How to Build a Morning and Evening Skincare Routine

Having a skincare routine isn't just about cleansing your face, it's also about hydrating your skin, taking care of any skin concerns, and protecting it from the elements. At its most basic, your skincare routine should always include a cleanser, moisturizer, and sunscreen.1

Depending on your skin type and your skin goals, you can add additional treatments to your routine to treat dry, oily, aging, or acne-prone skin. Here's how to create the best morning and nighttime skincare routine for your skin.
Morning Skincare Routine

A morning skincare routine prepares your skin for the day by removing dirt and oils accumulated during sleep. It should also add moisture to your skin barrier and help protect your skin from ultraviolet (UV) rays and pollution. Here's how you can customize your routine based on your skin type.
Step 1: Cleanser

Washing your face removes excess oil and dirt that can clog pores and cause breakouts.2 Opt for a gentle, alcohol-free cleanser to avoid stripping too many oils you need to keep your skin barrier healthy. You may need a more hydrating oil-based cleanser if you have dry skin. When cleansing in the morning, splash lukewarm water onto your face and gently rub a face wash with your fingertips. Then, rinse and pat your skin dry with a towel.3

Skin type considerations: Cleansers with ceramides, glycerin, or hyaluronic acid help hydrate dry skin.45 Cleansers with benzoyl peroxide, glycolic acid, salicylic acid, or tea tree oil can help control excess oil and reduce acne breakouts.6
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Step 2: Toner

Depending on their ingredients, toners can help hydrate the skin or remove leftover oil and dirt.7 Toning is an optional morning step but can benefit people with dry or acne-prone skin. To apply, soak a cotton pad with toner and gently pat it onto your face. Focus on the "T-zone" (forehead, nose, and chin) if you have oily or acne-prone skin. You can also splash some toners directly onto your face.

Skin type considerations: If you have dry or sensitive skin, look for hydrating toners with hyaluronic acid or rose water.4 Toners with oil-absorbing ingredients like salicylic acid or witch hazel are ideal for oily or acne-prone skin.8

Step 3: Spot Treatments or Acne Treatments

If you're trying to control acne breakouts, apply a spot or all-over acne treatment after cleansing or toning. You can apply a skin-brightening spot treatment instead if you're trying to fade dark spots (hyperpigmentation). Spot treatments treat small areas of skin and can be used as needed.

Skin type considerations: Spot and all-over treatments with benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid can help treat acne.6 If you're trying to fade dark spots, look for serums with hydroquinone or kojic acid.9
Step 4: Antioxidant Serum

A morning serum can help brighten, hydrate, and protect skin. Applying a serum with antioxidant properties—like vitamin C, vitamin E, or niacinamide—is best for daytime since these ingredients can help reduce environmental and UV damage.10 To apply a serum, gently tap the product into your face and neck.

Skin type considerations: Vitamin C works for all skin types and can help brighten skin and fade hyperpigmentation.10 Vitamin E and hyaluronic acid serums can help hydrate dry skin.411 If you want an antioxidant morning serum that helps reduce acne and oil, try niacinamide (a form of vitamin B3). Niacinamide can also help brighten skin, shrink pores, and soften wrinkles. However, don't mix vitamin C with niacinamide—mixing makes the serums less effective.12
Step 5: Eye Cream

Eye creams are optional but can add moisture and hydration to your undereye skin. To apply, gently dab the cream under your undereye using your ring finger. For daytime eye creams, choose products with hydrating peptides, antioxidants like Vitamin C, and SPF to help protect your delicate undereye skin from sun damage.

