The Right Order: Spot Treatment Before or After Moisturizer?

When this question comes up, most people are referring to acne spot treatment and wondering if that should go on before or after moisturizer.  It’s not a straight forward answer, so we’ll break it down for you.

Why Order Matters for Acne Treatment

Acne can be a formidable opponent. But, with a strategic game plan, we can certainly win the war against acne. The order of your skincare regimen matters because each product is designed to perform a specific function. The order in which you apply your products can greatly affect their effectiveness. Each step builds upon the previous one.


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The order in which you apply your products can impact their absorption, potency, and overall effectiveness. For example, you want to make sure that spot treatment product penetrates the skin effectively, targeting acne-causing bacteria, reducing inflammation, and promoting healing.

So it isn’t just about what products you use, but when you use them in your routine too.

Morning Skincare Routine for Acne

Starting your day with a well-thought-out skincare routine can set the tone for clear skin. Cleanse with a mild face wash to remove any overnight oils and dirt. Follow this up with a toner to balance your skin’s pH levels. If you have prescribed treatments, use them now. Moisturizers go next.  Lastly, don’t forget your sunscreen before you head out!

Night Time Skincare Routine for Acne

Nighttime is when the magic happens. After removing makeup and dirt with a good cleanser, apply any prescription topical treatments. Next, use a spot treatment if you have any active breakouts. Finish off with a non-comedogenic moisturizer to hydrate your skin without clogging pores.

Topical Acne Treatments

Before we jump into the spot treatment versus moisturizer debate, let’s talk about choosing the right acne treatment for your skin. With countless options available, it’s crucial to consider your skin type, the severity of your acne, and any specific concerns you may have. Look for ingredients like benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, or sulfur, known for their acne-fighting properties.

Spot Treatments

Spot treatments are the snipers of your skincare arsenal, designed to eliminate specific blemishes swiftly and effectively. They’re formulated with potent active ingredients like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. These powerhouses work by reducing inflammation and killing acne-causing bacteria, thereby speeding up the healing process.

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La Roche-Posay Effaclar Salicylic Acid Acne Treatment to Minimize Pores, Clear Acne Blemishes and Post Acne Marks La Roche-Posay Effaclar Salicylic Acid Acne Treatment to Minimize Pores, Clear... @ Amazon Amazon Prime
Sale Neutrogena Rapid Clear Stubborn Acne Spot Treatment Gel with Maximum Strength 10% Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Treatment Medication, Pimple Cream for Acne Prone Skin Care, 1 oz Neutrogena Rapid Clear Stubborn Acne Spot Treatment Gel with Maximum Strength... @ Amazon Amazon Prime

Over-the-counter solutions are the infantrymen in the battle against acne. Accessible and efficient, these treatments include salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and sulfur, all known to treat mild to moderate acne effectively. They’re readily available and can be a practical first line of defense against breakouts.

Remember to start with a lower concentration and gradually increase as tolerated to minimize potential irritation.

Prescription Topical Treatments

For some, over-the-counter spot treatments might not be enough. That’s when prescription topical treatments come into play. For more severe acne cases, dermatologists may prescribe specialized acne creams and gels. These products often contain ingredients like tretinoin, adapalene, or clindamycin. They work by regulating cell turnover, reducing inflammation, targeting acne-causing bacteria and promoting rapid skin cell turnover. It’s crucial to follow your dermatologist’s instructions carefully and monitor your skin’s response to these prescription treatments.

Dermatologists Recommendations

Dermatologists recommend applying spot treatment before moisturizer, to allow the active ingredients to penetrate the skin more effectively and target acne-causing bacteria. Spot treatments with ingredients like benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid are their favorites.


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In addition to following the correct order of spot treatment and moisturizer, our experts shared some valuable tips for effective acne treatment. Firstly, consistency is key. Stick to your skincare routine diligently to see long-term improvements. Secondly, don’t overdo it. Using too many acne products can lead to dryness and irritation. Finally, listen to your skin. If a particular product causes discomfort or worsens your acne, discontinue its use and consult a dermatologist for alternatives.

