99 Bottles of Sunscreens and Serums

I only have a handful of products, but I still didn't know how to apply them.

Walk into any woman’s bathroom, and you’re likely to see enough bottles of creams, lotions, serums, moisturizers and foundations to prompt a round of, “99 Bottles of skin care products on the wall, 99 bottles of skin care…” Take one down, pass it around. But wait: when layering multiple products, which one comes first?

I’ll admit that I didn’t have the faintest idea, so I did a bit of research. Here’s what I’ve learned.


Depending on the type of sunscreen that you use, it will either be the first thing to touch your skin, or the last. There are two types of sunscreen:

  • Chemical, containing avobenzone, homosalate, octisalate, octocrylene or oxybenzone
  • Physical, containing titanium oxide or zinc oxide

Chemical sunscreens need to bond with your skin, so they always go on first. Physical sunscreens create a physical barrier between the sun and your skin, so they’re applied last. Can’t remember? If it’s says “oxide” on the label, then it should be applied last. Oxide for the outside.

Prescription Medications

These should go on first, applied directly to skin. Since these are typically paired with the less-irritating physical sunscreens (oxides), there shouldn’t be any debate about which is applied first.

Serums and Gels

These are the second stage. Apply them after chemical sunscreens or prescription medications have dried, usually about a minute later.


The third stage of the beauty regimen, apply moisturizer after the serum or gel has completely dried, about one minute later.


The final step in the program, the finishing touch for the world to see.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m heading to my bathroom to line up my bottles in the proper order.

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