This particular mask is meant to go on over everything else, to seal it all in overnight. (We also use it on its own, to great effect.)

  1. Alpyn Calming Midnight Mask with Melatonin & Wild Dandelion Alpyn Calming Midnight Mask with Melatonin & Wild Dandelion
    Alpyn Beauty Calming Midnight Mask with Melatonin & Wild Dandelion goop, $68


No matter what layer you’re on, make sure the ingredients work for your skin. “People with oily skin should avoid heavy, oil-based, or occlusive products, like petrolatum,” says Tan (the goop shop avoids petrolatum altogether). “They’re more likely than someone with dry, sensitive skin to benefit from adding a toner to their routine and serums with witch hazel, alpha or beta hydroxy acids, or retinol or retinoids.”


A little, Tan says: “Sixty seconds, max, though. Waiting helps ingredients absorb better and also prevents dilution and potential interactions—combining certain products, like AHAs and retinols, can be irritating, so vary potential problem combinations throughout the week.”


Order is individualized. “If you’re using a retinol and experiencing increasing dryness, I may recommend applying it after moisturizer to improve tolerability—it would usually be applied before,” says Tan. “Another example is medications for specific skin conditions, which should be applied closest to the skin to achieve maximum efficacy, no matter the consistency of the product.”