Learn how to layer and alternate skin care products with these tips.

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Get The Most Out Of Your Skin Care Routine: Layering and Alternating

Get The Most Out Of Your Skin Care Routine: Layering and Alternating

We’d like to welcome a special guest today. In this blog post, the experts at Circ-Cell explain how to layer and alternate skin care products.

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

General layering guidance

Fifteen does seem like a bit much but it is not unusual for the South Koreans, the current leaders in skin care obsession, to layer 10 to 12 products. This can be done, but it is tricky. The products have to be carefully selected and some time has to pass between the layering to prevent piling. At Circ-Cell, 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 skin care companies know what can live together and what can’t so they create separate products when dictated by chemistry.

How do I layer targeted treatment products?

We all want the benefit of specialized technologies targeted towards specific skin issues but using too many products together may not be the most effective use of your investment. The first few products you layer on your skin are going to be more effectively absorbed than subsequent layering, which means the stuff on top might not do you any good unless you know the rules of layering and alternating.

Here is the general Circ-Cell layering protocol:

Day: Cleanser, Mask, Toner, Targeted Products (vitamin C, skin brighteners), Serum, Moisturizer, Sunscreen

Night: Cleanser, Mask, Toner, Targeted Products (vitamin C, retinoids, skin brighteners), Serum, Moisturizer, Oils (oils penetrate moisturizer and not vice versa)

A few notes about the protocol above:


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 the vitamin C as it can be irritating to some skin types. At Circ-Cell, we do not recommend heavy exfoliating scrubs/masks to be used daily. These are good types of products to alternate (i.e. a 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.


We recommend you use no more than two serums per routine. Again, alternating product is a strategy you can use 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 serums with retinoids.

Targeted products

Vitamin C is such important part of any skin care routine. It brightens, protects against sun damage and promotes collagen production. Using vitamin C during the day in combination with a 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 as this could cause irritation. In this case, use vitamin C and retinoids alone on alternate evenings.

Targeted products include spot treatments, eye creams, vitamin C and lightening/brightening creams. Targeted products 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 product religiously until you’ve achieved the desired results. From that point forward, you can switch to once per day, 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.


Sunscreen is a necessary step of any protocol—many would say the most important step. If you’re 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 skin care routine. Circ-Cell offers Daily Hydration Broad Spectrum SPF 43, a combo chemical/physical block with hyaluronic acid. This 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.


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 you’re using a retinoid). Moisturizer helps skin absorb the retinoid and protects it from irritation.


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 day or night for a skin pick-me-up. Keep oils in your desk, handbag and nightstand to use whenever you’re feeling dull or dry.

We hope this tutorial has helped in demystifying how to layer and alternate products to get the most out of your skin care 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.

Do you have a question about layering skin care products? Share with us in the comments.

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