Skin type considerations: If you want to look more awake after a restless night, apply an eye cream with caffeine. A caffeine eye cream can help stimulate blood circulation, improving dark circles and puffy under eyes.13
Step 6: Moisturizer

Massaging a moisturizer into your face and neck keeps your skin protected and hydrated all day. Moisturizers help increase the water content in your skin and seal in moisture. This is an important step to repair your skin barrier—the protective top layer of your skin (aka the epidermis).14 Even oily skin types need moisture and hydration to keep their skin balanced—reducing the risk of overproducing more oil.15

Skin type considerations: Rich moisturizers with ceramides, glycerin, or shea butter can help hydrate dry skin.14 If you have oily or acne-prone skin, look for oil-free or lightweight gel moisturizers that won't clog pores.16 Moisturizers with hyaluronic acid are great for people with acne-prone, oily skin.4
Step 7: Sunscreen

Your last morning skincare step should always be sunscreen to protect your skin from UV rays. Daily sunscreen will reduce your risk of skin cancer, wrinkles, and sunspots. Look for a mineral or chemical sunscreen with broad-spectrum coverage and a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher.17 You should apply about a nickel-sized amount of sunscreen onto your face, neck, chest, and ears. Remember to reapply every 2 hours.18

How to Layer Your Skincare Products in the Right Order
Evening Skincare Routine

An evening skincare routine removes gunk left from the day and adds moisture to the skin. It can also help treat dry skin, acne, hyperpigmentation, or fine lines as you sleep. Going to bed with a fresh face also allows your skin to repair itself as new skin cells work hard to repair skin damage. Here's how you can customize your nighttime routine.
Step 1: Cleanser

Cleansing your face at night removes any dirt and oil you accumulate throughout the day. You can use the same gentle, oil-based, or acne-fighting cleanser morning and night. The main difference to a nighttime cleansing routine is you may also need to remove makeup with an oil-free makeup remover or double cleanse.19

Skin type considerations: If you have oily, acne-prone skin, remove makeup with an oil-free makeup remover or micellar water to avoid clogging your pores.19 Sensitive and dry skin types may also benefit from double cleansing with an oil-based cleanser or balm that removes makeup and hydrates the skin.

Step 2: Toner

Applying a nighttime toner with a cotton pad or splash to the face is not necessary. But nighttime toning can help hydrate dry skin or remove leftover grime after cleansing. You can also swap your usual morning toner for an exfoliating toner at night. You can use an exfoliating toner once or twice a week to help remove dead skin cells and unclog pores.20

Skin type considerations: You can still use hyaluronic acid or rose water toners to hydrate dry skin at night. Oil-absorbing salicylic acid or witch hazel toners also help control nighttime oil production.8 Combination, normal, and oily skin types can also benefit from exfoliating toners with alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) like glycolic acid or salicylic acid.20
Step 3: Spot Treatment

You can continue to use a spot treatment to zap pimples or fade dark spots at night. This can include applying a benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid treatment for pimples.6 Or, you can use a hydroquinone or kojic acid treatment for hyperpigmentation.9

Skin type considerations: Avoid applying additional serums or retinol treatments to areas where you used a spot treatment. Alternating the nights you use spot treatments, serums, and retinol is even better to avoid irritation. You can also use hydrocolloid patches at night to help treat open pimples as you sleep.
Step 4: Serums or Acne Treatments

A nighttime serum or all-over acne treatment is optional. But adding these to your routine can help treat acne and fine lines. Just make sure you only pick one to avoid irritating your skin with too many active ingredients. Some serums also act as a chemical exfoliator—removing dead skin cells that dull skin and clog pores.

Skin type considerations: Try a hydrating serum with hyaluronic acid, vitamin E, peptides, or ceramides if you have dry skin.214 Dry and oily skin types can use AHAs like glycolic and lactic acid to hydrate, exfoliate, and smooth fine lines. These AHA serums can also help treat blackheads and pimples. A salicylic acid or azelaic acid serum can also help unclog pores and reduce inflammation if you have acne.
Step 5: Retinol

Retinoids and retinol (a type of retinoid) are vitamin A derivatives that help treat acne and fine lines. These ingredients stimulate cell turnover and promote collagen production to help improve overall skin texture and prevent clogged pores. Retinol and other retinoid treatments make your skin sensitive to the sun and should always be used at night. If you're new to retinol, it can be irritating, so apply a pea-sized every other night.22

