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How Long Should You Wait Between Skin-Care Product Layers? Or Should You?

To wait or not wait: Does every skincare product need time to absorb?

During your morning and evening skincare routines, perhaps you've wondered what the best method is to get the most from each product layer? Should you wait after each step in the toner, serum, moisturizer and specialty product sequences to allow for absorption? Does it even matter? Here's our Euro take on this oft debated subject.


First off, there’s no exact timeframe for a skincare product to penetrate the skin, simply because products vary depending on the formulation, the type of product and its ingredients. And the research on this is pretty sparse, to the point that there aren’t many (if any) studies that prove conclusively that waiting for absorption between product applications makes them more effective. 

That said, most skincare professionals agree you should give each product a little time to “sink into the skin” before applying the next product in your routine. At the very least, it keeps certain product layers from pilling or rolling up on the skin. Any products used specifically for certain areas – like blemish spot treatments or eye creams may penetrate the skin more efficiently when given time to absorb. 

If this doesn’t answer the question entirely, here’s our suggested timeframe for specific skincare products to help keep them targeted for the work they are intended to do.

Acne/Blemish Treatments: 1 minute

If you are using a prescription topical acne medication, these need to be fully absorbed into the skin before applying serums and moisturizers to get the maximum benefit and to allow the active ingredients to get to work.

Retinol: None

Common sense says, the higher the quality of the product, the faster the skin will absorb it. Always read ingredient lists and talk to your esthetician about which products are most beneficial for your skin type and condition when choosing skincare. With retinol products, wait time is slim to none because of their chemistry (designed to absorb rapidly) according to dermatologists. 


Serum and Moisturizers: 1 minute 

The go-to recommendation for timing between serums and moisturizers is about one minute for the same reason – 60 seconds, more or less, gives each product a moment to absorb into the skin.  

Sunscreen: 1 minute

When sunscreen is mixed with other skincare products, it becomes diluted and less effective. Make SPF the last layer of your day time skin-care routine. The pros advise waiting a minute between your moisturizer and sunscreen application for penetration and absorption.  Once applied, give sunscreen a bit longer to make sure it’s fully absorbed before applying makeup.  This will also help eliminate pilling or rolling of the product – common problems when applying liquid or cream foundation over sunscreen.

Layering matters!

Finally, the order you apply skincare products is even more important than wait times. (No need for stop watches or timers!) The rule of thumb is to begin with the smallest molecular structure and then on to the larger. Or put another way – start light, then move to heavy (serums before moisturizers). Start with the lightest product and finish with the thickest, allowing each layer to be fully absorbed by the skin.

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