The Beauty Rules of Order

The sequence in which you apply serums, creams and cosmetics can be as important as the products themselves, so we asked a celebrity dermatologist and a makeup artist for their advice on what goes on when and why.

The Basics of Skin Care

Apply products with active ingredients that are designed to repair before you apply heavier products that protect. These “actives” include antioxidants, alpha hydroxy acids, peptides, vitamins and pigment lighteners. They contain molecules small enough to penetrate the outer layer of skin in order to get down to the deeper layers where they work to hydrate, brighten, smooth and firm the skin.

Heavier products, such as moisturizers and sunscreens, go on next because they function as shields, keeping UV rays out and moisture in, says Ava Shamban, M.D., who is the featured dermatologist on ABC’s “Extreme Makeover.” “If you make the mistake of topping a sunscreen with an antioxidant serum, the serum won’t be able to sink in since the cells are already sealed,” says Shamban. In other words, access denied, no matter how pricey or terrific the product may be.

The Basics of Cosmetics

Applying cosmetics in the right order results in a natural-looking finish and streamlines the process by preventing mistakes. “It has a lot to do with texture, such as not putting cream formulations on top of powdered ones,” says makeup artist Tonya Crooks, whose regular clients include Megan Fox and Fergie. Using a mineral powder foundation before cream blush will look blotchy because it will be hard to blend the blush. Lipstick should always go under lip gloss, so you can still achieve the shine you’re after.

Top Ten Beauty Rules of Order

Only a beauty-pageant contender would use all of the products that follow, but for purposes of illustration, here they are in their optimal order of application, after your morning cleansing routine.

1. If you use hydrating mists to plump up the skin, or gels for acne or rosacea, apply now. The mists soften the top layer of dead skin cells (the stratum corneum) and help conduct water-soluble products down to the deeper layers of skin.

2. Active ingredients in water-soluble gels and serums go on now. Examples are antioxidant serums, AHAs, peptides, vitamins C and E, ferulic acid, growth factors and pigment lighteners.

3. This is the time for moisturizer, which contains humectants to restore water to the skin and conditioners to soften it. Just as important, the moisturizer seals in the products that precede it.

4. Sun protection comes next. If your eyes are sensitive to the ingredients in regular sunscreen, use an eye cream with SPF that’s formulated to be nonirritating. On the rest of the face and neck, apply a broad-spectrum facial sunblock to fend off both UVA and UVB rays.

5. After allowing five to 10 minutes to let your sunscreen sink in, apply foundation. If you prefer the sheerness of a tinted moisturizing sunscreen, use that instead.

6. Whatever the foundation hasn’t covered gets painted over with concealer. A fine-tipped makeup brush works best to deliver concealer to blemishes, under-eye circles and red spots.

7. Translucent powder and powder blush go on next. (If you like a dewy look, skip the powder and apply cream blush instead.) Adding color to the cheeks at this step helps quell the urge to be heavy-handed on the eyes. “If you apply eye makeup to a pale face, it’s easy to overdo it,” says Crooks, “and then by the time you add blush, it all looks too theatrical.”

8. Eyebrow shadow or pencil, eye shadow and eyeliner are now up. Crooks prefers eyebrow shadows and pencils that are one shade lighter than your hair. If you use a pencil, it should be well-sharpened, hard and waxy to encourage the drawing of fine, hairlike strokes.

9. Mascara should be applied very carefully at this point to avoid smearing all of the good work that’s gone before it.

10. Lip treatments, lip liner, lipstick, and lip gloss are last, but not least. Chapped or dry lips should be prepped and plumped with a treatment cream or lotion. If you use lip liner, it goes on next, followed by lipstick, which can be topped off with lip gloss.