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5 Steps to Washing Your Face Properly: The Correct Order

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Tori loves trying out new makeup looks and sharing her expertise and tutorials with others.

Learn how to wash your face the correct way with five simple steps.

Learn how to wash your face the correct way with five simple steps.

The Correct Order to Use Skincare Products

I have tried all kinds of skincare products and regimens, especially during the time in my 20s when I worked part-time at a big makeup store. Most skincare regimens seem to follow a similar path of application. No matter what products you decide to use, there’s a simple list of five steps you can follow for your skincare routine.

How to Wash Your Face the Right Way

  1. Makeup Remover (optional): If you are a person who wears makeup, apply makeup remover to a cotton pad and gently wipe away your makeup. No scrubbing.
  2. Cleanser: Apply to your face with water. Rinse off and gently pat your face dry. Some cleansers should be applied when your face is dry, so be sure to read the directions.
  3. Toner: Apply toner to a cotton pad and pat on your skin. Let dry completely before using treatments.
  4. Treatments and Serums (optional): If you are a person who uses acne or anti-aging serums, creams, etc., apply them now. Let them fully absorb and dry before moving on to the next step.
  5. Moisturizer and Sunscreen: Gently massage these into your face. Don’t skip the sunscreen, especially if you will be outside.

Step 1: Makeup Remover

If you are a person who wears makeup, you should always begin cleansing your face by using a makeup remover. Makeup remover should be used before the cleanser. While cleansers can be acceptable for removing some foundations and blush, they require too much scrubbing to effectively remove makeup around the eyes and lips. The best makeup remover is going to be one that can remove all of your makeup, and also not be super harsh and drying. (Source)

Over the last several years, micellar water has taken the makeup removal market by storm. It is preferred by skincare enthusiasts and dermatologists alike. My personal favorite micellar water makeup remover is Garnier SkinActive Micellar Cleansing Water All-in-1. Micellar water is a mixture of purified water and mild surfactants. When you combine these ingredients, they create round micelles, which make it easier to remove makeup and excess oils from your face.

When you add micelles to water you get micellar water.  An oil-sucking, makeup-removing machine!

When you add micelles to water you get micellar water. An oil-sucking, makeup-removing machine!

How Micellar Water Works

In a nutshell, oil and water don’t like each other. Surfactants like both oil and water because they have a water-loving head (blue in the illustration) and an oil loving tail (the zigzags). When surfactants touch water, the heads point out towards the water, and the tails group inwards away from the water. They are easily rearrangeable when they touch different things.

When you pour micellar water onto something like a cotton pad, the water loving heads attach to the cotton because it absorbs the water and the tails point outwards, looking for an oil to attach to. When you wipe your makeup off, the tails grab on to the stuff on your face and takes it along for the ride, making for a significantly gentler face washing experience. (Source)

Step 2: Cleanser

Cleanser is a big part of washing your face. People think that makeup remover can function as a cleanser, but that’s not always the case. Not every cleanser is made the same, and most cleansers do not contain ingredients powerful enough to remove waterproof makeup. So, it’s best to have a makeup remover and a separate cleanser.

A cleanser’s main purpose is to wash away dirt and debris. Throughout the day, your face collects dead skin cells, dirt, pollutants, and debris. Your face has glands under the skin that produce an oil called sebum, which uses hair follicles to travel outwards to the skin to create a barrier that prevents all that stuff from getting in and causing infections or acne. But, if all the pollutants collecting on top of the sebum don’t get washed away, it can build up and cause hair follicles to get clogged, which can cause acne and other issues. (Source)

At the same time, washing your face too much or using a method that is too harsh can wash away too much sebum and cause dirt and debris to get in. This can cause dryness, itchiness, infection, and other problems. Stay away from harsh scrubbing brushes and washcloths. I usually just use my fingertips (after washing my hands with hand soap, of course, to prevent introducing additional bacteria).

Additionally, try to stay away from cleansers that contain sulfates if possible. Your skin is naturally acidic (sitting at about a 5.5 on the pH scale), and sulfates cause many cleansers to skew alkaline (higher pH), which can break down the protective barrier of sebum. Using plain old soap, which has a pH of 9 or 10, will break down that layer especially badly. You’ll know if the cleanser was too harsh if your face starts to feel dry, tight, and itchy after cleansing. (Source)

The two cleansers I use depending on what I need that day. Neutrogena for daily use, and Murad for acne breakouts.

The two cleansers I use depending on what I need that day. Neutrogena for daily use, and Murad for acne breakouts.

My Favorite Cleansers

With that being said, I have used Murad Clarifying Cleanser in the past and really love it for when I have acne breakouts because it contains salicylic acid, which helps dissolve acne-causing dirt and debris. I feel that it is too acidic for normal daily use, so I only use it regularly when I’m having a breakout. For regular days, I use Neutrogena Ultra Gentle Hydrating Daily Facial Cleanser, which is known to be pH balanced in addition to being fragrance free and sulfate free.

