Friday, November 11th, 2011

By Dain, New England, Skincare Contributor

Dain is a freelance editor and writer, who graduated with a Bachelor of Art in English. She expected to pursue an academic career but found her interests straying elsewhere–like beauty! She has dry, sensitive skin and is always looking for ways to keep her skin hydrated.  When she isn’t writing about beauty, she loves to play video games, cook (and eat!), and read.

Check out her blog, Ars Aromatica!

A battalion of moisturizers, each trained to a specific purpose.

Importance of Gentle Cleansing & Layering Moisturizers

The skin is our body’s first line of defense against environmental aggressors. As a barrier, mine is deficient as a barrier. It’s both sebum-starved and paper thin, the conventional definition of “sensitive”. Consequently, I follow two principles in my approach to skincare.


All but the mildest cleansers are too aggressive for my skin. For a simple cleanse, I’ve faithfully purchased Weleda Calendula Baby Wash ($11 for 200 mL) many times over. Coco glucoside is a minimally invasive surfactant, approved for use on babies. Plus, it smells like tangerines. To remove makeup, I like micellar waters, such as cult classic Bioderma ($30 for 500 mL). It feels like water yet it dissolves stubborn eye makeup with ease. If I need a thorough, deep cleanse, I massage a cream cleanser generously onto dry skin, using the friction from my fingers to break down makeup and sunscreen. If you dislike residue, a good trick is to add water incrementally during the massage, slowly emulsifying the emollients. I’m currently enamoured of Trilogy Cream Cleanser ($37 for 200 mL), but I’m always open to suggestions.


If there’s a skin trick I swear by, it’s to fragment moisturizing into several steps. Creams for dry skin, because they’re so rich in oils, can sit uselessly on the surface as a greasy layer. It took years of disappointment and thirsty skin to recognize that dehydration (water loss) and dryness (low sebum) should be addressed by separate products.

First, I saturate my skin with a softener. Pat, don’t rub, to maximize absorption. The humectants draw moisture deeper into the skin, penetrating past layers of dehydration and enhancing the performance of your moisturizer. I prefer formulations that feature hyaluronic acid, such as Shiseido Eudermine ($56 for 125 mL). With its gorgeous red bottle and fragrant with rainwashed peonies, Eudermine hits a high note in luxury skincare, but it’s also interesting from a historical point of view, as the seminal force behind Asian skincare. Then, while my skin is still damp, I apply a rich emulsion. Keep in mind, I’m the sort of girl who has half a dozen moisturizers on rotation; it’s unlikely I’ll ever settle on any single product. At the moment, my favorite is Tata Harper Rejuvenating Serum ($150 for 50 mL). Finally, I seal in everything with my favorite face oil, Kahina Serum ($90 for 30 mL), an enriched argan blend that nourishes the skin for a well-conditioned glow and soothes with anti-inflammatory EFAs. By splitting one moisturizer into three layers, I find it maximizes absorption, thanks to the softener, and yet provides a long-lasting protective barrier, thanks to the oil, with the emulsion sandwiched in between.

For daytime, I switch to a mild, avobenzone-free sunscreen like Avène Hydrance Optimale SPF 20 ($24 for 40 mL). Since it forms a barrier, in my mind it’s roughly analogous to the face oil: the final layer, applied last. Antioxidants and sunscreen go hand in hand, so I’m in the market for an antioxidant serum to layer under sunscreen, after softening. While I insist on actives—too many serums are no more than overpriced blends of silicones and humectants—alas, my skin does not tolerate vitamin C. I’m open to suggestions, reader!

Discussion and debate are highly encouraged, and we expect community members to participate respectfully. When asking a question, please check the FAQ section (above) for information about purchasing, price, dupes, and the like. If you have general feedback or need technical support, please contact us.

