Botnia’s Basic Guide to Layering Skincare

Toner before serum? Oils before or after moisturizer? How many steps do I really need in my skincare routine?

There’s truly no one “right” way to layer skincare. It’s just not possible with how unique all of our skin is! But we’re here to share some general guidance for layering skincare and why we recommend layering in specific orders with details for specific products.

Basics of Layering//

Keep it simple. There are three major parts to a skincare routine: Cleansing, toning, and moisturizing. Each of these steps helps to keep your skin staying healthy, but why do we do them in this order? 

Cleansing – It’s an obvious step, but some people skip it altogether. Cleansing, especially at the end of the day helps to eliminate dirt, makeup, sunscreen, and impurities your skin has collected from the day. For most people, cleansing once is good enough. But if you use makeup or sunscreen, sometimes you’ll want to try double cleansing to help get the gunk from deep within your pores. Usually done both in the morning and at night, people with oilier skin types can skip washing their face in the morning if the skin still feels hydrated in the AM. It’s also perfectly fine to wash your face in the middle of the day if you need a quick rinse after a hard workout or from sweating to prevent pores from being clogged. 

Toning – Gone are the days when we used strong astringent toners to tone the skin. If you’re using any kind of cleanser with surfactants or soaps in the formulation, because you’ve removed everything including your microbiome that helps to protect your skin, you’ll want to bring the pH levels of your skin back to balance with a toner. It’s like oiling a cast iron pan after it’s been washed, it keeps your skin healthy and happy in the long run. Skipping this step might feel like your skin is tight and dry after cleansing, which can lead to irritation, dry skin, inflammation, and premature aging, including fine lines and wrinkles. Learn more about why the pH levels of your skin matter here

Moisturizing – The last step in a routine is moisturizing the skin. Whether it’s with a cream, oil, or a combination of the two, moisturizing helps to hydrate and keep the skin protected from the elements. Depending on what you’re using, this step can also bring additional benefits to the skin, like adding in healing antioxidants to help repair sun damage, or soothing botanicals to reduce inflammation with acne. 

As an additional step, don’t forget to apply sunscreen to exposed skin if you’ll be outside for more than 30 minutes! This small step will help to prevent sun-damaged skin.  

Build up your skincare routine//

Now that you know why we have a skincare routine, here’s our guide to building one. As the seasons change, your routine can be updated to add in or take away steps as needed. Your local esthetician can also help to adjust your routine seasonally. 

Easy – 3-step routine: Cleanser, Toner, Moisturizer

A simple, no-frills routine is perfect for anyone who wants minimal steps or has little time to get ready. This routine includes the most important steps and works for nearly all skin types! Great for a beginner just learning to incorporate a skincare routine into their daily habits, teenagers, and anyone who wants an easy routine with no fuss. You can apply this routine in the morning and at night. 

Medium – 4 to 5 step routine: Cleanser, Toner, Serum, Moisturizer 

Adding in another step or two is easy. If you’re introducing new products into your current routine, it’s best to add one in with a two-week buffer between new products. Have you experienced trying out a new product only to find your skin breaking out? It takes 21 to 28 days for your skin to turn over its cells. Give your skin some time: it could be purging and learning to adjust to the new ingredients you’ve just introduced.

The question we receive most is, “Where does my serum go into my routine?” 

Our answer? It depends. If you’re using our Hydrating Serum (rich in hyaluronic acid), we’ve recommended two different ways, before your toner, and after your toner. But which way is the best? Neither. The reason we recommend using it before a toner is that we’ve found that our hyaluronic acid acts like a sponge that brings the toner or hydrosol more deeply into the skin. Try applying it both ways to see what your skin likes best!

With oils and moisturizers, our answer is the same… it depends on what you’re using each product for. For example, when using our Clarity Oil to target acne, you’ll want the oil and its botanicals sitting on the skin where the acne is, so it can work on the targeted areas. But when using our Wisdom Oil we’ve recommended using it either under or over a moisturizer to help condition the skin and help to fight environmental damage with its antioxidants.  

Skincare Maximalista – 5+ steps 

For the skincare addict, it’s totally okay to use more than 5 steps in a routine. But if your skin is having reactions, you may want to try eliminating one or two steps to see if overdoing your routine is the culprit.

Here, you can add multiple serums, oils, or other products to your routine. Depending on the strengths and types of products you’re using, you can alternate using one type of serum in the morning, and another at night (like retinol or vitamin c) to prevent your skin from the overuse of these strong products.  

Adding other healing modalities like gua sha, lymphatic drainage, acupuncture, or reflexology to the mix is helpful as well! This also includes adding masking once a week to your routine. (Check out our do’s and don’ts for masking at home.) 

Our philosophy is usually less is more, but if your skin is happy with all the steps in your routine, you do you. You can always add more or take away products depending on the state of your skin.

If you’re interested in building a routine, changing your routine, or have any questions about layering skincare, DM or email us at Our holistic estheticians can help recommend what’s best for your unique skin!


P.S. Check out how our founder Justine likes to layer her skincare routine here

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