How many products do you need in your skincare routine?

How much product do you need to use?

“More does not equal better. If you only really need three products, you shouldn’t be using five. But you also shouldn’t just use one product if you actually need three.” – Dr. Neal Schultz [1]

These days there is a product for every skin concern. There are so many potions and lotions in the world for us to try and we could never try them all no matter how much we want to. Of course I’m speculating, but if, just like me, you’re tempted to use every product available, well we don’t need to throw the whole kitchen sink…uhh bathroom sink, at it. With some fundamental chemical facts, I will help you get the best out of your favourite products. Skincare experts will all tell you the basic regime of cleanse – actives – moisturizer/sunscreen, and it is important to follow these steps since you don’t want to impact the effectiveness of your products. It is also important to give your products time to absorb into your skin since you won’t see the results take immediate effect, and as you will soon find out, not all active ingredients play nice with each other… So you want perfect skin? Yes Please! 

Step 1: The Cleanse

Usually the recommendation is to cleanse your skin twice daily, once in the morning and once in the evening. I personally find, and perhaps I will get flak for this from the derms, that cleansing your skin once a night is best. Why? The moisture barrier! Note that this layer consists of the epidermis and what is called the stratum corneum, which is a layer of actively shedding dead skin cells, fortified with a latticework of remaining cell-to-cell connections and the contents of your oil glands that contain lipids.[2] And because cleansers strip away oils due to their surfactant properties, they disrupt this barrier. So if you have a dry skin type cleansing at night only will give your skin the time to restore it’s natural balance of oils and lipids. 

So how much cleanser do I use?: According to Huff Post – a dime sized amount.[3]

If you use too much of your cleanser it will lead to dryness, redness, itching and irritation, aka the signs of a disrupted moisture barrier! If you are someone who cannot live without cleansing twice a day (I get it, it’s a great self-care ritual to start your day), I would suggest a balm or oil-based cleanser to spare your barrier. Barrier health protection, I believe should be the end goal, a strong and healthy barrier will keep your skin feeling and looking its best. 

Step 2: Your Actives

There are many options and what you use in what combination is very important! It goes back to the idea of Vitamin C deactivating your Niacinamide, some actives do react with one another. If any of your actives are an acid like AHA or Vitamin C then they require an acidic pH of around 3.5, whereas other actives like Niacinamide or Retinols require a higher pH of 4.5 or 5. This might not sound like much, but each step on the pH scale is a 1000 fold increase in acidity. So ideally you should alternate your actives. A killer anti-aging combo would be the antioxidant and pollution killing Vitamin C in the day, and enjoying the effects of Retinol and Niacinamide at night.

So how much active do I use?: A pea-sized amount says WebMd. [4]

Applying too much serum/active might cause a negative effect because serums are usually more concentrated, and so too much of the ingredient is sitting on the skin increasing it’s contact time. This could lead to more redness, dryness, flaking and itchiness and possibly more problems that would require the use of more products. When I began using a niacinamide serum I would apply TONS, as I was thinking I needed this much to cover my whole face. Sure enough my face began to burn and tingle slightly after application. It’s a mild product with little to no irritability so less is always more.

Step 3: Moisturizer

If you can, moisturize your skin day and night, and if you want to use oils too, then note that your oils can penetrate creams, but creams cannot penetrate your oils.[5] So it’s important to use all your water based products first as lotions/oils won’t allow actives past the occlusive barrier. So if you want to incorporate oils into your skincare regime, then apply them after you moisturize. They are a great addition as they help reduce transepidermal water loss (TEWL) and restore lipids to your barrier thus improving the overall health of the system.  

So how much moisturizer do I use?: About a quarter-size amount.

We rarely think that too much moisturizer is a bad thing, and so the dryer our skin gets the more we feel we need. However too much can cause congested skin and lead to a heavy, cakey feeling. It can also lead to clogged pores due to excessive product getting trapped inside. As usual, less is more and less will deliver the necessary hydrating lipids and actives to the skin without heaviness or causing imperfections. 

Bottom line – less is more, cleanse first but don’t overdo it and do it at night, use actives but not too many and in the right combination and finish up with a moisturizer. And don’t forget your SPF! You want to protect your face from the photooxidation caused by the ultraviolet radiation from the sun, and this is always the final step so as not to reduce the dosage of UV filters.

By Jamie Stanton, A.Sc – Barber & Co Products @jamie_the_chemist


[1] Pai, Deanna. “I Tried the French-Girl Secret to Better Skin, and Here’s What Happened.” Glamour, Glamour, 26 May 2017,

[2] Prinzivalli, Leah. “Here’s How to Tell If Your Skin’s Moisture Barrier Is Damaged.” Allure, Allure, 21 Sept. 2019,

[3] Oliver, Dana. “Spoiler Alert: You’re Probably Using Way Too Much Moisturizer.” HuffPost Canada, HuffPost Canada, 2 Feb. 2016, ef6

[4] Herman-Axel, Paige. “How Much of Facial Products to Use: Moisturizers, Cleansers, & More.” WebMD, WebMD, 19 Sept. 2013,

[5] Mazzone, Elizabeth Siegel and Dianna. “How to Layer Your Skin-Care Products in the Correct Order.” Allure,