Layering Skincare Products

The order in which you apply skincare products can impact their effectiveness. In general, you should apply products from thinnest to thickest consistency. This means that after cleansing, you should first use lighter serums or treatments, then follow up with a moisturizer to seal everything in.

Integrating Spot Treatment into Your Skincare Routine

Integrating spot treatment into your routine requires careful consideration. You don’t want it to be rendered ineffective by subsequent products. Apply it after using lighter products, such as toner or serum, but before heavier ones like moisturizer. This ensures direct contact with the affected area and allows the active ingredients to work their magic without any barriers.

Morning vs Night: Adjusting Your Skincare Routine

Your skincare routine might require some tweaks based on the time of day. In the morning, always finish with sunscreen to protect your skin from UV damage. In the evening, focus on repair and rejuvenation with products like retinoids. Remember, consistency and patience are crucial in the journey to clear skin.

Exceptions to Spot Treatment before Moisturizers?

While the general consensus favors spot treatment before moisturizer, there may be exceptions. Some dermatologists suggest applying moisturizer first, especially if you have dry or sensitive skin. This acts as a protective barrier, preventing potential irritation from potent spot treatment ingredients. However, this approach is not widely recommended, and it’s crucial to consult with a skincare professional before adopting it.

Layering Even More Products

Besides spot treatments and moisturizers, your skincare routine may include other products like serums, oils, or sunscreens. The general rule of thumb for layering these products is to start with the lightest consistency and gradually move towards thicker formulas. Typically, acne creams or medications should be applied after cleansing, toning, and spot treatment but before moisturizer. This ensures optimal absorption and allows each product to deliver its unique benefits.

Skincare Order with Prescription Treatments

Is the answer any different for prescribed topical acne treatment?  It’s usually recommended to apply prescription treatments right after cleansing, as they need to penetrate the skin to work effectively. Remember, your skin should be dry before application to avoid irritation. Then, let the treatment soak in for a bit before moving on to other products. It’s like giving your skin a little pause to absorb the acne-fighting goodness.

Dos and Don’ts of Using Prescription Acne Treatments

  • Do be patient. Prescription treatments can take time to show results, so hang in there!
  • Don’t use more than directed. More isn’t always better, you know. It can actually lead to dryness and irritation.
  • Do apply moisturizer. It’s essential to keep your skin hydrated, especially if your treatment is drying.
  • Finally, don’t skip sunscreen. Many treatments can make your skin more sensitive to the sun.

To Moisturize or Not

If you are applying spot treatments, can you just skip moisturizers altogether? Despite what some might think, moisturizers are vital in a skincare routine, even for acne-prone skin. They lock in hydration, helping to maintain the skin’s barrier function. This is crucial, as a damaged skin barrier can lead to increased oil production and further breakouts. Plus, many acne treatments can dry out your skin, making moisturizers an essential step in the routine. Moisturizers can help prevent excessive dryness and irritation that may occur from using spot treatments alone.

Applying a moisturizer when dealing with acne might feel counterproductive. However, the key is to choose wisely. Non-comedogenic moisturizers won’t clog pores, and ingredients like hyaluronic acid can provide hydration without making your skin feel greasy. It’s all about finding a product that delivers hydration without causing additional breakouts.

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Top Moisturizers You Should Consider

When it comes to moisturizers suitable for acne-prone skin, there are a few front-runners.

belif The True Cream Aqua Bomb

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A lightweight, oil-free gel-cream that instantly cools and refreshes skin while providing intensive hydration. This formula contains a blend of apothecary herbs, including antioxidant-rich lady’s mantle which helps neutralize skin-damaging free radicals, improves skin elasticity, and minimizes the appearances of pores. The refreshing cream is formulated to burst when applied, releasing a flood of weightless moisture onto skin for a healthy, smooth, supple appearance.

  • Key Ingredients: Lady’s Mantle, Ceramide 3, Glycerin

AMOREPACIFIC Moisture Plumping Nectar Cream

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A lightweight gel-cream that provides intense hydration, improves the look of fine lines, and visibly smooths and plumps skin. This formula features green plum blossom extract, which helps to awaken skin’s natural glow, and Sulwhasoo’s exclusive complex, which helps to improve overall look of skin resilience.

