Do You Really Need to Wait for Products to Absorb?

By February 3, 2017

Looks like skin care has been filled with rules lately. But when it comes to waiting between applying different skin care products, how long is enough?

We know you’ve wondered it before. After you slather on your possibly really expensive serum and then immediately cover it with your other kind of pricey moisturizer, you think, “Oh snap, did I just cancel out the effect of my serum by immediately dousing it with moisturizer? Shouldn’t I have waited for the serum to ‘sink in’ and take effect?’”

Do You Need To Wait At All?
To put it simply, the answer is nope. We spoke to two dermatologists and they all said that the whole idea of waiting for your products to “sink in” is a big old myth. “Your skin is incredibly effective at absorbing ingredients,” says Rachel Nazarian, a dermatologist in New York City. “In reality, you don’t need to wait more than a few seconds to rub in a product before you apply something on top of it.”

But what about all the acids you use? Surely, those must need some time to settle into your skin, right? The derms say it’s not completely necessary but for some acids, you might feel more comfortable waiting. For example, when you apply a BHA (beta hydroxy acid), it can feel a bit abrasive, so you may want to wait a good 20 minutes to let it sink in before you use a moisturizer over it to calm your skin.

However, Vivian Bucay, a dermatologist in San Antonio, does say that it does take time for products to be fully absorbed into your skin. “It typically takes around 30 minutes for products to be absorbed, meaning, that if something is washed off before 30 minutes, it would need to be reapplied,” she says.

The Exceptions
So, that’s it? You never have to wait for any products? Not necessarily. Like everything in life, there are exceptions. And those exceptions are sunscreen, acne products, and vitamin C. “Sunscreen and acne medications are super sensitive, delicate, and unstable,” says Nazarian. She says that when you mix sunscreen with other lotions and creams, it can actually dilute the ingredients in your sunscreen and reduce its effect. “To wear sunscreen along with other topical makeup, rub the sunscreen into your skin until it’s fully absorbed—give it about one minute—and then apply makeup or lotions after,” says Nazarian.

Another exception is acne medicine. When you have a pimple, you’ll want to wait until your spot treatment is absorbed before putting on other products. “Prescription medications like acne creams need to be absorbed fully before secondary creams are applied, but that should take less than a minute,” says Nazarian. And if you see your products rolling up into little balls on your cheeks, that’s still not a sign that you should wait for a product to be absorbed. You just need to wait for them to dry before putting on the next product. “If your creams are peeling and rolling into little balls on the skin, you’re either applying too much product or you need to wait a minute longer for it to fully dry before layering,” says Nazarian.

Finally, when it comes to vitamin C, you’ll want to be careful when applying this one. Since it’s a pretty strong acid, we’ve found that it’s best to wait a little bit before applying anything on top of it immediately. This way, you can ensure that your vitamin C serum has fully seeped into your pores before you cover it with a moisturizer. Or better yet, you could perform one of our editor’s favorite skin care hacks: Instead of waiting around for your vitamin C serum to sink in, kill two birds with one stone and simply add in a few drops of your favorite vitamin C serum (we love the Klairs Freshly Juiced Vitamin C Serum) into a lightweight gel or cream moisturizer.

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