Apply the right products at the right time and in the correct order for better skin - here's Cosmetic Dermatologist Dr Sam Bunting's ultimate guide to smart, targeted skincare

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When it comes to results-driven skincare and correct product selection, there’s a fine line between productivity and product overload. However, with more lotions, potions, actives and innovative formulations to choose from than ever before, the line between the two seems to be getting increasingly blurred. So what’s the secret for ensuring that our skin stays looking its best?

“I build bespoke skincare routines for all my patients and the art of layering is key to the success of this. I start by deciding which active ingredients I want to combine,” says cosmetic dermatologist and  Get The Gloss Expert   Dr Sam Bunting .

Here are the six basic principles to abide by and adapt when it comes to smart selection of products that’ll end up saving you a whole lot of money and energy in the long-term too.

1. Lather isn’t always better

“Let your leave-on products do the talking,” says Dr Bunting. “They will have far more impact than wash-off products like cleanser, so I recommend using a gentle non-foaming cleanser to prep skin.”

2. Wash and go!

“Apply your active products straight after cleansing to get maximum bang for your buck,” advises Dr Bunting. “This ensures maximum penetration of those key ingredients. I don’t get too caught up in the format – serum, gel, cream – that’s not as important as what is in the product. So choose wisely, based on whatever issues trouble you.”

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3. Devise a skincare schedule

“Take your time,” says Dr Bunting. “I advise patients to plan their routine (especially in the morning), to allow layers to absorb into skin. Rushing it can mean rubbing off one product when you apply the next – you lose some of the benefit and it can make a mess when you try to apply makeup as it won’t adhere well to skin.

“Taking your time means you build up a nice smooth base which ultimately leads to easy makeup application. Once your morning treatment product has absorbed (make a cup of tea at this point!), apply moisturiser where needed. Once absorbed (enough time to get dressed), then apply sunscreen if it’s in the morning. Once this has dried completely (check emails), apply makeup.”

4. Choose active actives

For actives that deliver some effective anti-ageing moxy to skincare regimes, the pairing of vitamin C and retinoids makes for a powerful partnership. “One of my favourite anti-ageing combinations is to use retinoids at night to stimulate renewal and repair, and vitamin C in the morning to protect skin against the environment, so this timing is logical.

“I think this duo plus sunscreen is a fantastic combination for most people to try if they’re interested in getting the most out of their skincare from an anti-ageing perspective.”

Rather than sourcing from the high street, Dr Bunting recommends products that comprise of better quality vitamin C than their cheaper counterparts. “ Obagi Professional-C Vitamin C 15% Serum , £73.81. is highly effective, rapidly absorbed and easily layered in combination with other actives like alpha hydroxyl acids,” says Dr Bunting. Due to the brand’s professional grade products, they are only available through physicians, medical spas and other skincare professionals. Another Dr Bunting-approved option that is more widely available though is  Skinceuticals Phloretin CF Gel , £150.

Regarding  retinoids  that Dr Bunting recommends in her clinic, prescription-strength products delivered under her expert eye often provide the best results. “On prescription, Retin-A is the most substantiated anti-ageing product we have in the toolbox, and is great for adult acne sufferers too,” she says. “Over-the-counter, I like the  Avene  retinaldehyde-based products, as they are well-formulated and come in a great range of textures.”

5. Take the guesswork out

If you're looking to address a more specific skin concern, seeking the help of an expert could prove the most cost-effective of starting points to avoid wasting both money and time. “Combine active ingredients carefully. There is an art to this, and it’s why it’s often a good idea to see a dermatologist for guidance if you’re trying to address a particular problem,” says Dr Bunting. “If the wrong actives are used together, they run the risk of causing an irritant reaction. Or they may end up inactivating each other , rendering them useless.”

MORE GLOSS: Are your beauty products cancelling each other out?

6. Know what each of your products is actually doing

Falling into a rut and cruising on autopilot every morning and evening when it comes to our skincare regimes is a situation we know only too well - tiredness can make the temptation to just slather on the nearest pot of salve the much more convenient option. That being said, really paying attention to what we’re putting on our faces and treating each component as a vital piece in the puzzle to skin perfection could prove pivotal. When it comes to the most commonplace additional layers, here’s what each product should be providing on a general scale:


Gentle over abrasive is the overriding factor here, with Dr Bunting recommending the non-foaming kind as her formulation of choice as mentioned earlier.

Try: Avene's Extremely Gentle Cleanser , £10.50 is popular among our team for it's soothing, barrier-supporting formula.

Day and night moisturisers

“Moisturiser seals in water to the skin’s outermost layer, the stratum corneum, ensuring it’s a smooth, effective barrier and that the skin’s natural exfoliation processes work efficiently,” explains Dr Bunting. “In practice, this means skin looks bright, dewy and luminous.”

Try: Obagi Hydrate , from £40.92, is simply awesome – it has oomph, without being greasy and doesn’t trigger spots,” says Dr Bunting. “ La Roche-Posay Toleriane Riche Soothing Protective Cream , £16, is a good alternative – a great texture, non-irritating and non-comedogenic.”


“I think serums are one format for delivering a high concentration of targeted actives. They are also convenient for layering as they tend to absorb rapidly,” says Dr Bunting. She adds, “My preferred serums tend to be Vitamin C-based -  Skinceuticals  and  Medik8  are good alternatives to Obagi.”

Face masks

“I think of masks as a treat – a pleasant optional extra for combating tired, parched skin, e.g. after a flight or when you’re a bit sleep deprived,” says Dr Bunting. “Their most useful attribute is to deliver pumped-up hydration.”

Try:La Roche-Posay Hydraphase Intense Mask , £16 – a lush-textured hydrating mask that is like a big glass of water for dry skin,” recommends Dr Bunting.


“A daily skincare essential to combat the ageing effects of UV radiation, it’s the first anti-ageing product anyone should start with,” says Dr Bunting. “It’s also an integral part of any skincare routine that harnesses the valuable properties of retinoids.”

Try:Neostrata Sheer Physical Protection SPF50 , £34,” says Dr Bunting. “A fabulous all-physical tinted sunscreen that works brilliantly for fair skin tones and is remarkably mattifying – a bestseller at my clinic.”

For more advice from Dr Bunting, tune into  her YouTube channel, “Dr Sam in the City.”

Follow us  @getthegloss , Dr Bunting  @drsambunting  and Ayesha  @Ayesha_Muttu .