Face Oil First or Moisturizer? Top Dermatologists on How to Layer

Written by: Brianna Peters

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Published on: November 10, 2022

woman using beauty product

The short answer: It’s kind of up to you. Many dermatologists advise starting with the thinnest-consistency formula and layering thicker ones on top, but this isn’t always the best strategy. “If it’s a more water-based moisturizer, apply it before oil,” says Robert Anolik, MD, an NYC dermatologist and professor of dermatology at NYU Grossman School of Medicine. What to apply when also depends on your skin and how much moisture you’re looking for, explains NYC dermatologist Elyse Love, MD: “Face oils don’t really add hydration to the skin, but they can help support the skin barrier and lock in the hydration that you’d get from a serum or moisturizer.”

If you’re really dry, definitely layer both. “Often moisturizers are some type of emulsion,” says Anolik. So moisturizer can contain skin-barrier-supporting ingredients like linoleic acid or squalane (just as oils can) but also typically includes water-based hydrating ingredients like glycerin or hyaluronic acid. An oil over the top delivers more nourishment and seals in moisture at the same time.

  1. Cream


    goop Beauty GOOPGENES All-in-One Nourishing Face Cream

    goop Beauty
    GOOPGENES All-in-One Nourishing Face Cream
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  2. Oil


    goop Beauty GOOPGENES All-in-One Super Nutrient Face Oil

    goop Beauty
    GOOPGENES All-in-One Super Nutrient Face Oil
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What about lotions and serums? “Lotions and serums have more water and less oil than creams, so they feel lighter on skin and absorb more easily,” says Anolik. “Creams tend to contain less water and more oil.” So if you plan to layer a serum with a cream, start with serum.

  1. Serum


    Tata Harper Superkind Bio-Barrier Serum

    Tata Harper
    Superkind Bio-Barrier Serum
    goop, $146

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  2. Cream


    Pangea Ultra Rich Nourishing Moisturizer

    Pangea
    Ultra Rich Nourishing Moisturizer
    goop, $54

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  3. Lotion


    Planktos Phyto A Face Lotion

    Plantkos
    Phyto A Face Lotion
    goop, $67

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“Face oils feel thin consistency-wise,” says Anolik. “But they should still be applied after water-based products like lotions.” Love agrees: “Face oils are occlusive, helping lock in the good stuff (hydration) and lock out the bad (irritants and pollutants), all of which helps support the skin barrier.” While face oils can penetrate many moisturizers, serums, and creams, few of those treatments can penetrate an oil, so keep that in mind as you layer. And note that while thicker emulsions like creams can often be too much for oily skin, oils—even rich ones—are different. In fact, certain oils, like rose hip and jojoba, can help combat excess oil in acne-prone skin.

  1. Rose Hip Oil


    Balmyard Beauty Moonlight Lover Facial Oil

    Balmyard Beauty
    Moonlight Lover Facial Oil
    goop, $95

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  2. Jojoba Oil


    Tata Harper Retinoic Nutrient Face Oil

    Tata Harper
    Retinoic Nutrient Face Oil
    goop, $165

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  3. Plum Oil


    Le Prunier Plum Beauty Oil

    Le Prunier
    Plum Beauty Oil
    goop, $72

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Favorite Face Oil and Moisturizer Combinations by Skin Type

Skin Type: Dry

If you regularly battle dryness, layering a rich, thick cream moisturizer under a face oil can make a noticeable difference.

  1. Balm


    Monastery Made Attar Floral Concentrate Balm

    Monastery Made
    Attar Floral Concentrate Balm
    goop, $168

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  2. Supercharged Oil for Moisture and Treatment


    FaTH The Mage Oil

    FāTH
    The Mage Oil
    goop, $160

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  3. Thickest Cream


    Surya Balancing Collagen Cream

    Surya
    Balancing Collagen Cream
    goop, $195

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Skin Type: Oily or Acne-Prone

“Most people with acne-prone skin do better with relatively lighter creams or lotions,” says Anolik. Again, the right oil, even on its own, can help, too.

