Back in my twenties, my skincare regimen consisted of a quick scrub with a disposable makeup remover wipe. I made sure to take my makeup off even after a heavy night, and to be honest, I thought that was pretty good. Many of my friends would go to sleep with a full face on, so I considered myself rather saintly in the facial department.

As I got older, I added more and more “things” to my routine: a moisturizer (which turned into separate day creams and night creams), a serum, eye cream, cleanser, toner—the list goes on.

Up until recently, I considered myself to be a very conscientious person when it came to skincare. That was until I went for a facial at my local spa. I went in expecting to be applauded for my fabulous skin. I wasn’t. As my dermatologist chuckled at my bemused gasp, she explained that “you can throw all the right ingredients into a cake, but if you don’t get them in the right order, all you have is a mess.” Turns out my face was a mess.

Nobody had ever taught me the “proper” way to use all the wonderful potions and lotions I had spent a small fortune on; all these years, I may as well have been pouring them down the sink. So, if you’re anything like me, read on and find out how to make every last drop of serum, every last swipe of a glycolic acid wipe, and every last squeeze of night cream count.

Step 1: Double cleanse. That’s right—DOUBLE CLEANSE. (This was my first mistake—I only cleansed once.) To really clean your face, you first need to use an oil-based or non-lathering cleanser to remove makeup and any oil build up. (And you don’t even need to look far—Ava Jane’s Avocado Oil and a cotton pad will do the trick!) Then, you can move onto the more traditional lathering to go deeper into those pores and give them a good clearing out.

Step 2: Toner or exfoliator. A great exfoliator gets rid of dead skin cells; some people believe in gently exfoliating every day. I find that my skin gets a little sore if I do that, but I aim for 3-4 times per week. On days I’m not exfoliating, I love to use a good toner, especially when my face feels like it’s been caked in makeup or suntan lotion. Plus, toner helps to give the appearance of smaller pores (enlarged pores are a personal problem I’ve battled forever!)

Step 3: Treatments. Now that your skin is squeaky clean, you have the perfect canvas to apply your serums and treatments. These are your most active products—things like acne treatments, retinoids, treatment serums—and need to have the most direct contact with your skin to have the best results.

Step 4: Eye cream. Remember, the skin around your eyes is very thin and very delicate, so make sure that you gently pat any eye cream on before applying any heavier cream you may use for your face.

Step 5: Moisturizer or facial oil … or both. Depending on your skin type, you may simply choose one or the other. I like to use a light moisturizer in the morning and a facial oil at night; if your skin is really dry, you can actually use both. If you do, go with moisturizer first and then face oil on top for the ultimate in moisturizing care.

Step 6: SPF. The most important step, in my opinion, and something you should wear every day—even when it doesn’t look sunny outside. You can use a traditional sunscreen, but I’ve seen some amazing cosmetic products out there that are SPF 30 and above.

And there you go. Happy skin, happy wallet (I ended up throwing a LOT of pots away after I learned this), and a happier me knowing that I truly am protecting my skin for the future.