Beginner's Dilemma: Overwhelmed on the Order of Your Specific Products?

This week I had a post partially written in the theme of The Painful Path to K-Beauty Wisdom: 7 Mistakes Beginners Make, about mistakes that I still seem to be making despite knowing better, when I abruptly realized there's a post I need to write first.  I realized I had something like 20-odd hours worth of replies to catch up on, and many of them were the same questions.  When that happens, it means there's a larger need that deserves its own post.

I feel badly when I don't have time to reply because we're all on this skincare journey together and I care about how things are going for you, but I want you all to know that I do read every comment even if I don't always have the time to reply (and it can take up to 20 min to answer a single comment depending on how complex it is or if I need to research something) and therefore I'm looking at hours devoted to replying to comments every few days.  As it sometimes happens, I found myself replying to the same kind of questions over and over, and I realized it would be better for me to stop what I was doing and write the post that you all needed.  So that's what I'm doing today.

I'll be doing more of these and then linking them together; today's post is for all those who have a giant list of products they have, or have not yet, purchased and are lost on where their own specific products go:

"I'm overwhelmed. How do I put my specific products in order?"

Subset question:
"I've read the posts on Putting your products in order, including pH dependent acids and Multi-Step Korean Skincare Routine for visuals, but I need help applying it to my specific products, here's the list: *cue flood of products that would take me an hour to research on what they are/what they do*  Please help me I am so lost!"

First, breathe; one does not learn how become a master tailor in a single day.  Also, I apologize for not replying to you, but the simple fact is that I don't have the hour to spend researching about your specific products unless they're already things that I know.  If I've only got 10 min to spare for comment replies, I've answered someone else's simple question about where to buy a type of sheetmask and a second person's question about what I didn't like about a product.  It grieves me to leave your question unanswered, but I don't have the time to answer it, and I don't like saying "read the guides" if you've obviously read them and are still confused.

So here's what to do:

1. Write down a list of the products that you have, exactly as you painstakingly typed out for me.

It could be using a cute notebook, a google sheet, a notepad file, whatever you want.  You can have fun with it- you could use a cute notebook, like Tracy from Fanserviced does:

From fanserviced's instagram
It doesn't have to be a physical list, or a spreadsheet like mine; you could even use a list generator that you can drag and drop things around, like, which I've screenshotted here:

Very handy for those who have terrible penmanship, like me.
Just copy and paste your list items right into it; the nice thing about this kind of tool is that you can drag and drop items to rearrange their order.  I'll be using this for my example today, but you can use whatever tickles your fancy.

2. Next to each one, write down what it's for, which you should already know from where you bought it, like this:
  • Sulwhasoo Clarifying Mask - peel off mask
  • Nexcare Hydrocolloid acne stickers - acne stickers
  • Cosrx A-Sol - ?? If you aren't sure, write that down too, then research!
  • Sulwhasoo Overnight Vitalizing Mask - sleeping pack
  • Cremorlab T.E.N Cremor Cleansing Gel Oil - 1st cleanser
  • Goodal Waterest Fine Mist (Lotus) - mist
  • Holysnails Shark Sauce serum - serum
  • Saeng Green Vidanjasoo Skin Gel - gel moisturizer
  • History of Whoo Wild Ginseng Ampoule Oil - facial oil
  • Joseon Beauty cream - cream
Here's an example of  this exact list jotted down in listmoz, ready to be moved around until they are in order:

Screenshot of the above example list put into listmoz
Before we go on, here's a 'tough love' statement that needs to be said: if you don't know enough about the product to identify what step it belongs to, then you shouldn't buy it.  K-Beauty is not about throwing everything at your face, it's about being mindful and deliberate as you select things that will suit your skin.  

You might think that's at odds with my own admittedly yolo-esque moments in the past, but I always know at least something about the product I'm getting and have an idea of where it will fit in my routine.  Buying a bunch of things on impulse is one of the first missteps I talk about in The Painful Path to K-Beauty Wisdom: 7 Mistakes Beginners Make; be mindful and deliberate in what you buy, and you should be able to answer this question with no problem.

3. Put their type/steps in order using the guides, because now you have labelled what type they are and/or what step they are, so they'll match up with the guides.

Here's some of the guides I recommend that you check out, if you have not yet already:
If you've already read those and need something as a quicker visual, check out A Visual Guide to the Korean Skincare Routine by Tracy of Fanserviced.