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36 thoughts on “Importance of Gentle Cleansing & Layering Moisturizers

  1. When my skin gets cranky I go get some of the Avène line of products myself. It a shame the one i really like are so expensive for what little product I get out of them. >_>

  2. SA

    I’m wondering if you’re getting good results to do your method, or if it’s because you’re using expensive high end products with good-quality ingredients…. maybe it’s both

    • Ashley

      If you peruse consumer-based review websites, you will see that price does not equate high-quality. There are a lot of high priced products that get worse reviews than 5 dollar stuff. I mean, it’s not like a company producing drug store brand products is only given access to mediocre ingredients while high-end would have access only to like, fantastic amazing ingredients. If a DS and HE product both use jojoba oil for instance, there really isn’t going to be a huge difference between the two oils used unless one uses clear and the other uses golden. And one isn’t better than the other.

    • You can definitely use cheaper products—for example, instead of Shiseido Eudermine, Hadalabo makes a lovely, no-frills basic softener—but skincare is also about the complete experience. For some people, the idea of spending a lot of money on skincare is anathema; for others, the more luxurious, the better. It’s a personal decision, in my opinion.

  3. I cannot agree more with your idea of layering. I have oily yet dehydrated skin and I totally rely on skin softeners to soften and make skin more receptive to moisturizers. And because my skin is oily, I find layering serums and a light moisturizer more effective and easily absorbed than just slapping on one thick cream. The Japanese skincare guru, Saeki Chizu also recommends toners/softeners to improve the skin’s ability to absorb moisturizers. She’s my idol!

  4. ellyp

    I love your discussion on layering moisturizers. I live in Denver, Colorado and it is dry here. I totally do what you do! I find your idea about the softener a nice point. I don’t do that but I will start to. I usually do a vitamin c/aloe vera serum (I make it myself) and another serum and then I do your other layers. I don’t tell people my crazy lotion skincare layering system because they would think I’m nuts but it totally helps! I am grateful to have read about your system. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one out there!!!

  5. Ashley

    Seeing the prices for some of these things and seeing just how much is mentioned, it makes me appreciate my water-only routine even more. No more acne AND not wasting all my money? Win-win!

    • Hannah

      While I’m glad water works for you, dry and sensitive skins need to be treated with more care. Investing in products that work for your own skin type is anything but a waste.

  6. This is fantastic advice. I’ve got dry skin myself and layering instantly makes my skin very comfortable, morning or evening. You’ve recommended a great range of products too, and lots of different pricepoints. Thanks for the info!

  7. summerblue

    I have sensitive skin & I also have rosacea. Took a look at the Weleda Calendula, but, it has alcohol in it so a no-go. Also, some flower oil extracts can be an irritant. Not wowed by, but using Cetaphil. Also, next year after I use up my supply of skincare products will be making my own skincare products via Will be ordering some of their premixed products this month to augment my current products.

    • The alcohol in the Weleda product is ethanol (the kind you drink) rather than isopropyl; it is sometimes used to extract natural essences (essential oils).

      Indeed, natural brands often masquerade as being better for your health, but it’s really a case-by-case basis. But irritants are so personal, what irritates one person is not necessarily what irritates another.

      • alisha in wi

        I didn’t really take a look at the Welendula but even though I don’t have dry skin I was interested in the Shiseido Eudermine. Turns out it is not so great for your skin if you look it up on

        I agree with summerblue in that (any) alcohol is bad for your skin because it causes free radical damage and is very drying. As far as ethanol being okay because it’s the kind you drink, after working out and feeling dehydrated, a martini is the last thing I would reach for. When fragrance is added it can also be bad because the additives can irritate truly sensitive skin. Although irritants are different for everyone, the benefits should at least outweigh the negatives because if your skin is irritated it can’t repair itself. I like stuff that smells good but have decided it’s best to keep fragrance out of my skincare except for what is created by any of the ingredients or oils used.

      • Kyra

        Sorry, but ethanol IS bad for the skin, regardless the fact you do not see irritation today. It breaks down collagen fibers, plain and simple.
        I would suggest you to educate yourself a little bit more about skincare before giving suggestions to other pleople!

