I received this excellent question from a reader as a blog comment. It is such a good question shared by many, so I’m making it its own blog post. It takes a village!
Dear Dr. Bailey,
Thank you so much for your very informative blog. I have learned a lot from reading your articles, but I am still a littler [sic] confused with regards to when to apply all the products.
Do I understand correctly that if I put on, right after cleansing my face, the Green Tea Antioxidant Cream, then layer either with vitamin C, Glycolic acid or tretinoin cream? And then moisturizer on top of this?
Do I need to wait before layering or can one go on top of another right after applying?
Say if I use [the] green tea product, then prescription tretinoin and then moisturizer, will this not dilute the effect of the tretinoin?
You ask an excellent question that everyone shares. The answer is actually part of the “fine points” of a powerful anti-aging skin care routine. Good for you for picking up on this, and thank you for creating the opportunity to help others with it as well!
The reason you are confused is that, honestly speaking, no studies have really been done regarding individual product applications. Plus, opinions even among dermatologists will vary. This is why you get conflicting recommendations.
I have created customized, complex layered skin care routines for years for my patients and the proof is always in the results. I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t. I use common sense and the principle of applying thin to thick (a.k.a., water-based to heavier or oil-based products) for the sake of diffusion into the skin.
During the Day
I have people always apply the Green Tea Antioxidant Skin Therapy (a very light water-based product) right after washing. During the day, I then layer the Vitamin C Anti-Wrinkle Serum OR Glycolic Acid Anti-Aging Face Cream right on top of it. I recommend waiting a minute or so to let it dry a little, then a moisturizer goes on to only the places on the face that need a little extra hydration. Mineral zinc sunscreen is applied next. If used, makeup would go on top. I prefer a dusting of mineral makeup on top of these great products so that no more moist product is added.
During the Night
At night, the Green Tea goes on again right after washing your face, then Glycolic Acid would be applied if it is being used. Moisturizer can be applied right after the Green Tea and after the glycolic product, where needed. Glycolic and tretinoin can be combined at night if skin can tolerate them both.
Regarding tretinoin, some doctors say there is no need to wait fifteen minutes before applying tretinoin. I find that sensitive complexions need the fifteen minute wait. If your skin is not sensitive and you don’t need the wait, tretinoin can be applied after the Glycolic. Incidentally, tretinoin is inactivated by light, so I tell people to keep it at the bedside table and put it on right before turning off the light.
See why it’s so complicated? Thank you for asking such an excellent question that many people need to know.
Cynthia Bailey MD, Dermatologist
Disclaimer: Please realize that availing yourself of the opportunity to submit and receive answers to your questions from Dr. Bailey does not confer a doctor/patient relationship with Dr. Bailey. The information provided by Dr. Bailey is general health information inspired by your question. It should not be a substitute for obtaining medical advice from your physician and is not intended to diagnose or treat any specific medical problem (and is not an extension of the care Dr. Bailey has provided in her office for existing patients of her practice). Never ignore your own doctor’s advice because of something you read here; this information is for general informational purpose only.
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