  • Key Ingredients: Green Plum Blossom Extract, Sulwhasoo’s exclusive complex, Shea Butter.

DR. BRANDT SKINCARE Hydro Biotic Recovery Sleeping Mask

Dr. Brandt Hydro Biotic Recovery Sleeping Mask Jar 50 g / 1.7 oz Dr. Brandt Hydro Biotic Recovery Sleeping Mask Jar 50 g / 1.7 oz @ Amazon Amazon Prime

A hydrating recovery sleeping mask that balances skin’s naturally occurring flora and locks in moisture overnight to reduce redness and soothe the signs of irritation. The mask helps to balance the skin’s natural ecosystem by maintaining its natural pH levels and nourishing your natural protective layer preventing further damage.

  • Key Ingredients: Biotic Balancing Complex, Unique Delivery Matrix, Soothing Peptide Extract

Understanding Benzoyl Peroxide in Acne Treatment

Benzoyl Peroxide: A Closer Look

If there was a superhero in the world of acne treatments, it would be Benzoyl Peroxide. But what makes this ingredient so special, you ask? Well, benzoyl peroxide is an antimicrobial, which means it helps reduce the bacteria that can lead to acne. Plus, it’s a keratolytic, so it helps clear the dead skin cells clogging your pores. Talk about a double whammy, right?

The Role of Benzoyl Peroxide in Your Skincare Routine

Benzoyl peroxide plays a key role in the fight against acne. It’s like a secret weapon, tackling blemishes from the root. But, remember, it’s potent stuff. So, it’s often best to apply it after a gentle cleanse, giving it a clear pathway to work its magic. Follow up with a moisturizer, to keep your skin happy and hydrated. Trust me, your skin will thank you for it!

Skincare Routine with Benzoyl Peroxide

Integrating Benzoyl Peroxide into Your Skincare Routine

So, you’ve got this tube of benzoyl peroxide and now you’re wondering, “What now?” Easy! Integrate it into your routine post-cleansing. Apply it to areas prone to acne. No need to slather it all over. Remember, it’s potent stuff. A little goes a long way. Follow up with a hydrating moisturizer and you’re good to go!

Benzoyl Peroxide: Tips and Precautions

Here are some tips and precautions to keep in mind with benzoyl peroxide. Tip number one: start slow. Your skin may need time to adjust to the treatment. Number two: benzoyl peroxide can bleach fabrics. So, be mindful of your towels and pillowcases! Number three: not all skin types are the same. If you experience severe irritation or dryness, it might be best to consult with your dermatologist.

Understanding Acne: Causes and Triggers

While acne is often synonymous with adolescence, it’s not a condition that discriminates with age. It occurs when your hair follicles get clogged with oil and dead skin cells. It can present in different forms, such as whiteheads, blackheads, and even painful cysts. Contrary to popular belief, acne isn’t a result of poor hygiene. In fact, excessive cleansing can worsen acne!

The causes of acne are like pieces of a puzzle. They all contribute to the overall picture, but their impacts can vary. Hormonal changes often trigger acne, especially during adolescence or menstruation. Certain medications, including some birth control pills, can also cause acne. Lastly, diet and stress, while not direct causes, can certainly exacerbate the condition.

Minimizing Acne Scars and Dark Spots

Treating Acne Scars with Moisturizer

While spot treatments primarily target active breakouts, acne scars and dark spots require a different approach. Incorporating a moisturizer with skin-repairing ingredients like niacinamide or vitamin C can help fade acne scars over time. These ingredients promote collagen production, improve skin texture, and even out discoloration. Remember to be patient; it may take several weeks or months to see noticeable results.

