If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably got a drawer full of half-empty products that just didn’t live up to the hype. It’s frustrating to spend your hard-earned cash on pricey creams and serums only to see minimal results. But fear not, I’ll share some little-known secrets to supercharging the effectiveness of your skincare products and getting the most out of them. From exfoliating like a pro to layering the ingredients like a master mixologist, I’ve got all the tricks to make your favorite beauty products work better on your skin.
Cleanse your skin thoroughly before applying products
Let’s kick off this with the very basics: cleansing. Even though it might sound trivial, cleansing your skin before applying other products can go a long way in maximizing the effectiveness of your routine. Everything works better on cleansed skin because it allows your products to fully absorb and do their job. Imagine trying to paint a masterpiece on a dirty canvas—the colors wouldn’t blend properly and the end result would be lackluster. The same concept applies to your skincare routine. When you use products on dirty, oily, or sweaty skin, they can’t penetrate as deeply, which means you won’t get the full benefits.
Cleansing removes dirt, makeup, and impurities from the skin, creating a clear pathway for your products to work their magic. When products fully penetrate the skin, they can target specific concerns, like fine lines, acne, or hyperpigmentation, with more precision and efficacy.
Therefore, start your routine by washing your skin thoroughly with a gentle cleanser and then follow up with your toner, serum, and moisturizer. This is the foundation that will set you up for success and ensure that every product you use is working at its full potential.
While cleansing is the first step in preparing your skin for an effective skincare routine, exfoliation takes the game to the next level. You already know that the buildup of dead cells, gunk, and sebum accumulated on the skin’s surface hinders the penetration of products and reduces their absorption power. Exfoliation helps in the process by removing that buildup more profoundly than cleansers do, creating a smooth and even surface for your products and allowing them to go deeper into the skin.
However, not all exfoliators are created equal. While physical exfoliators, like scrubs and brushes, can be effective, they can also be harsh on the face and cause micro-tears, resulting in flaky patches and redness. Hence, it’s better to use chemical exfoliators, like alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs). They’re gentler and work by dissolving the glue that holds dead cells together. This gives your skin a deep clean and makes it more receptive to other products.
Exfoliate your skin one to three times per week with a mild product like Neutrogena Resurfacing Micro Face Polish. Do it in your nighttime routine, right after cleansing and toning, and follow up with your preferred serum and/or moisturizer. Because your skin will drink up everything you apply after exfoliation, I suggest using a moisturizer and serum with active ingredients to target your skin concern.
Layer the products in the correct order
It’s a fact that applying skincare products in the wrong order can impact their absorption and efficacy. For example, some serums and moisturizers contain active ingredients designed to penetrate the skin and work at a deeper level. If these products are applied over a thicker, occlusive product like heavy cream or ointment, the occlusive layer can form a barrier on the surface and prevent the ingredients from penetrating and reaching the deeper layers of the skin where they’re needed.
To ensure that your skincare products work as effectively as possible, layer them in the correct order, starting with the thinnest, most watery formulas and working your way up to the thickest, most occlusive ones. The rule of thumb is to start with cleansing to set the stage for all the other products. Then, you can add toner, serum, moisturizer, and sunscreen (in this exact order) to max out your beauty routine.
Massage the products into your skin with a face roller or gua sha
Whether you prefer a cooling jade roller or an invigorating gua sha tool, incorporating one of these handy tools into your routine can be particularly effective in aiding product absorption and improving the bioavailability of skincare actives. The reason is that the rolling and massaging motion helps to distribute your serum and moisturizer evenly across your face and push them further into your skin. In addition, the gentle pressure applied during the rolling process can facilitate blood flow in your skin, allowing products to reach their site of action faster for more benefits. It’s nothing magical, but it is worth giving a shot.
Keep in mind to handle the tool with gentleness by using delicate, upward motions. This will prevent you from accidentally pulling or tugging on your skin, which could lead to irritation or damage.
Keep your skin moisturized
Did you know that water can push substances to pass through the layers of your skin more easily by changing the structure of lipids and forcing them to compact? This means when your skin is moist, it can absorb products better than when it’s dry and dehydrated.
Make an effort and moisturize twice a day, especially if you live in a low-humidity climate. The secret is to use a lightweight moisturizer that packs a blend of humectants (hyaluronic acid, glycerin, aloe vera) and occlusives (squalane, beeswax, dimethicone, shea butter) so that it draws moisture into the skin and seals it in at the same time.
Top the products with heavy occlusives
After you finish your nighttime skincare routine (including moisturizer), apply a thick layer of occlusives all over your face to trap everything in. You can slap Vaseline, which is pure petrolatum, or try an ointment like CerVe Healing, which is less greasy since it has only 46.5% petrolatum. This will create a protective layer over your skin that will help to prevent water from evaporating through it while you sleep.
Although it can get a little messy on your pillow, it’s one of the tried-and-true beauty trends that will make you wake up to super moist and glowy skin. More than that, trapping skincare products with occlusives can put them on steroids and double their strength. I’ve done it dozens of times already, and I could really feel my glycolic acid moisturizer was working more intensely at night.
Still, before diving into this trend, you should err on the side of caution regarding which products you use. While I haven’t had any problem applying occlusives over a retinol serum or glycolic acid cream, some may react badly from it. As I said, slugging can almost double the power of your products. If you have sensitive skin, this can turn bad if you use potent active ingredients like retinol, vitamin C, or glycolic acid. The same goes if your skin is prone to congestion—ensure the occlusives you use are non-comedogenic.
Steam your skin
Kayla Kernel, a medical esthetician with 10+ years of experience, says for Dr. Dennis Gross that “if you really want to see the effects of your serum or moisturizer, steam your skin first.” The theory behind this is that steam can help increase skin hydration and open the pores, which indirectly enhances the power of your skincare products. Moreover, studies found that heating the skin is a good method to prepare it for optimal absorption of active ingredients. However, steaming your face can be a double-edged sword and if done excessively or at a temperature that is too high can do more harm than good. Kayla made an in-depth guide on using a facial steamer at home, so give it a good read before you try it.
Store the products properly
The bathroom seems like a convenient place to store your beauty essentials, but it’s not the best idea. The heat and humidity from hot showers and steam can affect the effectiveness of your serums and creams, causing them to lose their potency after just a few weeks after opening. If your products come in packaging that allows air and light in, it’s even worse because their active ingredients can break down and degrade more quickly, making them less effective over time.
By storing your products properly in a cool and dark place, you help extend their shelf life and preserve their peak potency until you get the most out of every drop. Also, opt for products that come in opaque containers with airtight pumps or dark-colored glass bottles.
The next time you feel like your skincare products aren’t delivering the results you were promised, don’t just blame the products. Look at your routine and make sure that you’re cleansing, moisturizing, and exfoliating properly. Also, methods such as face steaming, slugging, and tool massaging can boost your skincare product more than you would expect.