Your step-by-step guide on the best skincare routine order

A certain order is necessary to get maximum results.

Written by
Tori Crowther
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Navigating a skincare routine can be confusing, to say the least. While there’s so much information readily available out there, often the more you learn the more baffled you become. 

We’re on a mission to solve this. We want to give you enough information so you come out feeling educated and empowered but not too much that you get overwhelmed (though, we’ve got deep dives for those who do want to get into the nitty gritty of skincare). 

With skincare routines, a certain order is necessary to get maximum results, but that doesn’t mean it has to be confusing. We break down exactly what a skincare routine is and how you can create one. 

What is a skincare routine?

This might seem like a simple question to answer but a lot of people panic when they hear the words “skincare routine”, casting their minds back to those complex 10-step regimens they see online. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, a lot of people find they have better results with fewer steps and most dermatologists advocate for this, too.

Essentially, a skincare routine is a ritual you do morning and night using products based on your skin type and needs. Often you only need 3-4 steps to have visible results.

Does it matter the order you apply your skincare routine?

Since the skin likes consistency, you don’t need a complicated routine for it to be effective. But you do need to get the routine order correct. Of course, you can’t just slap products on in any order and hope they work — that’s just a waste of your time and money. The reason for applying your skincare products in a certain order is to improve the efficacy of them. 

For example, you don’t want to apply your expensive serum to a dirty canvas only to wash it off when cleansing — that makes zero sense! It’s also important in the morning to apply your sunscreen last to make sure that you’re protected from the sun.

What are the 3 most important steps in a skincare routine?

As we mentioned earlier, a skincare routine only really needs 3 steps. If you want to include more, that's great. But first, it's best to master the basics. 

3-step daytime routine

A daytime skincare routine starts with a cleanse to wash off any sweat and grime from the night (gross but true), followed by a moisturiser suitable for your skin type.

If you have oily skin you might want to look for an oil-free formula and if you’re dry, look for something that is a little thicker. Finally, you’ll want to apply a good dose of sunscreen to protect your skin.

Don’t be tempted to mix your moisturiser and SPF together or likewise, any makeup products with SPF (despite what TikTok tells you) otherwise, it won’t give you enough protection. 

If you find that using a moisturiser followed by sunscreen is too much for your skin, you can skip this step and head straight for your SPF. The Software Essentials gives you these 3 steps in one easy kit; taking the guesswork out of a simple routine. 

3-step nighttime routine

An evening skincare routine also starts with a cleanse, this time taking more time and care on making sure leftover makeup and grime from the day are removed. You may have to repeat this step twice if you’re wearing a lot of makeup. 

Next is a serum to do the hard work while you sleep! The type of serum you choose will depend on your skin concerns (which we'll touch on later). These can include acne treatments, hydrating ampoules or brightening serums. 

Seal it all in with a moisturiser — even if you have oily-prone skin! Every skin type needs moisturiser to hydrate and soften skin.

What's the best order to apply skincare in the morning?

We'll take this message to our grave: effective skincare doesn't need to be complicated — 3 steps are all it takes.

Basic morning skincare routine

Cleanser

If you are oily or acne-prone, washing your face with a cleanser in the morning can help keep clogged pores at bay. If you’re on the dry or sensitive side then you can skip the cleanser and rinse with water. 

Moisturiser

Apply a lightweight moisturiser to lock in that hydration for the day. Apply as much or as little as you need. 

Software's Ceramide Repair Balm is a great option for all skin types as it hydrates the skin without feeling heavy or greasy. It does its best work on dull, damaged and dry skin, with ingredients like ceramides and hyaluronic acid injecting moisture and reducing redness and irritation.

Sunscreen

This is non-negotiable, come rain or shine you should be applying your sunscreen (with a minimum of SPF 30; higher is always better though). According to the Cancer Council of Australia, “sunscreen use is one of 5 important ways of reducing the risk of skin cancer. [1]” 

It’s also important to apply enough sunscreen, the recommended amount is approximately 1 teaspoon (which is the equivalent of 5ml) for your face and neck [2].  

Advanced morning skincare routine

On top of your basic routine, there are a few things you can add to step it up a notch. Although we're calling this an advanced routine, it's actually straightforward to follow, too.

Antioxidant Serum

An antioxidant serum (think vitamin C) like Software’s  Vitamin C + Ferulic Serum can really amp up your routine and encourage a healthy glow.

When applied in the morning, it works in tandem with your sunscreen to protect against free radicals (these are the baddies that damage cells in our body when exposed to things like smoking and pollution in the air) caused by UV rays and environmental stressors. So, it’s fair to say it’s a well-worth addition to your routine. 

Eye cream

Now, eye cream is actually applied to your skin before moisturiser and sunscreen. This is to allow those concentrated ingredients to work into the skin before a heavier moisturiser is applied.

You need a pea-sized amount (which, honestly, is an odd direction we know, but basically, you need enough so that you’re covering but not over-saturating the area), applied gently (often experts recommend the ring finger because it's the most gentle) on the delicate skin of the under the eyes.

