It's safe to say we know more about how to take care of our skin in 2017 than ever before.
Nearly all of our favourite products are infused with antioxidants to protect against free radicals like pollution, filled to bursting with hyaluronic acid to quench parched patches and packed with SPF to shield us from ageing UV rays - and that's before we've even touched on retinols and skin-friendly acids - you get the drift!
We spend fortunes on luxurious creams and serums packed with ingredients that protect us from skin-slackening factors such as pollution, UV rays and whatever else we fling at our faces daily - but there's a possibility that we might not be making the most of them.
What if the order in which you apply those products is just as important as the groundbreaking ingredients that form them?
'Good skincare is essential,' says Tanya Zahoor, co-founder of Aesthetics Lab, 'but no less crucial is the way you apply your products. You may have all the right creams and serums, but if you are applying them in the wrong order, you might not be reaping all of the benefits.'
So, ELLE called in the pros - and this is how it should be done.
1. Make-Up Remover
'The first step in any routine should be to take your make-up off really thoroughly,' says Dr. Jonquille Chantrey, cosmetic surgeon and skin expert. 'Foundation should be dissolved using make-up remover (take a look at ELLE's pick of the best here) but usually, that isn't sufficient enough, so a cleanser must be used next!'
'It's always a good idea to start with a clean, blank canvas,' says Rabbia Aslam, Clinical Director at HC MedSpa, 'and to achieve your best ever skin, I'd recommend a double cleanse, especially in the evening. Do this once as normal to remove any surface 'dirt' and follow with a second round for a deep and thorough cleanse.'
And while there are a myriad of cleansers to choose from, Dr. Chantrey suggests that wash-off versions may be a better option than cream cleansers or balms, as luxurious as they may be. 'No residue is left when you opt for something you can rinse off of your skin, and I prefer that,' she says.
Perricone MD Nutritive Cleanser, £36 www.cultbeauty.co.uk
'Some brands have a philosophy of exfoliating before cleansing,' says facialist and author of Love Your Skin, Abigail James. 'However, if the skin is cleansed of make-up and other impurities, then the exfoliant can do its job properly, especially if it is acid based. For these to be effective it's ideal to have a clean surface.'
But how often should we be using them?
'Exfoliating once or twice a week will gently buff away dead cells which are constantly building up on the surface of the skin,' says Rabbia. 'It is so important to exfoliate if you want to see great results. If we leave those skin cells, other products such as serums and moisturisers won't soak into the layers as efficiently as they could - they provide a barrier, almost.'
Alpha-H Gentle Daily Exfoliant, £34.50 www.beautybay.com
There are so many benefits of using a toner, but the particular type matters when you are slotting it into your skincare routine.
'If you're using a hydrating toner, then you might want to use it before applying a face mask.' says Abigail. 'That way, the skin will be nice and damp and the mask will absorb and even work faster. I love the Liz Earle Instant Boost Tonic, £14.50.'
If you're using a balancing toner, Tanya suggests spritzing your face after a mask to restore the pH of the skin and to seal in the goodness it has delivered to cells. 'And if you aren't using a mask, just apply your toner after cleansing to prepare it for the next steps,' she says.
5. Face Mask
Whether you're using a mask that detoxes or hydrates, it is essential that the skin is free from surface bacteria and dead skin cells so that the concentrated ingredients can really work their magic.
'Using a mask after exfoliating makes sure all the active ingredients penetrate deeper rather than sitting on the top of dead skin cells,' says Tanya, but it's how you rinse it off that matters, too. 'It's always nice to remove masks with a warm cloth, then to splash your face with cold water before applying serums and creams,' mentions Abigail. 'This prepares the skin for the next steps.'
NIOD Mastic Must, £27 www.victoriahealth.com
6. Eye Cream
It's the million dollar question in skincare: When are you meant to apply eye cream?
As a nation of women obsessed with smoothing out our crows feet and diminishing eye bags, we spend fortunes on expensive eye creams, with many of us opting for the richest, most luxurious formulas to help erase all traces of a lack of sleep.
And while we may have been taught to apply the thickest products last, it seems this isn't the case for eye cream.