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Vichy LiftActiv Peptide-C Anti-Aging Moisturizer, Vitamin C Face Cream with Collagen Peptides to Reduce Wrinkles, Firm and Brighten Skin, Paraben Free, 1.69 Fl Oz Vichy LiftActiv Peptide-C Anti-Aging Moisturizer, Vitamin C Face Cream with... @ Amazon Amazon Prime
Peter Thomas Roth | Potent-C Bright & Plump Moisturizer | Brightening Vitamin C Moisturizer and Anti-Aging Cream with Collagen light blue 1.69 Fl Oz Peter Thomas Roth | Potent-C Bright & Plump Moisturizer | Brightening Vitamin C... @ Amazon

Recommended Creams for Dark Spots

When it comes to addressing dark spots, there are several creams available that can aid in their fading. Look for products containing ingredients like hydroquinone, kojic acid, or azelaic acid. These ingredients work by inhibiting melanin production, effectively lightening dark spots and promoting a more even complexion. Consult with a dermatologist to find the best cream for your specific skin type and concerns.

La Roche-Posay Glycolic Acid Serum with Kojic Acid and Vitamin B5, Reduces Dark Spots and Discoloration, Skin Tone Corrector to Brighten & Even Skin Tone La Roche-Posay Glycolic Acid Serum with Kojic Acid and Vitamin B5, Reduces Dark... @ Amazon Amazon Prime
Glytone Enhance Brightening Complex - With 12% Azelaic Acid, 3% Glycolic Acid - Brightens Skin & Reduces Dark Spots - Non-Comedogenic - 1 fl. oz. Glytone Enhance Brightening Complex - With 12% Azelaic Acid, 3% Glycolic Acid -... @ Amazon
PCA SKIN Hydroquinone-Free Pigment Gel Dark Spot Corrector, Dark Spot Serum for Brightening Dark Spots and Hyperpigmentation, Helps Even Skin Tone and Promote a Clear Complexion, 1.0 oz Pump PCA SKIN Hydroquinone-Free Pigment Gel Dark Spot Corrector, Dark Spot Serum for... @ Amazon Amazon Prime

Best Practices for Combining Spot Treatment and Scar Removal

For those dealing with both active acne and acne scars, it’s essential to strike a balance in your skincare routine. Apply spot treatment first to target active breakouts, followed by a moisturizer to hydrate and protect the skin. When using scar removal products, apply them after moisturizer to allow proper absorption. Remember, consistency and patience are key to achieving smoother, more even-toned skin.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do you put spot treatment on before or after moisturizer?

Ah, the age-old question: spot treatment before or after moisturizer? Well, the answer can depend on the type of spot treatment you’re using. Generally, a thinner, prescription spot treatment should be applied before moisturizer, so it can directly reach your skin. But if your spot treatment is thick or contains benzoyl peroxide, it might be best to apply it after your moisturizer, to reduce dryness and irritation.

What order should spot treatment be in skincare?

In the grand scheme of your skincare routine, spot treatment typically comes in after cleansing, toning, and applying serum, but before moisturizer. This order ensures that the spot treatment can penetrate the skin directly to work effectively, while the moisturizer prevents the skin from drying out.

How long to apply moisturizer after spot treatment?

After applying spot treatment, it’s best to wait a bit before applying your moisturizer. This pause can be anywhere from a few minutes to a half-hour, allowing the spot treatment to absorb properly into the skin. But don’t stress too much about the exact timing. The key is to give your skin a little breathing room before moving on to the next step.

Can I use moisturizer after acne treatment?

Absolutely! In fact, using a moisturizer after an acne treatment can be a game changer. Many acne treatments can dry out your skin, and a moisturizer helps to hydrate and soothe the skin. Just make sure to choose a non-comedogenic moisturizer that won’t clog your pores.

What are the 7 steps of skin care?

If you’re looking to build a complete skincare routine, these are the 7 steps you should consider: 1) Cleansing, 2) Toning, 3) Applying a serum, 4) Applying an eye cream, 5) Spot treatment, 6) Moisturizing, 7) Sunscreen (for the morning) or a retinoid (for the night). Of course, you can adjust these steps as needed. It’s all about finding what works best for your skin!

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About our Chief Editor


A passionate beauty specialist and blogger with a deep love for skincare and wellness. More about me here.

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