model with buzzcut touching her face while standing against a white wallGetty Images

All products featured on Allure are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Do you start group chats about the best scalp treatments? Google AHA vs. BHA exfoliants until the wee hours? You're our people. And we know you're going to love The Science of Beauty, a series on that goes deep into the how and why behind your favorite products. For even more nerdiness, check out The Science of Beauty podcast, produced by our editors.

If you look forward to the ritual and relaxation that comes along with your morning and nighttime skin-care routines as much as we do, you've probably wondered the best ways to maximize the efficiency of each layer. As you've slathered on your favorite toners, essences, serums, and creams, you've probably wondered to yourself at some point in time if you should be waiting a certain amount of time between each step to let every product have time to absorb. We've pondered this incredibly valid question, too. 

Well, our curiosity led us to pose this question to board-certified dermatologists: How long should you wait between applying skin-care products? We've already shared the correct layering order; it's about time we also delve into the prime timing between each step. 

Listen to Allure's The Science of Beauty Podcast: Ep. 13 | Skin-Care Layering

Michelle Lee and Jenny Bailly called upon dermatologist Marie Jhin to share some hard-and-fast rules for skin-care layering.

ArrowHow long should you wait between each skin-care routine step? 

Unfortunately, no magic number exists because the time it takes for skin-care products to penetrate skin (and feel dry) varies from formula to formula, depending on the product type and quality.

Research on this topic is pretty limited. In fact, no studies have proved waiting a specific period of time makes products more effective, Kristina Goldenberg, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, tells Allure. 

Kim Nichols, a board-certified dermatologist in Greenwich, Connecticut, agrees each product should "settle into skin" before continuing on the next in your lineup. This keeps you from disturbing each layer of your routine. "Certain product textures can roll up if you apply them immediately after one another," she explains. Plus, waiting can help products that are designed for a specific place, such as a spot treatment on a blemish or an undereye cream, penetrate skin better. 

Best Cystic Acne Skin-Care Products of 2020: Small silver tube with purple cap of Clean & Clear Advantage Acne Spot Treatment on a white background

Clean & Clear Advantage Acne Spot Treatment

$6Shop Now

Dr. Jart+ Ceramidin Eye Cream

$39Shop Now

In other words, a timer doesn't need to be yet another part of your skin-care routine. Waiting until each product feels like it's been absorbed into your skin is extremely helpful, though, to keep them from piling or moving away from their targeted part of your face. 

We know this information doesn't exactly answer the question, so we put together a quick guide to the timeframes dermatologists suggest for specific skin-care products. 

Your Definitive List of Skin-Care Step Wait Times

Acne Treatments: 1 minute 

Prescription topical medications, especially acne medications, definitely require some wait time. They need to be fully melted into your skin before serums and moisturizers are applied on top for maximum efficacy, Shah says. 

Dendy Engelman, a board-certified New York dermatologist in New York City, agrees, adding acne treatments need a minute to sit on skin before rubbing creams on top of them to let the active ingredients start doing their jobs. 

Retinol: 0 seconds 

The better quality a product, the better (and quicker) your skin will sop it up, other dermatologists contest. When using high-quality products, such as retinol, the wait time is even less — possibly nonexistent — because they "are of a different chemistry and will mix and absorb more rapidly" into the skin, says Harold Lancer, a board-certified dermatologist in Beverly Hills. 

Red bottle of La Roche-Posay Retinol B3 Serum on white background

La Roche-Posay Retinol B3 Serum

$40Shop NowImage may contain: Bottle, and Cosmetics

L'Oréal Paris RevitaLift Night Serum with Pure Retinol

$29AmazonShop NowSerum and Moisturizer: 1 minute 

Goldenberg's go-to recommendation for timing between serums and moisturizers is about one minute. This wait has the same reasoning: Sixty seconds — give or take — gives each product a moment to delve into your pores. 

Sunscreen: 1 minute

The second exception is sunscreen, which needs some time to itself to be as powerful as possible, according to Sejal Shah, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. "When sunscreen is mixed with other products, it becomes diluted and less effective," she says. 

For this very reason, SPF should be the last layer of your morning skin-care routine. The professionals advise waiting a minute between your moisturizer and sunscreen steps to allow each to penetrate and dry down. (Allure's digital beauty editor likes to get dressed before putting on her face sunscreen.) Then, hold tight for a couple of minutes to ensure that your sunscreen has fully sunken in before moving onto your makeup routine. 

Zitsticka Megashade Sunscreen Serum on white background

Zitsticka Megashade Sunscreen Serum

$40Shop NowImage may contain: Bottle, Cosmetics, and Sunscreen

Neogen Dermatology Day-Light Protection Airy Sunscreen SPF 50+

$32Shop NowNeutrogena Invisible Daily Defense Sunscreen Face Serum SPF 60+ on white background

Neutrogena Invisible Daily Defense Sunscreen Face Serum SPF 60+

$15Shop NowSupergoop Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40 on white background

Supergoop Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40

$34Shop NowProper layering order is the key to success

All of the experts agree the order in which you're applying products is more crucial than timing. In case you need a quick refresher: "We want to layer starting with the smallest molecule and gradually get larger," Engelman explains. "A good rule of thumb is to start with the lightest product and finish with the thickest, allowing each layer to be fully absorbed by the skin." 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *