Special order Remember the Order of Operations in math? Well, this is like that—but for your face

woman applying moisturizer Remember the Order of Operations in math? Well, this is like that—but for your face

If you’re of the Barbie school of thought (“Math is hard!”), then I hope I haven’t ruined your day by mixing math with makeup. And skincare.

But seriously—you should’ve been paying attention in class when they talked about the Order of Operations. Remember that? It’s the order in which you’re supposed to add/subtract/multiply/divide… and goodness me, similar rules exist in beauty!

I’m talking about the order in which you should be apply products to your face. Here’s how it should go. If you’re not doing this, I’m sorry, but—UR DOIN IT RONG.

Step 1: Wash your face

Well, duh. But even this step can be broken down further:

Dermalogica PreCleanse Remember the Order of Operations in math? Well, this is like that—but for your face1. a) If you’re wearing eye makeup, use a special remover to take it off. (It will be more gentle than using regular cleanser.)

1. b) If you’ve got a whole FACE full of makeup, you might want to use an oil-based cleanser before your regular one. The oil binds with makeup and also the grease on your skin (to bring some science into this—like attracts like), and so it help to get that shiz off thoroughly so it doesn’t clog and dull your skin. Dermalogica makes a product called PreCleanse, which is a wonderful essential oil blend. And a lot of people swear by Shu Uemura’s famous cleansing oils.

1. c) Personally, I don’t like the feel of the oil cleansers on my skin so I like to wash a second time with a normal cleanser. Foaming ones (like Consonant Body’s) are my bag, but use whatever you like best.

Step 2: Exfoliate

Unless your cleanser is also exfoliating, of course—in that case, you don’t need to double up. (Or if you use MY exfoliator of choice, the Clarisonic skincare brush, to apply your cleanser.) But if not, this is the place to use your lovely, gentle scrub or hydroxy-acid preparation.

biologique recherche lotion p50 Remember the Order of Operations in math? Well, this is like that—but for your faceStep 3: Tone

You don’t HAVE to tone, but if you like to be scrupulously clean, it will help remove all traces of cleanser, makeup, etc. My toner of choice (which is also gently exfoliating) is from Biologique Recherche. It’s expensive, French, and it works—what can I say?

BUT! If you used an exfoliating toner as your Step 2, you don’t need a second toner on top of that. Less is more!

Step 4: Serum

Clinique Even Better Skin Tone Corrector Remember the Order of Operations in math? Well, this is like that—but for your faceDo you use a serum? Because you really should. No, really. They are liquid magic: suitable for any skin type, you can find one to address almost any skin concern imaginable AND they’re more potent than regular moisturizers. Think of them like your skincare insurance policy. No matter what you put on top, if you’re layering a serum underneath, you know you’re treating your skin to all those yummy concentrated ingredients it loves.

Right now, I’m using Clinique’s Even Better Skin Tone Corrector, which I promise to post about soon—but there are a zillion serums out there, so take your pick.

Step 5: Moisturizer

You need to let your serum sink in for as long as you can—about 10 minutes—before you put your moisturizer on, otherwise you’ll be diluting its benefits.

Biotherm Aquasource Skin Perfection Remember the Order of Operations in math? Well, this is like that—but for your faceAlso a bit of a caveat here: if it’s daytime, you can either apply moisturizer and then sunscreen on top, OR just use a moisturizer with built-in sunscreen. (I’d recommend the latter option if you’ve got normal-to-oily skin, as you won’t really need all that moisture.)

At night, use a moisturizer without sunscreen. (Chemical sunscreens, in particular, can be irritating.) This is also your chance to pull out all the anti-aging stops and use something richer that would otherwise make your makeup slide right off if you wore it during the day.

Step 6: Sunscreen

Again, if you did apply moisturizer before this, you need to let it dry for about 10 minutes before the sunscreen.

Do I even need to tell you about my sunscreen of choice? Just make sure you pat, not rub it on, if it’s a natural sunscreen—the rubbing seems to cause it to pill or ball on your face.

Step 7: Makeup

Vapour Atmosphere Foundation 273x300 Remember the Order of Operations in math? Well, this is like that—but for your faceAnnnnd the last step is makeup. We’ve been talking lots on here about the problem of natural sunscreens pilling and balling up on your face, so the 10-minute waiting time rule applies here most of all.

Oh, and if you’re REALLY clever, you might have combined Steps 5, 6 AND 7 with a tinted moisturizer with built-in SPF. So clever, you.


At the Clairol event we hosted on Monday, I picked this up from Toronto-based makeup artist David Goveia. (LOVE him!)

backstage makeup artist Remember the Order of Operations in math? Well, this is like that—but for your faceHe told me to do foundation first, then eyes, cheeks and lips… and LAST OF ALL, concealer. The reason is because you’ll think you need way more than you do when you’re starting on a bare face. You could spend 5 or 10 minutes just doing that concealer. (I can and I have!)

BUT when you emphasize your other features first, you’ll realize at the end that you just need tiny bits of concealer here and there.

Smart, right?

So now over to you…

Are you down with my beauty math or do you follow different rules?
What multi-tasking products do you swear by?
Will you try David’s concealer tip? I’ll be posting more soon about the eye makeup he did on me… man’s a genius.


Thursday, August 19/2010 at 3:26 pm

Thanks for making the Clarisonic a part of your “order of operations.” We appreciate the mention! If you ever have questions about the product we are here to help. Find us on Twitter @Clarisonic or via email info@clarisonic.com. We’d love to hear from you. Happy Cleansing!