Skin type considerations: If you have sensitive skin—or only want to treat mild acne, wrinkles, or hyperpigmentation— look for over-the-counter (OTC) retinol, retinyl palmitate, and retinaldehyde. For more severe acne and anti-aging benefits, you'll need a prescription for retinoid treatments like Differin (adapalene), Retin-A (tretinoin), Aklief (trifarotene), and Tazorac (tazarotene). You can also find Differin (adapalene) OTC, which is FDA-approved to treat acne.22
Step 6: Eye Cream

Applying a night eye cream to your delicate undereye can help add more moisture to repair skin and reduce fine lines. This is an optional step at night but is ideal for an anti-aging skincare routine for all skin types.

Skin type considerations: When choosing a night eye cream, look for repairing or hydrating ingredients like retinol, niacinamide, or hyaluronic acid.1214 These ingredients work for any skin type, but retinol may be too irritating if you have sensitive skin.22
Step 7: Moisturizer or Night Cream

You can moisturize your skin at night with your usual moisturizer or apply a heavier night cream. Night creams aid nighttime skin repair and have a thicker consistency than your everyday moisturizer.23 Either way, it's essential to moisturize your skin at night to help return moisture and hydration lost during the day.

Skin type considerations: Night creams with hyaluronic acid and glycerin add more nighttime moisture.14 If you have oily or combination skin, look for night creams that are non-greasy and non-comedogenic to avoid breakouts.15 Night creams may also have AHAs and retinol to help stimulate cell turnover, reduce fine lines, and even out skin tone as you sleep.23
Step 8: Face Oil

Face oils are an optional nighttime skincare step that can add even more moisture and hydration to the skin.24 After moisturizing, gently massage a few drops of your face oil into your face and neck.

Skin type considerations: Face oils with fatty acids like argan or coconut oil are ideal for people with dry skin who need more moisture. Chamomile and rosehip oil can help soothe sensitive skin. You can still use face oils on oily skin, but opt for lighter oils like jojoba or grapeseed oil. These face oils can help regulate your oil production without clogging pores.24
Which Skin Type Are You?

Determining your skin type can help you create the best morning and nighttime skincare routine for your skin's needs. The main skin types include normal, dry, oily, combination, and sensitive. Here's how to identify your skin type:1
Normal: The skin's oil and hydration are balanced, making the skin neither dry nor oily. Skin is also clear of acne and not sensitive to products.
Dry: The skin's barrier lacks hydration and moisture, creating rough, flakey, or itchy skin.
Oily: The pores create excess oil, making the skin shiny and greasy. Skin is prone to acne breakouts from clogged pores.
Combination: The skin is oily and dry—with oily skin on the T-zone and dry skin on the cheeks.
Sensitive: The skin is easily irritated due to skin barrier issues, climate, or products. The result is itchy and red skin that may sting or burn after applying products. 25
Additional Tips and Considerations

When creating a skincare routine, you may need to also figure out how to alternate products to avoid irritating your skin. Some considerations when layering or swapping out skincare steps include:
Don't combine AHAs or BHAs with retinol: If you want to use a serum in addition to retinol, consider alternating them every one to two days to avoid irritating your skin. Combining retinol with AHAs—like glycolic or lactic acid— and beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs)—like salicylic acid —can cause dryness and irritation.
Exfoliate a few times a week: Mild chemical exfoliators can come in the form of cleansers, serums, peels, or toners. Using serums with exfoliating ingredients nightly is usually OK. But, you want to avoid mixing your usual skincare serums and treatments with more potent exfoliation treatments like peels, toners, or cleansers. Combining can be irritating and strip your skin. 20
Swap in a facemask: After cleansing and toning at night, you can use a face mask a few times a week to help reduce oil production or moisturize dry skin. Since these treatments often include active ingredients, avoid using other serums, treatments, or retinol after a facemask. Instead, seal everything in with a moisturizer after rinsing.