sustainable skincare

The Truth About Layering Sustainable Skincare


Find out how to lock in moisture and boost skin elasticity with our sustainable skincare layering tips.

That feeling when you’ve just purchased a new range of ethical skincare products, only to feel the dreaded ‘pilling’ effect and all your beloved serums coming off with every stroke. Yep, we’ve all been there and it is becoming an art in itself to master the ultimate layering method.

It’s time to debunk the true order of skincare layering and understand how your products work best together.

If you use a sustainable skincare routine, it is likely you don’t use too many products (since being sustainable is all about less is more!). Therefore, you may be using a simple cruelty-free cleanser, moisturiser and oil routine. However, more complex routines might involve a cleanser, exfoliator, toner, serum, water-based moisturiser, face oils and eye creams. It’s time to break down the best layering for you.

1.Cleansing, double cleansing, or a quick splash?

This is the easy part, cleansing is the first step to any great skincare routine! However, with more products like balm cleansers, and cleansing oils coming on the market, it can be confusing to know which to use and when.

Always start with oil or balm cleansers to loosen makeup and dirt on the skin. If you have dry skin (like mine!) you don’t need to follow up with a second cleanse, but if you have oily or combination skin, you may wish to use a water-soluble (aka not oil) cleanser to remove any excess oil. Or, if you’re a truly sustainable skincare addict, splashing your face with water in the mornings is all you need to keep things minimalist.

2.Exfoliation and oh… what even are toners again?!

Toners are a completely optional step in the routine. They’re designed to help optimise the skin canvas, but each one will have benefits targeting different skin concerns; from extra hydration to oil-balancing or exfoliation.

Some skin does much better with fewer products, but if you’re looking to target a specific skin issue or help optimise absorption of products further, then this step might be for you.

If you have oily/acne-prone skin, you might want to introduce a salicylic acid toner which helps to unclog pores, and are effectively a form of exfoliation. These toners are designed to be left on the skin, so it is best to wait a few minutes before applying serums. For dry skin souls, you’ll want to stick to a glycolic acid which is more suitable for dry and sensitive skin types.

I’ve always been a bit confused about whether toners are meant to be left on or washed off. Always read the skincare label, but in general modern-day toners are designed to be left on the skin.

Other exfoliation methods can be used which also help to smooth that face canvas and prime the skin for the next steps, such as scrubs, washes, fruit enzymes, peels and clay masks. The trick here is to do this step before using any products which are designed to be left on the skin.

3.Let’s get sciencey: Serums, Moisturisers & Oils

The order here depends on the specific products you are using and whether they are oil or water-based. However, the rule of thumb here is always to apply the oily stuff last as it seals in the water-based lotions and potions.

Top tip: Apply oils and thickest products last

For those of you who love to geek out on the science of skincare; the truth is that thinner products can’t penetrate thicker products. Oils are hydrophobic which means water can’t penetrate oil. Put simply, if you apply a water-based night cream over an oily serum, it won’t actually make it to your skin cells and you are likely throwing your hard-earned paycheque away. This is because the oil forms a water-tight seal over the skin which stops anything suspended in water molecules from getting through.

So what happens if you are using an oil-based serum?! An oil-based serum is still an oil, so best to use it last after your creamy vegan moisturisers which are confusing as serums should usually go earlier. But, if you want all the lovely actives and vitamins to reach your skin, oil comes last.

Top tip: In the morning, ensure your SPF is always the last step in your skincare routine.

How do you know if your products are oil or water-based?

Most moisturisers that are water-based have the ingredient ‘Aqua’ listed as one of the first ingredients in the list. If it is oil-based, you will see oils listed as one of the first ingredients.

Whether you use vegan skincare, sustainably resourced skincare, plastic-free skincare, or just a random mishmash of skincare, the layering rules are the same. By following this rule of thumb (water then oils, thin then thickest), you will reap the rewards of your skincare routine, ensuring you lock in moisture and boost skin elasticity for a glowing complexion.

Here’s an infographic to help you on your way, save it, pin it, share it!

Skincare layering checklist

Rio Cook

Natural beauty blogger on the journey of exploring the best natural beauty products across the globe and discovering what's really in the products we use.