How Long Do I Have to Wait Between Applying Skin-Care Products?


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We're often are asked how long a person should wait between applying the various products in their daily skin-care routine. Given the variety of products you can use to make a significant difference in the appearance of your skin, it's a logical question! We have a simple answer you're sure to love: You don't have to wait! If you're using gentle, well-formulated skin-care products (and you should be), then in most circumstances, waiting is about personal preference (what works best for you) than necessity.
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Can Skin Handle So Much At Once?

One question we're asked repeatedly is whether or not a person's skin can handle so many ingredients at once. As it turns out, skin is capable of handling a lot—and 99% of the time, any one product in your routine doesn't get in the way of the others you are using. Think of it like your diet: Whether you eat all of your vegetables at once or take small bites of them as you enjoy the other food on your plate, your body is going to get the same nutritional benefits from the veggies in your meal.

Ultimately, it is more about the product feel and your preference than it is about how the products absorb or set. Some people just like the feel of waiting between skin-care steps, while others prefer layering one product right after the other; some mix products like moisturizer and exfoliant in the palm of their hand before applying. The truth is those are all fine. Of course, there are a few exceptions, so keep reading to find out more!

What About AHA and BHA Exfoliants?

If you're worried about applying skin-care products right after applying an AHA (active ingredient glycolic acid) or BHA (active ingredient salicylic acid) exfoliant, don't be. As long as the exfoliant is formulated within an effective pH range, it will work as intended, even if you apply a moisturizer or other products immediately after. The other products you apply won't affect its performance.

Exceptions to the Rule

If you notice that a combination of products you're using tends to roll or ball up when you apply one right after the other, then it's probably best to allow the first product to dry before applying the next product in your routine. Sometimes two product's textures just aren't compatible—they don't play well together—so waiting between applications is best.

Because sunscreen should always be the last skin-care product you apply, it's a good idea to allow a few minutes for it to set before you apply your makeup. If your foundation or tinted moisturizer contains sunscreen and is rated SPF 25 or greater, then there's no need to wait, unless you personally prefer to wait.

The final exception to the rule is to not apply an antioxidant-rich product at the same time you apply a product with benzoyl peroxide unless you're willing to wait for the benzoyl peroxide product to absorb before applying the antioxidant product. If you don't want to wait, you can also switch to applying the benzoyl peroxide product in the morning and the antioxidant serum or moisturizer product at night.

  • If you're applying treatment products to manage discolorations, keep oil in check, or help with breakouts, it's OK to spot treat rather than to apply the product all over your face. For example, you can apply a skin-lightening product with hydroquinone directly to the discolored areas, or dab an anti-acne product with benzoyl peroxide right over your breakouts at the end of your skin-care routine just before you apply sunscreen.
  • Try the cocktail approach by applying several products at once. For example, mix your serum and moisturizer in the palm of your hand and apply them both to your entire face (including around your eyes—remember, you don't need an eye cream). This can speed your routine, but keep in mind it is not advisable to do this with sunscreen, because sun protection isn't something you want to dilute with another product (well, unless it's another sunscreen).

Now that you know you don't have to wait between applying skin-care products, your daily skin-care routine should become far easier, and quicker. If anything, knowing you don't have to wait will make you more likely to experiment with other skin-care products that can provide truly impressive results—and having beautiful skin is what it's all about—Right?

To learn more about what each product in our line does and how they can be used together, check out our article How to Put Together A Skin-Care Routine.

The Best Skin of Your Life Starts Here: The same type of in-depth scientific research used to create this article is also used to formulate Paula’s Choice Skincare products. You’ll find products for all skin types and a range of concerns, from acne and sensitive skin to wrinkles, pores, and sun damage. With Paula’s Choice Skincare, you can get (and keep) the best skin of your life! Learn more at Shop Paula's Choice.

About the Experts

Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books on skin care and makeup. She is known worldwide as the Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula's Choice. Paula's expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international television including:

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The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and helping you solve your skincare frustrations with research-supported expert advice—so you'll have the facts you need to take the best possible care of your skin.

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