  1. Featherweight Moisturizer


    goop Beauty GOOPGLOW Glow Lotion

    goop Beauty
    GOOPGLOW Glow Lotion
    goop, $58/$52 with subscription

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  2. Hyaluronic Acid


    Dr. Barbara Sturm Hyaluronic Serum

    Dr. Barbara Sturm
    Hyaluronic Serum
    goop, $320

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  3. Soothing Treatment Oil


    Vintner’s Daughter Active Botanical Serum

    Vintner’s Daughter
    Active Botanical Serum
    goop, $195

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Skin Type: Sensitive

Those with sensitive or reactive skin benefit from calming extracts and formulas free of fragrance and other common irritants. Oils like primrose and green tea can soothe sensitive skin types.

  1. Made without More than 85 Common Skin Allergens and Irritants


    Tata Harper Fortifying Moisturizer

    Tata Harper
    Fortifying Moisturizer
    goop, $130

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  2. Skin-Coddling Cream Made with Evening Primrose


    Augustinus Bader The Ultimate Soothing Cream

    Augustinus Bader
    The Ultimate Soothing Cream
    goop, $280

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  3. Made with Green Tea Oil


    True Botanicals Renew Pure Radiance Oil

    True Botanicals
    Renew Pure Radiance Oil
    goop, $110

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The 4 p.m. Makeup Refresh Trick

Pat on face oil over your makeup to give your skin an instant pick-me-up (smooth a few drops between your palms, then pat onto your skin lightly, avoiding eye shadow and mascara). This trick is especially great in the late-afternoon-doldrums time, when you’re thinking you might need a little extra makeup—a little oil is actually all you need.


  1. Furtuna Skin Due Alberi Biphase Moisturizing Oil

    Furtuna Skin
    Due Alberi Biphase Moisturizing Oil
    goop, $225

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An Easy Guide to Skin-Care Order

LAYER 1: Exfoliate for fresh, clean skin.

  1. Daily


    goop Beauty GOOPGLOW Cloudberry Exfoliating Jelly Cleanser

    goop Beauty
    GOOPGLOW Cloudberry Exfoliating Jelly Cleanser
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  2. Twice a Week


    Humanrace Lotus Enzyme Exfoliator

    Humanrace
    Lotus Enzyme Exfoliator
    goop, $46

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  3. Once a Week


    goop Beauty GOOPGLOW 15% Glycolic Acid Overnight Glow Peel

    goop Beauty
    GOOPGLOW 15% Glycolic Acid Overnight Glow Peel
    goop, $125/$112 with subscription

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  4. LAYER 2: Tone to retexturize, brighten, and smooth.


    goop Beauty GOOPGLOW Flower Acids Resurfacing Toner

    goop Beauty
    GOOPGLOW Flower Acids Resurfacing Toner
    goop, $45/$40 with subscription

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  5. LAYER 3: Flood skin with actives.


    Alpyn Beauty Bearberry & Vitamin C Glow Serum

    Alpyn Beauty
    Bearberry & Vitamin C Glow Serum
    goop, $59

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  6. LAYER 4 (if needed): Moisturize (and add more actives).


    goop Beauty GOOPGENES All-in-One Nourishing Face Cream

    goop Beauty
    GOOPGENES All-in-One Nourishing Face Cream
    goop, $98/$86 with subscription

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  1. LAYER 5 (if needed): Pat on oil for more moisture and actives.


    goop Beauty GOOPGENES All-in-One Super Nutrient Face Oil

    goop Beauty
    GOOPGENES All-in-One Super Nutrient Face Oil
    goop, $98/$89 with subscription

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  2. LAYER 6: Mineral sunscreen for clean sun protection.


    Grown Alchemist Natural Hydrating Sunscreen SPF 30

    Grown Alchemist
    Natural Hydrating Sunscreen SPF 30
    goop, $39

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Related Reading

Do Antioxidants Really Boost Glowing Skin?

A Clean Skin Routine for Morning and Night

What Does Serum Do for Skin?

How do we test clean beauty products at goop? First they have to pass our standards for clean (goop has some of the toughest standards in the industry). Only then do they make it to our editors’ showers, bathroom counters, and makeup bags, where they are rigorously hand tested (and road tested, if we happen to be going on a trip). The goop beauty department is made up of women of varied ages, races, and tastes—if we really love something, we’re pretty confident you’re going to love it, too.



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