An eye cream can help with premature ageing by giving the skin a hydration infusion. Often eye cream is applied in the morning as an addition to help with makeup settling more seamlessly on the skin; this is especially true if someone has dry skin.

What order should you apply skincare at night?

Just like in the morning, a basic evening skincare routine order doesn't have to be a long one. Whether you've got sensitive skin, dry skin, acne-prone skin, or oily skin, this routine order will work for you.

Basic evening skincare routine

A basic evening skincare routine follows the same format for all skin types, but the difference comes with the products you use in order to maximise benefits for your individual needs. 

Cleanser

You know the drill by now, you’ve got to start with a clean canvas, especially at night. If you wear makeup, you might want to use a cleansing oil to properly break down the makeup residue and dirt from the day.

You may also want to repeat this process, which is called double cleansing, to ensure all makeup has been removed. Using a muslin cloth in the process will make sure all residue is removed without harsh rubbing, which can irritate the skin. 

Even if you don’t wear makeup, cleansing is an important step. And that doesn’t mean using makeup wipes. For the love of all things skincare, please don’t use makeup wipes — they’re terrible for the environment (even the biodegradable ones) and your skin. 

Serum

This is where your hardworking active ingredients come in. What serum you use entirely depends on your skin type and concerns. This is also where you’ll use your bespoke or prescription treatment, too. Let’s break it down by skin type to make it easier to digest.  

For acne-prone skin, you’ll want to look into ingredients like glycolic acid and salicylic acid, which work to unclog pores and thus, reduce breakouts. 

When tackling hyperpigmentation, it can be tricky to get rid of altogether at home, especially in those with darker skin tones [3]. Having said that, lactic acid can help reduce the appearance of pigmentation over time so is an ingredient worth looking into. 

For ageing, retinoids are the gold standard in tackling many skin concerns. The ingredient can be a little confusing to understand but it’s worth the effort. Retinoids speed up cell turnover, which helps with premature ageing, pigmentation, acne, skin texture, and more. 

If you're new to the world of retinoids, a retinol oil is a great place to start. Software's Retinol Complex Oil is lightweight, fast absorbing and helps to fight visible signs of ageing by stimulating cell renewal. This gentle yet potent formula is a particularly great addition to a skincare routine for ageing and mature skin.

If your main focus is adding moisture to your skin, look for hydrating and skin barrier repairing ingredients like hyaluronic acid, ceramides and squalane.  

Niacinamide is a great ingredient if you’re looking for an all-rounder. It helps to reduce inflammation and the appearance of pores, as well as keep skin feeling hydrated.

You might also want to look into ferulic acid, which maintains moisture, tackles fine lines, and reduces dull-looking skin.  

Moisturiser

No matter your skin type, you’ll want to seal in all of this goodness with a moisturiser. If you’re oily, try a lightweight formula and if you’re dry then apply a thicker night cream. 

Advanced evening skincare routine

With a few additions, your routine enters a more advanced level; helping with things like under-eye circles and adding extra radiance to your skin. 

Eye cream

Just like in the AM routine, eye cream isn’t an essential product but is a “nice to have” if you want it. Make sure you apply it before your other serum and moisturiser and gently massage it into the skin. 

Chemical exfoliator

This is where things can get a little tricky because you don’t want to overdo it with exfoliation. However, chemical exfoliants are a really great way to keep your skin free from dead skin cells, reduce excess oil, and overall add a glow to your complexion. 

In general, chemical exfoliation is superior to physical exfoliation. This is because it tends to be less harsh on the skin and not disrupt the skin barrier function.

Start by only using a chemical exfoliator once every few weeks to see how your skin reacts, building it up to once a week if you need to. Common ingredients in chemical exfoliation products include glycolic acid (great for those with acne-prone skin), salicylic acid (great for oily-prone skin) and lactic acid (great for sensitive skin).

These ingredients help gently slough off dead cells from the surface of the skin to minimise breakouts and blackheads, reduce pigmentation and reveal overall brighter skin.  

Software's Salicylic Acid Foaming Wash is a gentle exfoliator that can be used on the face and across the body (which can help tackle body acne) 2-3 times per week. This handy product helps clear away acne-causing bacteria, unclogs pores and exfoliates the skin.

Spot treatment

If your serum isn't quite cutting it for your breakouts, applying a spot treatment that contains benzoyl peroxide directly on those stubborn blemishes can help diffuse them and calm inflammation. Alternatively, you might also want to try pimple patches, which help diffuse pesky zits when they pop up.

Software's AHA/BHA Pimple Patches target newly forming pimples above and below the skin with the help of microdarts, which deliver AHAs and BHAs into the affected site to help kill bacteria deep within the follicle. Simply pop on a patch for 2 hours to reveal a less angry pimple.

Face oils

If your skin is dry and you find a moisturiser isn't doing enough, you can incorporate a face oil over the top to lock in moisture. Simply press a few drops of your favourite face oil over the top of your night cream to add some much-needed glow to dehydrated skin.