You’ve done your research and chosen skincare products formulated for your skin type. You’ve washed your face, and it’s finally time to pat those new serums into your skin — but should you put them on immediately? How soon after can you layer on your moisturizer? What if you’re layering several serums? The short answer: It depends on the type of product and ingredients in it. The long answer: Well, that’s exactly what we’re getting into below.
Which skincare ingredients are absorbed into the skin?
Not every skin care ingredient has the ability to be absorbed into your skin. Your stratum corneum is pretty tough — that’s the outer layer of your skin and it’s about 20 layers thick and chock full of proteins and oils that form a difficult-to-penetrate barrier.
Every ingredient will first come into contact with your stratum corneum, but whether or not it’ll actually be absorbed depends on how large its molecules are. Ingredients that have small molecules — like vitamin C, vitamin E, and retinol — are able to be absorbed into your skin cells. Other ingredients, like petroleum (aka Vaseline jelly) are meant to sit on the surface of your skin and create a barrier against irritants.
What other factors play a role in the absorption of skin care products?
Some products utilize technology that helps them be absorbed into your skin. Ingredients like ethanol, acetone, and sodium lauryl sulfate break down your skin’s protective barrier so that chemicals can penetrate into deeper levels of your skin. That being said (and not surprisingly), products with these ingredients are sometimes irritating.
Thankfully, there are less irritating ways that skincare brands have discovered to ensure products absorb into your skin. Some peptides are able to cause a temporary disruption to your skin barrier, which allows products to penetrate deeper, without the irritation.
Liposomes are another method skincare companies utilize to ensure a product gets absorbed into your skin. They’re a type of nanotechnology that allows chemicals to be surrounded by a lipid bilayer, and that bilayer is able to work its way into the lower layers of your skin — known as the dermis.
Meanwhile, nanoparticles are itsy-bitsy chemicals that can easily squeeze past proteins in the upper layer of your skin and be absorbed by your hair follicles. You can look for all of these on product labels if skin absorption is something you’re concerned about.
How long does it take for skin care products to absorb?
In general, dermatologists say that it takes about 30 minutes for most skin care products to be fully absorbed into your skin. If for some reason, you decide to wash your face within 30 minutes of applying a serum or cream, you’ll need to apply it again.
So what does this mean for layering skincare products?
The good news is, while it takes about a half hour for skin care products to fully absorb, that doesn’t mean you have to wait a half hour between each step in your skincare routine. Your skin is capable of handling the application of multiple products within quick succession of each other. The general rule is that thinner products are more easily absorbed while thicker products sit on top of your skin, so always work your way from thin consistency to thick.
Still, there are some minor exceptions. In the following situations, it’s a good idea to wait a minute or so before moving on to the next step in your skincare routine.
If you notice that products start to ball up when you apply them one after the other, then it’s best to wait a little while for the first one to start to absorb before moving on to the second product.
Allow sunscreen to absorb for a minute before applying makeup. Applying makeup too quickly after sunscreen could minimize your SPF’s effectiveness.
Acids need extra time to absorb before moving onto moisturizing. Because acids (alpha hydroxys and beta hydroxys) are quite powerful, consider waiting approximately 20 minutes before applying a moisturizer on top.
Finally, acne treatments need some time to work. If you’re using a benzoyl peroxide acne treatment (like the SLMD Skincare BP Lotion), wait until it’s fully absorbed (a minute or two, at the least) before slathering serums or moisturizers on top.