Valerie Monroe
Photo: Patrik Andersson
Q: In what order should I apply my face treatments, and how long should I wait between steps?

A: After you cleanse your face in the morning...hey, wait a minute. Before I became a beauty editor, I used to wash my face. Now I find myself saying I "cleanse," which sounds more beneficial and important. Isn't it interesting how a word can make a simple routine seem fancier? (And maybe make you think you need fancy products for it?) Anyway, after the soap and water, apply a treatment serum (like Glytone Antioxidant Anti-aging Serum, $120, DermStore.com; or Origins Brighter by Nature Skin Tone Correcting Serum, $40, Origins.com); then apply a moisturizer with sunscreen, says Leslie Baumann, MD (the doctor behind SkinTypeSolutions.com). You don't need to wait for the serum to be absorbed before you apply the moisturizer. In the evening, after cleansing, apply a lotion containing wrinkle-reducing retinol (like RoC Multi Correxion Tone Perfecting Treatment, $14, drugstores; or Patricia Wexler M.D. Intensive Deep Wrinkle Treatment, $60, BathAndBodyWorks.com) or a prescription retinoid (Renova, Tazorac, or Avage), says Baumann. The moisturizer you apply on top of that should contain antioxidants like vitamin C, which can help prevent collagen breakdown (try Clinique Youth Surge Night, $49; Clinique.com). Again, no waiting between steps.

Keep in mind: Don't apply a retinoid in the morning; the sun will deactivate it. And don't use a glycolic acid serum or moisturizer at the same time you're using a hydroquinone lightening cream, vitamin C serum, or a retinoid, because the glycolic acid will deactivate them.

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