        • Anne

          I couldn’t agree more. Alcohol in ANY form in skin care is a big no-go, unless it’s an yummy emulsifier like cetyl alcohol.

          Not to mention, this featured Shiseido product contains a formula that’s more than 100 years old. Skin care has come a long way since then.

          • The formulation of Eudermine has been updated continuously since its inception.

            There might be some misunderstanding here. I am describing my own routine, in which I do use a softener. Skincare really comes down to method, not specific products, and I test many products, as noted above. My choice of Eudermine was primarily because of its seminal influence on Asian skincare as the first softener, but you are not required to buy it, especially since there are so many options to match any taste and budget. It’s just an interesting bit of history.

          • Thanks Anne, for mentioning that there are alcohols, like the cetyl alcohol you mention, that are actually fatty acids that can emulsify & hydrate the skin. My favorite mnemonic to remember which are the good alcohols is WHEN YOU SEE ALCOHOLS, STEER LEFT.

            This translates to remind you of good alcohols:
            See alcohols= alcohols beginning w/ C
            Steer= Stearyl alcohol
            Left= Lanolin alcohol

    • Thanks for the reference to the Skinactives site, summerblue! I’d never heard of it.

  8. Hannah

    I think you’ve nearly sold me on the Shiseido Eudermine! I may need to test it out at a counter to see if the fragrance is overpowering or irritating to my skin, but it sounds like something that I have been looking for besides for the scent…

    • If you’re looking for a fragrance-free softener, please consider the one from Hadalabo. You have to order it online, but it’s definitely scentless.

      • Hannah

        Thanks for the recommendation. My skin tends to react to fragrances. I always find it quite odd that many skin care lines that are developed for sensitive skins (Avene, I’m looking at you) are loaded with potentially irritating fragrance!

  9. Thank you for sharing this! I cannot agree more on the layering skincare part. I use an average of 10 skincare products a day (split between night and day) and I really find that layering skincare products has helped me get clearer, smoother, and more supple skin.

    As for the price point, I definitely agree that it personal preference. I don’t mind spending $400 on a face cream, as long as it really works for my skin and the effect is obvious, but just because it is $400 doesn’t mean I will automatically buy it, or automatically not buy it. It all depends on the efficacy. Some people might be fine with purchasing cheaper products but that’s also your own preference. Personally I use a mix of cheaper and high-end products in my regime, it’s whatever works best that I want and it’s not dependent on the price point!

  10. Erin

    Dain! You are a member of makeup alley huh! I recognize your face.

  11. Adelita

    “It took years of disappointment and thirsty skin to recognize that dehydration (water loss) and dryness (low sebum) should be addressed by separate products”

    Yesssss… Dehydrated skin ≠ dry skin!
    I struggled with problematic skin for years before knowing that my skin type is actually very oily yet dehydrated. Whenever I put products for oily skin, the eczema comes, but if I put rich cream, hello acne & blackheads. Hyaluronic acid is my savior! I prefer the lightest lotion/fluid form moisturizer, but it SHOULD penetrates deep through layers to keep my skin well-moisturized.

  12. I am so glad to see you posting here on Temptalia! My question is do you wait long in between layers? Thanks!

    • If you’ve got severe dehydration and/or dryness, it’s best to layer when your skin is moist, so you seal in as much moisture as you can. Water also improves the efficacy of many ingredients.

  13. Mary

    If you have dry skin,you should discontinue the Eudermine. It contains a lot of alcohol and the jaluronic acid is listed after the preservatives, which means that it is contained in a very small amount!

