Should Your Skincare Routine Be On Wet Or Dry Skin?

Skincare routines mean different things to different people. For some, it is a way to relax and destress after a long day. For others, it's a practice to achieve their healthiest skin (via Ceano Cosmetics). Whatever the reason, no one wants to find out they've been wasting time, energy, and money spent on their skincare by applying their skincare the wrong way or on the wrong type of skin. This is why many prefer reading reviews on and shopping for products that are best suited to your skin type to ensure you're getting the most out of your product. 


But getting the results you want might not be about the kind of skin you're applying it to. A huge and often overlooked factor in your skincare is knowing whether to apply your products on wet or dry skin. Luckily, if you have ever wondered whether you should apply your skincare straight out of the shower or a few minutes before you step out of the house, we've got you covered.

Dry skin or damp skin?

You guessed it: your skincare routine can be done on both wet and dry skin. Rather, the question should be what products are best applied on wet skin or on dry skin. Wet skin here does not mean dripping wet; instead, the more correct term is damp skin: skin that is freshly cleansed and has a few beads of moisture left on it. As board-certified dermatologist Dr. Michelle Farber explained to, damp skin is right for certain skincare products as the skin is more permeable and hydrated, so it can penetrate deeper into the skin's epidermis and dermis. 


For damp skin, Healthline recommends gently patting your face with a clean washcloth or towel so your face is slightly wet but not dripping. Other ways to keep your skin damp throughout your routine are applying essences, mists, and toners that offer hydration or even good old water from your faucet (via The Go-To Guide). While certain products work best and penetrate deeper on damp skin, some are the opposite. Dry skin is great for products that can be drying or irritating as penetration into the skin is much slower.

Products for wet or damp skin

Products you should apply on slightly wet or damp skin include your moisturizers, hydrating serums, water-based cleansers, and hydrating face masks. Your skin is hydrated when damp and moisturizing formulas penetrate the skin to add more moisture or seal it in. Some moisturizers contain occlusives such as petroleum jelly and shea butter, which seal in moisture to prevent trans epidermal water loss (TEWL). Thus, if the skin is not hydrated before applying these occlusive-containing moisturizers, you end up sealing no moisture at all and your skin dries out quicker. This is why moisturizers are best applied on damp skin (via Good Glow).


Serums and essences that help with improving skin texture and contain humectants such as hyaluronic acid are also great on damp skin. Humectants attract more water molecules into the skin, keeping your skin hydrated and plump all day long. Note that you're better off applying serums that contain active ingredients like vitamin C and retinol on dry skin if you want to reduce potential skin irritation (via Beauty Affairs).

Products for dry skin

Damp skin is 10 times more permeable than dry skin (via Vedix). And while this is great if you're looking to deeply hydrate your skin, active ingredients may cause irritation in this case. This is why applying skincare with active ingredients on dry skin helps slow penetration down and reduces likely irritation. It is best to apply medicated creams, prescription treatments such as hydroquinone and hydrocortisone, products that contain irritating ingredients like retinoids and vitamin C, and exfoliating acids on clean, dry skin (via Byroe). 


Furthermore, Beauty affairs explains that applying sunscreen on damp skin affects its ability to form a film that protects you from UV rays, which is especially true for physical sunscreens. In the case of chemical sunscreens, damp skin can affect its absorption into the skin and in turn, reduce its ability to absorb UV rays. Due to water's pH, applying vitamin C serums and exfoliating acids like salicylic acid and glycolic acid on damp skin can neutralize the formula and reduce effectiveness. And there's nothing we hate more than wasted, ineffective skincare. 

Be cautious when applying products onto the skin in its most permeable state: damp. Moisturizers, hydrating serums, essences, and face masks are great for daily use on damp skin, while retinoids, prescription topicals, and sunscreen are best on dry skin. After carrying out a patch test, be sure to slowly introduce new products into your routine when applying on damp skin, and always watch out for irritation.