Fresh Lotus Youth Preserve Eye Cream, £38 www.harrods.com
'In terms of eye creams specifically, I always advise these should be applied first,' says Dr, Rabia Malik, holistic aesthetic doctor at Grace Belgravia Medical, 'after cleansing and before other products, to allow for absorption and to avoid mixing. This is because it is usually easier to apply a moisturiser on top, after eye cream has been applied, than it is to put eye cream on after applying moisturiser.'
Kirsti Shuba, co-founder of Katherine Daniels Cosmetics agrees: 'I always apply eye cream to perfectly cleansed and toned skin before my moisturiser. To boost the efficiency of my cream, I sometimes tap a lightweight serum or concentrate around my eyes before applying the cream to my eye contour and lids.'
That said, it could be a good idea to skip the eye cream in the evening.
'I prefer serums at night,' says Abigail, 'or no eye product at all. You're more likely to wake with puffy eyes if you apply a heavy cream in this area.'
'Using a serum or a concentrate will enhance the benefits of your moisturiser,' says Rabbia. 'A lighter consistency, with a higher concentrate of the 'good stuff' will penetrate the skin quicker and deeper than a moisturiser would.'
Dr. Chantrey suggests something packed with vitamin C. 'This really helps to brighten the skin and to prevent pigmentation,' she says, but it's always a good idea to acknowledge the texture of serum you're using, otherwise the next products might not absorb properly.
'Oil based serums prevent lighter products from penetrating into the skin because they have a higher molecular weight,' says Tanya, 'so it's always best to leave those to last.'
CE-Tetra Vitamin C Antioxidant Serum, £63 www.medik8.com
Dermaquest Essential Hydrating B5 Serum, £64 www.dermaquestinc.co.uk
7. Facial Oils
Facial oils sometimes get a bad rap in skincare, with most of us worried about them clogging pores and causing breakouts, but some hold so many benefits for the skin.
'Plant-based oils - which your skin will absolutely love - wont clog the skin,' says Abigail. 'I particularly like using oils at night instead of a heavy night cream and it's best to apply them after a serum. This is because the oil could slow the absorption of the serum if applied first.'
Antipodes Divine Facial Oil, £18.99 www.lookantastic.com
Even if you don't bother with serums, toners or masks, we bet you can't skip a day or night without slathering your skin with moisturiser - and it's an important step in any routine.
'Wearing a moisturiser is important in order to hydrate and prep the skin for make-up and it really protects the skin, too,' says Rabbia. 'As we age, our skin loses it's natural moisture, so we have to put it back into the face to prevent dry patches.'
Clarins Multi-Active Day Cream, £42 www.clarins.co.uk
'In the day, choose a cream containing high levels of antioxidants to protect the skin against further DNA damage,' says Dr. Chantrey, 'and in the evening, use a cream that contains retinol to stimulate cell turnover.'
But it is crucial not to go overboard.
'Over moisturising can make the skin cells sluggish and lazy,' says Dr. Chantrey, 'and when this happens, the cells stop producing their own hyaluronic acid, the skin's natural moisturiser. Very few people have truly dry skin, and those that do might have eczema, so a different approach to moisturising is needed.'
9. Acne Treatment
And where exactly do spot zappers fit into the mix?
Well, some dermatologists argue that applying said treatments after moisturiser can help minimise irritation and redness, and Aesthetics Lab's Tanya agrees with the order.
'I'd apply the treatment after a moisturiser if you are using one at night, or after a serum if you choose to give the moisturiser a miss,' she says, 'but it's best to apply acne treatment at night. It will give it a chance to work its magic.'
Origins Super Spot Remover Blemish Treatment Gel, £15 www.origins.co.uk
According to dermatologists, sun exposure is one of the biggest environmental facilitators in skin ageing, and even when the sun isn't shining, UV rays can still penetrate the skin, so it is vital to incorporate an SPF into your skincare routine.
'In the daytime, always follow up your moisturiser (preferably one packed with antioxidants) with an SPF - this should be the last product on the skin,' says Dr. Chantrey. 'I'd advise at least factor 30.'