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How Long to Wait Between Skin Care Steps: A Guide

How Long to Wait Between Skin Care Steps: A Guide

Skin care routines sound simple enough.

All you need to do is just wash your face, throw on some moisturizer and call it a day, right? While developing a basic skin care routine doesn’t require an advanced degree in dermatology, there may be things you’re doing that aren’t making optimal use of your products. 

For example, let’s talk about how long to wait between skin care steps. Does it really make a difference?

Does waiting between skin care steps actually matter?

Of course, feel free to rush through your skin care routine (we’ve all been there, and a rushed routine is way better than no routine at all). It’s not going to hurt you to speed through it, but your products will likely not be as effective as if you take the time to learn how long to wait between skin care steps. 

But what’s the big deal? There are a few reasons why taking the extra time with your skin care routine matters:

  • You spent money on your skin care products, so why not help them be as effective as possible? Using your products in the right way with the right amount of time between them can also help extend how long they last, so you don’t have to buy them as often.
  • Applying certain products too close together can lead to “pilling,” a balling up or flaking of products on the skin’s surface. Not only is this unsightly, but it can also make it much more difficult to apply makeup smoothly.
  • Unfortunately, not all ingredients play well together. If you choose the wrong combination or apply them too close together, you may increase your risk of skin irritation, redness or blotchiness. And, even if your skin doesn’t react poorly, they may effectively cancel each other out.

While we’ll suggest general time frames for how long to wait between skin care steps, don’t worry about needing to break out a timer. The key is to wait until your skin feels dry to the touch and your products have been absorbed before moving on to the next step. 

How long should I wait after washing my face?

So, you’re starting with a supportive cleanser that works with your skin’s unique needs — now what? 

Let’s start with a few quick tips to help you cleanse your face more effectively. You should always use lukewarm, not hot, water. Hot water has been unfairly associated with somehow getting your face extra clean when what it does is strip off the important, natural oils that keep your skin safe. Lukewarm water helps you rinse your skin while preserving your moisture barrier, which keeps your skin hydrated and radiant. 

You should also fight the urge to rub your face with a towel when drying it. Vigorous rubbing of the skin, especially with a towel made with a harsh, synthetic material, can cause premature aging. Instead, you’ll want to gently pat your skin try with a microfiber towel or washcloth. 

Now, on to the real question — how long should you wait after cleansing before moving on to the next step? We recommend waiting until the skin is completely dry before applying additional products, like serums. There is a caveat, though — if you’re in a rush and heading right to moisturizing before running out the door, applying it to damp skin can help to seal in moisture. 

How long should I wait after applying serums?

The next step in learning how long to wait between skin care steps is discussing serums. This can be a tricky conversation because there are many different serum formulations, and many of us use more than one. 

The key to applying serums in the “right” order is to pay attention to their thickness. Start by using your thinnest serums, as they will more easily absorb into the skin. Thicker serums will not only take longer to absorb but are also more occlusive, which makes it more difficult for other products to penetrate them to reach the skin. 

Like with cleansers, though, there is a caveat. If you have targeted serums, like eye serums or products meant to target breakouts, you’ll want to apply those first, so they can be as effective as possible without fighting your other products for access to your pores. Give these serums at least a full minute to get to work.

Regardless, we recommend letting each serum dry completely before moving on.


While it may be tempting to use multiple serums, make sure to check that the serums you’re choosing can be safely combined. There are certain ingredients out there, like retinoids, that don’t always play well with others. Using the wrong combination of ingredients can irritate your skin or cause breakouts, which defeats the purpose.

How long should I wait after applying moisturizer?

If you’re ready to wrap up your morning skin care routine and head out into the world, always remember to finish with sunscreen. Sunscreen is a non-negotiable part of any routine, no matter how basic or detailed, because it not only keeps your skin looking its best but also keeps you safe. 

While you don’t have to wait for your moisturizer to dry completely (because you might be waiting quite a while on some of the thicker options!), we recommend at least giving it a minute or two. The timing is less about worrying that you’ll make your moisturizer less effective and more about keeping your sunscreen from becoming diluted and not working as well. 

As a reminder, your sunscreen needs to check off three crucial factors to be effective — it should have a sun-protective factor (SPF) of at least 35, provide “broad-spectrum” protection (against both UVA and UVB radiation) and be water-resistant. 

However, there’s also a workaround for how long to wait between skin care steps here. If you find a sunscreen that also includes a moisturizer, like our 100% Mineral Tinted SPF, you can combine steps without missing out on the benefits of either product.

To sum things up...

Learning more about how long to wait between skin care steps is about more than just keeping your skin looking its best (although that’s definitely a huge benefit). When you know how long to wait between steps, you’re also saving money by making the most effective use of the products you spend your hard-earned cash on. Your skin will look great, and your wallet will be full — what more could you want from your routine? 


Understanding the Epidermal Barrier in Healthy and Compromised Skin: Clinically Relevant Information for the Dermatology Practitioner | PMC

Retinoids in the treatment of skin aging: an overview of clinical efficacy and safety | PMC

Sunscreen FAQs | AAD


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