Skincare products: When are you using too many and what order?

Ok… this just came up yesterday when we were seeing patients in clinic. Our patient was confused by all the skincare products she had in her drawer. Which ones were helping and which ones weren’t serving her any more. Reading the labels is the best, but realistically we can’t always do that. And I can’t read all of yours :), so here’s what to do when you have too many products, and don’t know which order to use them in.

Start with the basics:

Use these products first for at least a week before moving on to the next ones.

  1. Pick your cleanser. Do you need gentle (no oil stripping) or something more drying? Do you like creamy or foamy better?
  2. After cleansing in the am, use your antioxidant like the Phoretin CF or a 10-20% vitamin C.  Make sure you tolerate that well. It should not be irritating.
  3. Pick a moisturizer for your basic skin type (dry, combo, oily, sensitive).
  4. Apply your sunscreen with 10-20% zinc in it. Zinc is the only sunscreen ingredient that effectively blocks both UVA & UVB and it won’t hurt coral reefs.
  5. At night same thing, only you’re going to cleanse and use your moisturizer first. You may not need a moisturizer if you’re oily, or use something like the B5 gel in our shop.
  6. Apply your retinol at night over the moisturizer. You can alternate retinol with the BHA or an AHA if you want. Pick the one that agrees with your skin most.
  7. Pick one eye cream to use morning and night – creams are usually better around the eyes because there are virtually no oil glands here.

If you get irritated with your choices above, stop everything and go back to just gentle cleanser and moisturizer or sunscreen for a week or so. Then add products back one at a time, about 3-4 days apart.  You should be able to identify the culprit. If you have a rash, see your doctor.

Then intermediate skincare products:

Once you’re solid and happy with the above, then move on to some of your other products. You’ll know if you’re on the right track because your skin will start to look and feel better.

For example, you really don’t need 3 different eye care products like above, unless one is a specific eye area sunscreen (good for outdoor athletes and occupations).

Also, generally you don’t need 2 hydroxy acids and retinoid, even if you’re oily.  Pick just the retinoid.  Or alternate either the BHA or AHA with that. Better, worse, same? Listen to your skin. 🙂

  1. Try a lighter moisturizer in the morning and more intense one at night. Does that work better for you?
  2. Try adding a good quality “lightening” product like the Lytera, with multiple plant based lighteners, if you have trouble with brown spots.
  3. Consider using 2 eye area products like the AOX eye gel in the morning because it’s better with eye make-up and the Lumiere at night when the extra moisturizing is more helpful. If you work or play outside a lot, consider an eye area sunscreen like this one.
  4. Consider adding a product like the TNS (growth factors) only after you’ve mastered the basics above for yourself.
  5. When you’re in the fine tuning phase, try adding a moisturizer that has more actives in it like cholesterols (dry skin) , or marine collagen, or other phytonutrients.

THROW ALL THE REST OF YOUR STUFF OUT (I know it’s hard, but you can do it!)

Hope this helps,
Dr. Brandith Irwin
Founder, SkinTour
Director, Madison Skin & Laser Center
Follow my skin tips and travels on Instagram!



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