Skincare Discovery: Layering Multiple Products Part 1

This week in lieu of a review, I had planned to discuss a technique for applying moisturizer which had been completely alien to me called a "moisture bomb" or "skin bomb" or even "water bomb", although the latter is also used to describe specific products that are meant to accomplish the same effect.

*pat pat* Woooaaah moisture ~explosion~
However, I'll be posting about moisture bombs another day, because in order to understand why they are great, you first have to be familiar with how different the Asian skincare philosophy is from what we are used to, and it's made me a total convert because it's working better for me than anything else I've ever tried.

Part 1 contents (you are here!):
  • It's not always about the products you have, sometimes it's the way you use them
  • Buy skincare, not makeup
  • Application: pat, tap, or press to apply instead of rubbing
  • Layer several different products, instead of an all-in-one product
  • Layer 'fat over lean', like a oil painter

Part 2 contents (link):
  • Sometimes more is more, when it comes to the number of products
  • You can and should build your own custom lineup
  • Examples of Brand lineups
  • Example of a custom lineup

Onward to discussing products designed for layering so you avoid the pitfalls of over-moisturizing!

It's not always about the products you have, sometimes it's the way you use them.

I know this blog is focused on Asian products, but skincare is so much more than just the products that you use.  You can still use the approach and application methods popular in Asian countries, and just combine them with western products ... although it's a little more tricky to find a western equivalent product for a step that is considered unnecessary.

Korea in particular is on the forefront of the current wave of beauty trends reaching us here, so we'll focus on the conventions there, and a quick google search will tell you that Korea's skin care technology is a decade or more ahead of what we use here in the west!  

It's not just the products though, it's their overall outlook, and their application methods that make the difference, and that's what I'll be talking about today.

Buy skincare, not makeup

A constant theme I read and hear while I research products and beauty tips is spending your money on skincare and have skin worth showing off, instead of makeup so you can cover up troubled skin.  

Personally, I think this is a little oversimplifying things considering that some people have medical causes for their acne, and that more expensive skin care doesn't always mean better.  However, you need to keep in mind that the prices we see are imported and may be 2x or 3x cheaper in Korea.  There is even a trend of people going there just to shop for beauty products so you need to account for high-quality skincare being a lot more affordable for your average Korean.

It might be a chicken-or-the-egg scenario, but Korean makeup heavily emphasizes the skin over eyes, cheeks, or lips, which are kept very minimal by our standards.  Compare that to western makeup with (no less beautiful, just different) emphasis on strong eye makeup, bold lip colours, or heavily contoured/bronzed/blushed cheeks. By putting emphasis on a specific feature, for example eyes, we are able to draw attention away from the condition of our skin.  Hence, mattifying products are very popular in the west, whereas the proliferation of reflective particles/glow/shimmer/dewy finish products in Korean makeup terrifies me a little.  

However, if they spend so much on skincare and eschew strong makeup in favour of playing up their complexion, all the more power to them and their devotion to caring for their skin.

Just like eye cream, pat, tap, or press to apply instead of rubbing.

Asian skincare is all about layering different moisturizers in certain areas of the face, using massaging or tapping/patting/pressing movements instead of 'rubbing' it on like we do.  We already use this for eye cream, so it's not a stretch to use it all over.  The product is applied in small amounts on the palm and warmed into a thin layer on the hands, instead of dotted on the face, and is either pressed or lightly tapped/patted onto the face.


Tapping is the same, but instead of pressing against the skin with your whole hand, you lightly tap your face with your fingers until the product is absorbed, eye cream application style.

Lastly is massaging, which in my opinion is totally underrated by us westerners.  Since I started using the Holika Holika Pore Cleansing Oil (reviewed), I noticed if I massaged my face briefly every day regardless of what product I used, my pores would continue to unclog without having to resort to marathon 2+ hour massage sessions with the oil.  Now as part of my daily routine, I do the brief massage with either a non-foaming cleanser, a hydrating toner, or a thin moisturizer like the ElishaCoy Moist Up Cream (reviewed), and it's especially effective after I've used my Clarisonic.

I was going nuts trying to find decent application illustrations for you guys, but then found this video from PBunnieP:

Or skip to where you can see her using massaging, tapping, and pressing

You can see how little of the product is used, and how quickly it sinks into the skin. This helps to avoid using too much of any one product, and allows you to move on to the next layer.  

Layer several different products, instead of an all-in-one product.