Here's a quick recap of the basic steps:
  1. Cleansers
  2. Actives
  3. Hydrators
  4. Occlusives
  5. Treatments**
**Treatments are unique in that they can fall anywhere in a routine based off their type, so put them into their correct place if you know what it is, or at the bottom if you don't, and research! ;)

For things that fall into the same category, remember thinnest to thickest, watery to oily.  Then look for redundant products that you don't need, or gaps.

As you can see using the listmoz example I used above, by putting things into order we realize that a 2nd cleanser is missing:

The example list put into order, using the guides
The treatments at the bottom (peel-off mask and acne stickers) can be moved around once you've researched what they're for.  For example, the peel-off mask goes after basic cleansing and I wouldn't recommend peeling off  layer of skin after actives, so skip them if you're planning on using a peeling mask.

The acne stickers need to be able to stick to your skin, but they can be compromised by adding layers on top, so I prefer to wipe down that spot with a q-tip at the very end of my routine and then slap the sticker onto now-bare skin.

So, if we move things around to show the missing 2nd cleanser, move the peel-off mask to just after cleansing, and the acne stickers at the end, it would look like this:

Everything in order at last, although the peel-off mask would be an occasional treatment
So, it's as simple as that.  Here's a quick recap:

1. Write down the products that you have
2. Write down what type of product they are
3. Match up the type of product to the step in the guides

And voila!  You have now organized the order of your products like a boss.

Keep in mind that you may discover once you start using your products that your essence is really a serum and your lotion is really an essence, etc, and you need to readjust the order based off of thinnest-to-thickest, watery-to-oily.  That's all part of the process, and the learning journey.

I'll be doing a few posts in this series, either as they come up and seem needed (as this was) or as I develop or discover new tools and resources to assist with them.  If there's a burning question that you have that hasn't been covered by a guide yet, hit me up on Facebook or Twitter and let me know!

Have something you'd like to share with me?  Snap a pic and tag me at @snowwhiteandtheasianpear on Instagram, because I'd love to see them!

All the best,

**Disclaimer: All products reviewed/mentioned in my blog, are 100% purchased with my own money, with a single exception of a press sample I tested & reviewed in 2015 which swore me off of them forever.  This blog contains  both affiliate and non-affiliate links, and clicking the former before you shop means that this blog may receive a small commission to assist in this blog supporting itself.  Please see my Contact Info & Disclaimer policy for more information.


  1. Hello, thank you for your kindness to explain aeverything i need to know about k-beauty. I recently add aha/bha toner and active in my routine. But after a week i experience something like sore/warmth on my face everytime i put those aha/bha product. Is it because I'm alergic to them or is this some normal purging?
    How can i tell the difference?
    Thank you!!
    *sorry if you already post/answer questions like this
    *my products are cosrx aha/bha toner and cosrx blackhead power liquid

    1. Hi Astrid,

      Unfortunately I can't advise you on the implications of reactions of your skin as I am not a medical professional. I would recommend that you seek out the advice of a dermatologist or someone licensed for medical advice.

      I can tell you that some actives (such as acid exfoliants) do cause a tingling sensation and my Curology prescription (from a dermatologist) contains azelaic acid and tretinoin, both of which can downright burn! But they are also in high concentrations and I don't think either of the products you describe are high concentrations.

      I will say that I tried the AHA/BHA toner from Cosrx and it absolutely did irritate my skin and I hated it.

      Take care!

  2. Hello,
    Thank you for posting this up. Indeed, little by little, we get surrounded by products and sometime i feel lost about the product steps.
    Though i have a question, i have been incorporating actives (Vit C and BHA) in my routine lately; I know that usually they should be right after the cleansing step but once or twice a week, i would use wash off mask.

    Do actives still go before these exfoliation/mask steps or after?

    I usually would cleanse, gently exfoliate, wash off masks, essence/serum, moisturizer but not sure where to include the active on days like this.