Step 3: Toner

Toner is a great step for preparing your skin to absorb any treatments you need to apply. Toner removes any remaining traces of makeup and debris not caught by your cleanser and tightens up pores to make them less visible throughout the day. A long time ago, toners contained alcohol, which dried out your face, and left people feeling itchy and tight. Today, toners have been refined to actually be helpful instead of harmful. (Source)

Toners are usually thin liquids and look like water. Toners are formulated in a variety of ways to address different skin problems. In all of my research, it seems like the most common toner on the market for all skin types would be a witch hazel-based toner that contains skin soothers such as cucumber, rose oil, or aloe vera. Witch hazel is a plant that has been used for thousands of years because of its medicinal properties.

When witch hazel is used as a facial toner, it reduces the size of pores, removes any remaining debris from the face, and can provide additional moisturizing properties when combined with other ingredients. My hands-down favorite toner of all time is Thayer’s Alcohol-Free Cucumber Witch Hazel Facial Toner with Aloe Vera Formula. The cucumber and aloe vera are skin soothers for sensitive or dry skin. This toner also contains glycerin which is a popular vegetable-based moisturizing compound. However, as with everything in the world, don’t overuse it. Even with all the great skin-soothing ingredients, witch hazel is still an astringent, and using too much of it can cause excess drying—applying once or twice per day is plenty.

How to Apply Toner

Toners are best applied using a patting method with a cotton pad after removing makeup and washing your face. Run far, far away from toners that contain any trace of alcohol. Make sure to allow the toner to dry completely before applying your treatments and moisturizers.

Serums absorb into the skin very quickly due to their thin consistency.

Serums absorb into the skin very quickly due to their thin consistency.

Step 4: Treatments and Serums

Once your toner has dried completely, it’s time for treatments. Treatments like anti-aging serums, topical acne medications, eye creams, etc., provide a variety of benefits and target your specific skin concerns. This step is totally optional.

Serums are highly concentrated with antioxidants and vitamins formulated for different skin types depending on their ingredients. Serums are supposed to go on before moisturizing because the super-concentrated ingredients get sealed in by the moisturizer, which gives the skin a better chance of absorbing it. (Source)

Many people swear by serums made with vitamin C and hyaluronic acid because both contain anti-aging properties that make skin appear brighter. My mother loves Juice Beauty Stem Cellular Anti-Wrinkle Boosting Serum which contains fruit stem cells and vitamin C to combat fine lines and wrinkles and provide extra moisture absorption.

When my acne was at its worst in my early 20's, I turned to Murad’s Clarifying Acne treatment to help control breakouts because it contains a high concentration of salicylic acid that penetrates the skin to help address the root cause of breakouts. If you’re currently using a prescription treatment for any skincare issues such as rosacea, this is a good time to apply them.

Step 5: Moisturizers and Sunscreens

The final step in your skincare routine is going to be your moisturizers and sunscreens. I group these together because you can get a moisturizer that also functions as a sunscreen, or you can apply two separate products.

Moisturizers come in all different types, and it can be tricky to know what is going to be best for you, but in general, it acts as a healthy barrier on top of your skin that seals in your toner and treatments, keeps the bad stuff out of your pores, and keeps your skin hydrated. (Source)

Your skin is going to fall into general categories based on several factors, including genetics, diet, and exercise level. Here’s the kind of moisturizer you should try based on your skin type.

  • Dry or Mature Skin: Dry skin will sometimes appear red and flaky. Use an oil-based moisturizer. Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream is a good one to try. It has nearly a perfect 5-star rating from literally thousands of reviews on Amazon, Sephora, and their website.
  • Oily or Combination Skin: If your skin starts looking shiny and needs to be blotted throughout the day, don’t skip moisturizer! You still need it. Try a water-based, oil-free moisturizer. My favorite daily go-to is Neutrogena Oil-Free Moisturizer for Sensitive Skin.
Follow this 5-step skincare routine for clean and healthy skin.

Follow this 5-step skincare routine for clean and healthy skin.

How to Choose the Best Sunscreen

When talking about sunscreen, most experts agree that you should wear SPF every single day. Even on overcast days, 80% of the harmful rays from the sun still make it through the clouds, and your skin is going to absorb those rays and cause damage.

Being a scuba instructor myself, I also harp on choosing sunscreen that is reef safe. There are several factors that contribute to the death of ocean ecosystems. 14,000 tons of sunscreen ends up in the ocean every year (Source). Many sunscreens contain harmful ingredients that exacerbate the issues the ocean is experiencing (such as increased water temperature and ocean acidification). As a result, many popular tourist destinations in locations such as Hawaii, Bonaire, and Palau have banned the use of non-reef-safe sunscreens (Source).

Here's an example of what coral bleaching looks like in the Great Barrier Reef. This is due to a variety of factors including non-reef-safe sunscreen usage, climate change, and ocean acidification.

Here's an example of what coral bleaching looks like in the Great Barrier Reef. This is due to a variety of factors including non-reef-safe sunscreen usage, climate change, and ocean acidification.

My Favorite Reef-Safe Sunscreen

Even if you aren’t planning on being in the ocean any time soon, it’s still a great idea to choose a reef-safe sunscreen so that it doesn’t rinse down the sink and enter another waterway near you. My hands-down favorite reef-safe sunscreen is Stream2Sea Tinted 30 SPF Sunscreen. A little goes a long way since this is a mineral-based sunscreen. You only need a drop or two (warmed up by rubbing on the back of your hand first) to cover your entire face.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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