Thursday, August 19/2010 at 11:47 pm

I was surfing the net, and came across something a lot of models use and shania twain uses it apparently…its called bag balm..it was made for cows udders but a lot of models use it as a hair conditioner or dry skin lotion on hands and feet etc.. I was wondering if anyone’s heard of this? and is it available in Canada?

heres the link: http://www.bagbalm.ca/bagbalm.ca/english/index.asp


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Saturday, August 21/2010 at 2:16 pm

I’ve heard of it too! But never seen in real life. Their website doesn’t have a store listing… maybe you could email them?


Friday, August 20/2010 at 10:27 am

I adore the Dermalogica pre-cleanse. So amazing at removing EVERYTHING and, like you, I always wash with regular cleanser afterwards (Kiehl’s). You’ve made a huge change to my beauty routine – you mentioned letting the products soak in previously and I started doing it! Thank you for posting the rules about the rest of the order of operations.

Also, to the other commenter – Bag Balm is available in Canada. My mom used to sell it all the time when she worked at a feed store with farmers. Women without cows would totally come in and buy it for themselves. Yes, I AM from a small town.


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Saturday, August 21/2010 at 2:18 pm

You’re welcome! :-)
I love the PreCleanse too – and the scent is so addictive.
Thanks for the Bag Balm tip – now I want it!


Friday, August 20/2010 at 6:21 pm

what are your thoughts on makeup removing towelettes? do you use those IN ADDITION TO / INSTEAD OF washing your face at night? Or not at all?



Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Saturday, August 21/2010 at 2:24 pm

I usually only use them when I’m travelling (they’re great to freshen up when you’re on an airplane for example). Or even after you go to the gym. I also know some people keep them by their bedside so that even after a late night out when you don’t feel like washing your face, you can still take your makeup off. It’s better than nothing.

I suppose on a daily basis you could use them either before or after your cleansing step, depending on the type of wipes they are. I’ve seen oil-based wipes that would be great at dissolving eye makeup. Or if they’re saturated with more of a toner-type liquid, they could replace your toner as a final step after cleansing to get all your makeup off.

My only issue with them is that 1) they’re a little wasteful and 2) they tend to dry out really quickly. I feel like every single package I’ve had has dried out completely before I’ve gotten through it.


Monday, August 23/2010 at 11:19 pm

This is a great post! What about treatments for blemishes – i.e. Dermalogica’s clearing booster – when should this be applied? I get fairly regular breakouts in the chin area and want to ensure I am treating it on an ongoing basis to help prevent…..also – any recos?


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Monday, August 30/2010 at 9:49 am

Oh good question! Anything for acne needs to be applied on clean, bare skin, so do that after you cleanse, exfoliate and tone. And especially in this case, you really do need to wait the full 10 mins or so for it to sink in before you apply your moisturizer, etc., on top.

I’ve used the Dermalogica clearing booster – it’s not bad – contains salicylic acid, I believe, and is fairly gentle. It’s best applied in a thin layer all over the the affected area (instead of as a spot treatment). Really good spot treatments are Avene (Diacneal), Mario Bedescu, and Sonya Dakar.

HOWEVER – while topicals can be somewhat helpful, nothing will eradicate acne like a high quality, fermented cod liver oil (which you take orally). I take this brand (I order it from the US): http://www.greenpasture.org/retail/?t=products&p=products&a=display&i=1100
If there’s one product I recommend for everyone’s skin, it would be this. It’s nothing short of miraculous for acne and giving you an all-around glow!


Friday, October 29/2010 at 11:59 am

Michelle, Will the cod liver oil work for the acne of teenage boys ? Is it in a capsule form ? Thank you :)


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Friday, October 29/2010 at 3:10 pm

Oh yes – I don’t think there’s any reason why it wouldn’t be beneficial. I have an entire post on cod liver oil – check it out: http://beautyeditor.ca/2010/09/02/the-single-best-product-evah-for-your-skin-is-not-in-fact-an-actual-skincare-product/

You might also find this article helpful as it has some dietary suggestions: http://www.westonaprice.org/ask-the-doctor/200-acne.html


Friday, October 29/2010 at 11:53 am

Hi, One more really good reason to apply concealer last: blushers or bronzers can “collect” on areas where concealer was applied with the net affect of actually highlighting the spot that you were trying to conceal. I wish this website had been around when I was about 16 – and PCs, too for that matter !


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Friday, October 29/2010 at 3:11 pm

Very good point Anna! When I used to apply concealer first, I’d always have to go back and re-apply … like on a blemish or something … when I ruined my work with blush! Leaving it until last is such a good tip (thanks to David G.!).


Wednesday, January 11/2012 at 7:38 pm

I would be greatful on any opinions about my skincare routine. I use Shiseido White Lucent products. Firstly I cleanse, apply softener, eye cream, whitening spot treatment, serum and lastly moisturizer. Should I change the order in anyway to get the most benefits?


Saturday, March 24/2012 at 8:45 am

When do you apply primer: before or after sunscreen?


Comment Avatar huweyuk
Saturday, August 17/2013 at 6:37 pm

Yoo hoo! I’d def do concealer after face etc but i think you need the base right around the eye looking spot on and lightly powdered in place ( over primer) before you do shadow, liner etc. i use dr perricone and use thinnest product first. 30 mins later and £50 poorer i lose the will to live and stagger into the street shrieking “bring me the head of perricone!!!!”. Toodle oo my love


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