    Thank you :)

    1. I would do the wash-off mask in lieu of actives, especially if you are doing it only a few times a week, if you are concerned about a potential conflict between your actives and your wash off mask. :)

    2. Oooh Thank you very much :D

      I wish you a Happy new year with tons of hangbang and beauty :)

  3. Thank you so much for this. I THINK I understand the basic steps, but I have a question...

    so, if one is to put products on in watery to oily formula, where is something rather... creamy going? My regular moisturizer is very thick and creamy, then I generally use a facial oil (Sunday Riley's Luna Oil) afterwards... and I'm thinking about adding in Tony Moly's Aloe Sheet mask, whose ingredients are gel-like from what I understand, so I'm assuming that counts as watery?

    So I am assuming that I'd put on the sheet mask, let it absorb, then use the moisturizer and then the oil? Is that right?

    1. Facial oils are either emollient or occlusive, so they're definitely very late in the lineup. :) I like to add a few drops to my heavy creams if I feel like they need an extra boost!

  4. Oh, and I think the moisturizer is also an active? It has retinol in it for anti-aging, but it's also very moisturizing.

    1. If you are using retinol, the best thing to do is to ask your dermatologist what order it should be placed. :)

  5. Hello :) thanks for your very helpful post! However, I'm still confused as to where I should include my tea tree oil? I believe it counts as an active/treatment (for acne), so it should be used after cleansing, but oil is an occlusive as well and won't it block the skin from absorbing the moisturizer that I put on after?

    1. Hi,

      Unfortunately as I am not a medical professional, I can't comment on acne treatment. I would seek the advice of your doctor, or failing that if you do not have one, the usage directions on the packaging.

      Take care,

  6. This post is so helpful! Thank you so much <3

  7. Hello,

    Here is a question from a newbie;
    i have bought Cosrx AHA/BHA toner, and planning to use it for ph lowering -this thing is being used for that right?-. So, is that mean i don't need Etude House Wonder Pore Toner? Would that be too much?
    Thank you in advance
    and i must say that i really like your blog, it's really helpful and explanations are nice and convincing.

  8. Cat,
    This statement:
    "**Treatments are unique in that they can fall anywhere in a routine based off their type, so put them into their correct place if you know what it is, or at the bottom if you don't, and research! ;)"

    was just what I was looking for.
    Might I also suggest a post simply listing all the routines, steps, putting in order, etc... I found your site very user friendly but was unable to keep up with all the tabs I had open, as I clicked link after link within each post. Would be great to have a master post to refer back to listing all sub posts. hope that makes sense. Loving your site BTW.

  9. OOPs one more question. I recently read a series post on @ Lab Muffin about physical and chemical exfoliators, would physical exfoliators, like scrubs, peeling gels, etc. fall under cleansers or treatments?
    Ok one more ;P
    And do things like clay masks fall under treatment, and if so where in the lineup would they fall.

  10. Hi! I love reading your articles about skincare. I'm slowly building my skincare products and have recently bought Missha FTE. So far I have oil and water cleansers, a low ph cleanser, a hydrating toner (recently discovered there are two kinds!!!), a serum, and creams. I don't use actives so I was wondering if I still need to use a toner. Since you have mentioned that using an FTE along with a hydrating toner is redundant, I was thinking of not using toners at all. Or do I still need one (a cleansing type or one that brings back ph level)??? THANK YOU! <3

  11. Hello! Thank you for your explanations about the pH of the products. Unfortunately I am still a bit lost. If I go watery to oily, I would be using my Super Aqua Skin Smooth Peeling Toner (with BHA, AHA and PHA) 1st, then my First Treatment Essence and Klairs Vitamin C Serum. But if I follow the pH order then I guess it would be the other way round? Or should it be the toner 1st, because it's still a toner, then Vit C and then, after 20-30 minutes,the Essence?
    Please help me! :)

    1. Hi there!

      So, first off, you'll want to make sure that any product containing an "active" ingredient is 1. the right concentration, 2. the right pH, and 3. stored properly to preserve its active ability.

      So, is your toner with BHA, AHA, and PHA in a pH range of 3-4.2? If not, ignore it as an active and just use it as a toner.

      The Klairs Vitamin C serum, from my understanding, is just a serum. It does not contain enough L-AA, is not low enough pH, and it comes in a clear glass bottle. L-AA is very unstable and oxidizes when exposed to heat, air, or ... light. So a clear glass bottle is a no-go, I'm afraid. :(

      That doesn't mean you won't get other benefits, like hydration and perhaps anti-inflammation, but if you're not confident that your actives are properly formulated and stored to preserve their ability, just treat them like regular products. :)

      I hope that helps!