In addition to using massage, pressing, and tapping/patting application, there are a dizzying array of products to be layered at different times, with anywhere from ten to eighteen different products in your average Korean woman's daily routine.  Most western women have what, 3 or 4?  Cleanser, toner, moisturizer, maybe sunscreen if it's not already in our makeup.

It completely went against everything I knew or had researched in my lifelong quest to improve my terrible skin.  In the west, we are told that having multiple moisturizers or multiple steps in your skin care is useless, because the skin can only absorb so much moisture at one time, and that skin care lines that have multiple moisturizing products are a waste of money.  

Fair enough, it seemed logical that your skin had an absorption limit and that piling on layer after layer of moisturizer just left a goopy layer of product on your skin. (This is garbage, as I discovered, but we'll get to that)  Worse, over-moisturizing could lead to clogged pores and breakouts, dermatologists and estheticians warned, and that was enough to scare me off!

That matched my experience with moisturizers causing breakouts, and when I moved to the desert and was forced to use them, I found not only did they clog pores and cause acne, they were too heavy for my oily areas and too light for my dry areas.

After starting my adventures in Asian skincare, I realized that there will never be a moisturizer that can be intensely hydrating enough for my dry cheeks without making my forehead greasy, and no moisturizer will give me lasting moisture retention without being too rich and irritating or clogging my skin.  Rather than putting on thick or multiple layers of the same product, I needed to apply different moisturizers in different areas of my face, and put heavier moisturizers just where I needed them.

Layering moisturizers is meant to keep the existing moisture in/on your skin from evaporating, which is why you will see moisture tutorials such as this one which warn against drying off your face after you wash it.

In fact, there are products designed to be used within "3 seconds" (such as Holika Holika's "3 Second Starters" found herehere, and here) of washing your face, to ensure you do not lose the water that is sitting on your skin after rinsing your cleanser.

Layer 'fat over lean', like a oil painter.

I noticed when you layer, it's a lot like the technique you use for oil painting of putting 'fat over lean'; meaning you start with thinner layers of pigment suspended in turpentine or other thinners, and as you build the layer of colours, you increase the amount of linseed oil or oil-based medium in the later layers.  If you start with a 'fat' layer, the 'lean' medium can't penetrate through to the canvas or adhere to the lower layers, resulting in peeling layers, damaged paintings, and dullness.

Same with the moisturizers-- you put the thinner/watery/more easily absorbed moisturizers on first to ensure they sink easily into the skin and build hydration, then you put thicker/richer/cream-type moisturizers on top, and only in the areas you need them.  This keeps my cheeks wonderfully moisturized and keeps my forehead from becoming greasy.

However, in order to pull this off, you need a range of products to layer in order to achieve the 'fat over lean', and that's just not how we operate in the west ... unless we are at a spa, where it's perfectly normal! That makes me wonder if the "experts" aren't being a little too disingenuous with their claims that layering moisturizers is useless-- if you are using the wrong products, of course building up multiple layers exactly the same product does nothing creating a thick layer of goo on your face.

So, although you don't have to use Asian products to layer, you need the right consistency to avoid over-moisturizing.  So let's find out what's in that 10-20 daily product lineup.

Click here for Part 2 for products designed specifically for layering!

**Since this week was a megapost in two parts, I'll be skipping next week, but I'll be back the following week, I promise!


  1. This double post on layering is AWESOME, thanks so much for writing it! Have you tried those Holika Holika 3'' products? They caught my eye but I can't seem to find any review

    1. Glad it was helpful! Yes, I have one of the Holika Holika 3 Second Starters (I believe mine is the collagen one) but to be honest, I am not impressed with it. It did nothing to improve my overall moisture retention, and I am suspicious that it was what was causing the rash of breakouts I got after using it. It could have been something else, like stress, poor sleep, or something I ate, but I haven't tested it further as it didn't do anything for me anyway!

      Quite honestly, you can get the same effect by being prompt with applying your first layer of skincare before your skin dries post-rinse of your cleanser.

    2. oh no! well that's all I needed to know about them, then, thanks again!!

  2. this is such a helpful post!! I'm half korean and completely into skincare :) very informative :) | UK beauty blog


  3. Wow this post was really comprehensive! I'm a new reader! :D

  4. When I was in college, I was like a fool guessing what comes first and what’s next when applying makeup. Hahahah!
    ~Pauline @Nars Philippines