  14. Iris

    Hmm… There are so many mixed reviews regarding personal skincare. Based on my own experience, it’s only down to whatever works for you and what not and also depending on the seasons. My skin has changed from oily combination to dry combination or dry for mere 4 years since I moved from my tropical home to Canada. I found Cetaphil work well to hydrate and sunscreen my skin during winter but too greasy for summer. Drugstore cleansers like Biore or Olay dried my skin out horribly. Since then I’ve stuck with Babor foam cleanser which is mild and calm my irritated skin well. I’ve learnt the importance of using toner and moisturizer so I’ve tried Clinque’s claryifying lotion number 2 and extended thirst reflief moisturizer. They do a great job in making my skin supple and even looking. However, I didn’t have any luck with Lancome’s genefique serum and Guerlain’s orchid imperiale serum. I mean the sale agents sworn by them and my best friends has been using Lancome’s as parts of her skincare routine and her skin is perfect and youthful looking. IMO, skincare products are like perfume, working for some but not all, so I like the idea of trying different brands. I’m definitely checking Shiseido out next time.

    • Iris, you can’t judge how efficacious or effective a single product is based on how well a user’s skin appears. Most ads, infomercials, and sales people want you to believe the opposite and that’s how they successfully persuade potential customers. There are certainly too many factors involved like genetics, sunscreen use, other products used, and a variety of other aspects that can and will influence how a person’s skin appears, to believe in such forms of marketing.

      In addition, it would be wise to not evaluate a product based on its brand because all brands use the same groups of ingredients. In most cases, I bet people wouldn’t be able to tell what brand a product is from based on ingredients alone.

      The absolute only thing that you can rely on when it comes to skin care is the list of ingredients. Certainly, there are limitations to ingredient-based reviews, but it’s the most accurate way for the average consumer to predict how effective a product will be.

      I know that it’s counterintuitive to not link the efficacy of a skin care product to the appearance of the user’s skin, but unforunately, it’s the first necessary step to unraveling the convoluted world of skin care.

  15. Where do you buy your Bioderma from?

    • Cristina

      I was about to ask the same thing! I’ve never seen Bioderma in the US, only in Europe and Colombia (where I live but it is ridiculously expensive due to taxes and duties)

  16. Plagio

    Hehe. I love hyaluronic acid. Whenever I crave it extra I use one of those sheet masks.

    I also love the way you write C:

  17. Lovely. Very informative. I think I will be trying the Eudermine next..What do you think of IS Clinical’s Youth Serum? I love it’s HA content.

  18. Cristina

    onestly, after seeing so many comments questioning your ingredient knowledge, I am so glad I decided to stop listening to random people (or so-called “experts”) when it comes to skincare and just follow my dermatologist’s instructions.

    Up until a few months ago, my skin type was all over the place; dried up and flaky one day, oily mess the next, and I always had at least a few blemishes on my forehead, nose or temples. I visited my dermatologist and brought along every skin care product I was using at the time at other people’s recommendations and she sais I should stop using all of them immediately. She recommended Cetaphil face wash for oily skin morning and night, La Roche-Posay Anthelios AC sunscreen for acne-prone skin (she said sunscreens made in the US are too greasy, and I must say after trying this one, even the driest US sunscreen I had found, Neutrogena Dry Touch, feels super greasy) in the morning, and Indoxyl (clindamycin-benzoyl peroxide gel) at night to dry up existing acne. My skin looked better within a week of following this routine, and now, a few months later and after having used up the entire tube of Indoxyl, my skin looks better than ever.

    Bototm line is, a dermatologist will be able to give you the most accurate and proper skincare routine for YOUR skin type.

    • I had the worst experience with a dermatologist, actually. My primary care doctor said she was full of BS (because she was – she said no one should ever wear makeup and if you do, that is the only reason you have acne). It’s important to do your research no matter who you are going with :) Instead, my doctor prescribed me Differin, which cleared up a lot of the minor acne issues I was having. Because skincare is personal, as in your skin is different than the next person’s, what you may or may not be sensitive differs, etc. that one routine will never fit all. Did you ask your dermatologist what was wrong with the products you were using? I always think it’s more helpful to figure out what you were doing wrong than a total trash of what you were using. Skincare is complicated, so trying to figure out what you’re sensitive to can be important.