Should You Apply Your Skincare to Damp Skin?

What if I told you that there’s one skincare tip out there that doesn’t require any extra products but can totally transform your skin? What we’re talking about is applying skincare to damp skin - this beauty tip has been doing the rounds all over social media. While for some, it’s an absolute godsend, applying skincare products to damp skin is something that won’t work for everyone. Here’s the science behind this and if you should start doing it too.

Does Applying Skincare to Damp Skin Make it Work Better?

The short answer is that it depends on the product! The reason that some dermatologists and other skin professionals suggest applying skincare to damp skin is that it may help boost absorption of skincare ingredients - especially of humectants, that category of ingredients that specifically attract water to themselves and your skin when applied. 

So in practice, this means that products that help boost your skin’s hydration and moisture - such as essences, toners, facial sprays, serums, sheet masks, and moisturisers - are all ideal for applying to damp skin. By applying skincare to damp skin, you can prevent a lot of transepidermal water loss (aka TEWL) in its tracks. 

TEWL often leads to skin dehydration, which is linked to irritation and a weak moisture barrier - for skin that needs a little extra help maintaining hydration levels, applying the right skincare products to damp skin can totally transform your beauty routine, taking your skin from dry and dull to glowing and radiant.

Lancôme Rose Milk Mist product image on white backgroundLancôme Rose Milk Mist
This hydrating mist from Lancôme is perfect for spritzing over damp skin to boost hydration.

Can I Apply Serum on Damp Skin?

Ultimately, this depends on the serum. If your serum doesn’t contain active ingredients such as Vitamin C or Retinol, then you can definitely apply your serum to damp skin. Remember, your skin doesn’t necessarily need to be super wet for this tip to work - it just needs your skin to not be bone dry!

Should I Apply Hyaluronic Acid to Damp Skin?

Hyaluronic acid is, in theory, one of the skincare ingredients that benefit the most from applying to damp skin. However, there’s no reason to think that your Hyaluronic Acid skincare products aren’t working if you’re not applying them to damp skin - cosmetic chemists argue that damp skin isn’t necessary, as most Hyaluronic Acid containing formulas already have enough water for the molecule to attract into your skin, boosting hydration. 

La prairie platinum cellular life lotion product image on white backgroundLa Prairie Platinum Rare Cellular Life Lotion 
Packed with humectants like Hyaluronic Acid, this hydrating essence from La Prairie sinks quickly into damp skin, lending an essential hydration boost.

Skincare That You Shouldn’t Apply to Damp Skin

However, not all skincare products play well with being applied to damp skin. Why? Well, that’s because the excess water on your skin affects these skincare products too - but not in a good way.

Sunscreen
When applying your sunscreen (or moisturiser with sunscreen) you don’t want too much excess water on your skin. This is because sunscreen protects your skin by creating a protective film over the top of your skin, rather than the ingredients absorbing into your skin. When you apply your sunscreen over skin that’s too wet, you mess with the formula’s ability to form a film and properly protect your skin from the sun!

Prescription Skin Treatments
This includes prescribed creams that contain tretinoin, azelaic acid, hydrocortisone, and hydroquinone. These prescription creams are already at higher strengths and concentrations compared to over the counter skin care products, and applying them to damp skin can actually cause irritation to your skin! 

Since they’re prescribed products, we suggest always following the instructions on the insert or your doctor’s orders.

Exfoliating Acids
Did you know that chemical exfoliants need a certain pH to work properly and exfoliate your skin? If we can think back to high school chemistry class again, acids require a lower pH to remain acidic, while water has a neutral pH of seven.

If you apply your skincare products with exfoliating acids over damp skin, all you’ll do is neutralise and weaken the exfoliating benefits of your chemical exfoliator. Ideally, we want to be giving all of our skincare the best chance to work properly - so to get all of the benefits of facial acids on your skin, apply them to dry skin! We promise, your skin will thank you. 

Retinol
Remember how we said that some ingredients can be too irritating when applied to damp skin? Your retinol serum is one of them - while applying retinol to damp skin can sound like a good idea at first, unfortunately, you might just put your skin on the fast track to irritation. 

When it comes to reducing irritation caused by retinol, applying it to dry skin is the way to go - this way, you’ll make sure that your skin gets all the benefits of retinol without the irritation. 

Elizabeth arden retinol ceramide capsules product image on white backgroundElizabeth Arden Retinol Ceramide Capsules
These anti-aging serum capsules should be applied to dry skin to maximise the effects of potent retinol.

Vitamin C Serums
You might think that this one is oddly specific, but like exfoliating acids, a serum that features Vitamin C - especially in L-Ascorbic Acid form - also requires just the right pH to work properly. Applying VItamin C serums to damp skin doesn’t enhance their effects; instead, you’ll neutralise the slightly acidic formula, making your Vitamin C serum weaker and potentially sabotaging yourself from ever seeing the results of Vitamin C: radiant, glowy skin. 

Do I Have to Apply Moisturiser to Damp Skin?

When it comes to applying any skincare to damp skin, don’t feel like you have to if you don’t want to. The bottom line is, this is just a simple tip that some people might find particularly helpful - especially if their skin type is dry, or their skin is prone to dehydration!

If you’re still trying to create a skincare routine, try our skincare quiz!

Beauty Affairs Skin Quiz

Products Mentioned:

  • Lancôme Rose Milk Mist
  • La Prairie Platinum Rare Cellular Life Lotion 
  • Elizabeth Arden Retinol Ceramide Capsules
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