Get The Most Out Of Your Skincare Routine: Layering and Alternating Products

EFAs skin care

Much has been written about how to appropriately layer your skincare products. We’ve all learned “serums first, sunscreen last” but with so many items and potential issues to target, how do you fit it all in without layering 15 products?

In this article, you will learn:

Layer Skincare Products
  • Can You Use More Than One Serum at a Time?
  • Why Can’t I Just Use an All-in-One Product?
  • Get The Most Out Of Your Skincare Routine: Layering and Alternating
  • A Few Notes About the Protocol Above

Can You Use More Than One Serum at a Time?

Wondering if you can layer face serums? The short answer is yes. For some skin care buffs, it’s not unheard of to layer up to 15!

15 does seem like a bit much, but it’s not unusual for the South Koreans, the current leaders in skin care addiction, to layer between ten to twelve products at once. This can be done, but it is admittedly tricky. The products have to be carefully selected and some time has to pass between the layering to prevent piling.

At Circcell, we believe that with too much layering your skin will not get the full benefit of each product you are using.

Why Can’t I Just Use an All-in-One Product?

You can use combo creams, but not all professional skin care ingredients live well together in the same container. Serious skincare companies know what can live together and what can’t, so they create separate products when dictated by chemistry.

I have a basic skincare routine of cleanse, tone, moisturize, protect…how do I layer lightening, retinoid, acne, antioxidant and targeted treatments?

We all want the benefit of specialized technologies targeted towards specific skin issues, but using too many items together may not be the most effective use of your investment.

The first few items you layer on your skin are going to be more effectively absorbed by your skin than subsequent layering. This means the stuff on top might not do you any good…unless you know the rules of layering and alternating.

Get The Most Out Of Your Skincare Routine: Layering and Alternating


Layering and Alternating Skincare
  1. Cleanser
  2. Mask
  3. Toner
  4. Targeted Products (vitamin C, tyrosinase* inhibitors)
  5. Serums
  6. Combo Moisturizer/Sunscreen


  1. Cleanser
  2. Mask
  3. Toner
  4. Targeted Products (vitamin C, retinoids, tyrosinase* inhibitors)
  5. Serums
  6. Moisturizer
  7. Oils (oils penetrate moisturizer and not vice versa)

*tyrosinase is the melanin-producing enzyme responsible for uneven pigmentation

A Few Notes About the Protocol Above:

Be Careful What Skin Care Products You Layer With

skincare routine

If using a harsh cleanser or mask, be careful with any follow up products. This might be a good time to skip the retinoid or even layering vitamin C serums as it can be irritating to some skin types.

Only Exfoliate on a Weekly Basis

At Circcell, we do not recommend heavy exfoliating scrubs/masks to be used daily. These are good types of items to alternate, i.e. Gentle cleanser is standard protocol while using a more aggressive cleanser or mask two days per week. More gentle exfoliating products like those that employ enzymes can be used more regularly.

Limit to Two Serums Per Routine

We recommend you use no more than two serums per routine. Again, alternating skin care items is a strategy here. If you have many serums that you like, use one to two in your morning routine and two different serums in the evening. Of course it is fine to use the same one consistently but by alternating you can effectively use many different serums.

Retinoids and serums can be used together, especially if the serum is soothing or hydrating. Be careful using very aggressive face oil serums with retinoids.

Add Vitamin C to Your Skincare Layering

Vitamin C is such important part of any skin care routine. It brightens, protects against sun damage and promotes collagen production. Using C during the day in combination with sunscreen is one of the most powerful combinations we can use for UV protection.

Vitamin C alone neutralizes free radicals and shields against UV damage. For those with vitamin C sensitivity, it may be best to use it only at night. Be careful using vitamin C and retinoids together. It could cause irritation. In this case, use vitamin C and retinoids alone on alternate evenings.

Circcell Face Oil Jacqueline's Blend

Targeted products include spot treatments, eye creams and lightening/brightening creams/vitamin C. Targeted items can be alternated so that you can fit more than one into your overall protocol. For example, if you’ve just come back from the Caribbean and have excess melasma, you should use a lightening/brightening type product religiously until you’ve achieved the desired results. From that point forward you can switch to once per day or every other day or remove it from your protocol entirely during seasons when you are not regularly exposed to direct sunlight. The same philosophy could be used during an acne flare up.

A word on lightening/brightening products that contain a tyrosinase (melanin-producing enzyme) inhibitor (we highly recommend this ingredient and have included one in our Dramatic Lightening Potion). For best results, the active ingredient must have direct contact to the skin. We recommend you use it right after cleansing.

Layer up With SPF

Sunscreen is a necessary step of any protocol…most would say the most important. If using only chemical sunblock, to work effectively, it needs to be applied directly to the skin. Physical sunblock can be applied as the last step of a skincare routine. Circcell makes a combo chemical/physical block with hyaluronic acid. This profoundly moisturizing product can be used as the last layer of your morning routine. It also has light diffusing particles that leave a beautiful finish on your skin.

Be Careful With Retinoid Products

Retinoids can cause irritation if applied to wet skin. They are absorbed better with moisturizer and sensitive to light. Because of this, we recommend you use retinoids in the evening only on dry skin. They are best used with a moisturizer (so don’t skip your moisturizer if using a retinoid). The moisturizer helps the skin absorb the retinoid and protects it from irritation.

Keep Oils on Hand

Oils can be used over moisturizer…but not vice versa. This is because moisturizer cannot penetrate oil but oil can penetrate moisturizer. Oils seal everything in, leave a lovely glow to the skin and add an aromatherapy component to your routine. Oils can be used anytime of day or night for a skin pick me up. Keep oils in your desk, handbag and nightstand to use whenever feeling dull or dry.


We hope this tutorial has helped in de-mystifying how to layer and alternate products to get the most out of your skincare investment. Keep in mind that the perfect protocol is as much an art as it is a science. While these rules are general guidelines, ultimately this is a trial and error process and our bodies will guide us to the final, perfectly-tailored protocol.

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  • pensule real techniques elefant on

    Your style is really unique compared to other people I have read stuff from.
    Thanks for posting when you’ve got the opportunity, Guess I’ll just book mark this blog.

  • Nadia on

    Between Sunscreen and face oil, which one should I use first..?

  • Maya Crothers on

    Hi Nadia. It depends on how you are using the oil but generally if you are using a sunscreen, you should apply it last. A good way to use oils for day is to add a drop or two to your foundation. At night use it as the last step of your skincare routine to seal in the products underneath it essentially creating a sleeping mask our of your entire evening regimen.

  • Vanya Yordanova on

    I want to ask i want to use a La Roche-Posay Anthelios AOX Daily Antioxidant Serum its a antioxidant serum But with SPF 50 and i don’t know when to use it. I know the serum have to be after tonic then moisturizer And then SPF but in this case i don’t know. Maybe i have to use other serum before moisturizer and la roche-posay one with the SPF last, or just use the SPF one.

  • Maya Crothers on

    Our products can definitely be used with any products from The Ordinary line. Just apply from lightest to heaviest formulations with sunscreens and oils last.

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