While being spontaneous can be a good idea, a nightly skincare routine takes a little bit of planning. After all, it can be tempting just to hit the hay without taking your makeup off and washing your face. While playing the lazy card is okay every once in a while, for the long-term health of your skin, it’s vital that a night time skincare routine becomes a regular part of your daily life.
For some, it’s not a matter of commitment, it’s more about being overwhelmed with the exact night skincare routine steps. But here’s the thing: Just because a night face routine is vital for healthy skin doesn’t mean it has to be complicated. We’re constantly receiving new information about trends and products that it can make it difficult to stick to the main goal, which is a night time face routine that works regardless of age or skin type.
To help you out, here’s an easy yet effective night skin routine so it’s a little bit easier to wake up with a glowing, more youthful-looking complexion.
Skincare Routine Order Morning and Night — What’s the Difference?
Your skin is in defense mode throughout the day, safeguarding itself from harmful UV rays, the weather, bacterial growth, and pollution. A day cream, antioxidant serum, and SPF are three key components of a solid daytime skincare routine.
However, when you’re sleeping, the skin is in a reparative mode, working hard to regenerate and rebuild the damage precipitated by daily activities and habits. Studies show that the repair of skin cells with DNA damage from the sun appears to peaks at night. Furthermore, when you have a clean, makeup-free face, your nighttime products can work more efficiently.
Night Skincare Routine Order
One easy way to remember the skincare order at night is to consider the texture of your products. You want to apply them from the lightest to heaviest. Serums are lightweight, so if you use them after a rich cream, the cream will essentially create a barrier and block the serum from reaching your skin. Many moisturizers also contain water, which can dilute a product that is layered on top of it.
The only time this rule goes out the window is with a face oil. When to apply an oil is a somewhat debatable topic, but it all comes down to your skin type. Many oils replace moisturizers, so then it would be the last product applied before your sunscreen.
OIlier skin types would likely choose between a moisturizer or a face oil. Both products can be used for those with dry and combination skin types, but a thick cream is not necessarily the final product you’d put on.
With that said, here’s what “lightest to heaviest” really means.
- Water-based products should be the closest to the skin — so, they would be applied first. Oil-dominant products should be used on top to seal everything else in.
- So, if a serum is oil-based, it would be applied last, not immediately after cleansing, like a traditional water-based serum.
Night Skincare Routine Steps: The Basics
Your nightly skincare routine doesn’t have to be complicated, but it needs to be targeted in order to be effective.
- There are four basic types of healthy skin: normal, dry, oily, and combination skin. Understanding your skin type is an integral part of any beauty routine. Not only does this intel help you choose the right products (including a moisturizer) to address your specific needs, but it’s also a snapshot of how your skin will age.
- It’s also vital that you don’t become complacent with your routine. What worked in your 20s won’t cut it as you become older, so make necessary adjustments when you start to feel as if a specific product isn’t working anymore — or is making your skin worse.
- You may also find that you need to tweak your regimen with the change of seasons. For example, a lighter moisturizer in the summer and a heavier one in the winter.
Here’s a simple night skincare routine that can be adjusted based on skin type, condition, age, and climate.
Step 1: Remove Makeup
One of the worst things you can do to your skin is to sleep with your makeup. Typically, a cleanser isn’t enough to remove all of the product, so that’s where a gentle makeup remover or oil cleanser comes into play.
- Bioderma Sensibio H2O Micellar Water, $14.99
Perhaps the most popular Bioderma product is the Sensibio H2O Micellar Water. This best-selling cleansing water (and French girl beauty secret) gently sweeps away impurities, fine particles, and pollution while effortlessly removing makeup from the face and eyes.
Formulated with a physiological pH of around 5.5 and highly purified and pharmaceutical-grade water, Sensibio H2O respects the skin’s biological balance, which is essential to maintain healthy-looking skin.
- DHC Deep Cleansing Oil, $28
Fun fact: Every 10 seconds, a bottle of this popular Japanese cleansing oil sells worldwide. This first step oil cleanser melts away makeup and dissolved impurities based on the scientific premise that “like attracts like.”
When you apply the DHC Deep Cleansing Oil to your dry face with dry hands, the olive oil binds with lipid-soluble impurities, such as sebum, makeup, sunscreen, and dirt. As the formula is water-soluble, it rinses away with zero oily residue.
Step 2: Cleanse
Whether or not you wear makeup, cleansing is a critical nighttime skincare step. You must cleanse your face to remove any traces of makeup or sunscreen, as well as oil, sweat, and dirt, to adequately prep your skin for additional treatments and products. Also, make sure you’re cleansing effectively. Studies revealed that up to 80 percent of Americans wash their faces incorrectly, many of whom use bath wash, hand soap, or only water. No matter your skin type, opt for a gentle cleanser that won’t strip your skin of its natural oils, disrupting your skin’s microbiome.
- Carrot & Stick The Face Wash, $30
Gentle yet potent botanicals create a wonderfully emollient cleanser that helps promote balance and never strips the skin. Expeller-pressed rosehip seed oil rejuvenates with essential fatty acids, geranium flower soothes, and red seaweed helps protect the skin.
- Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser, $14
Cetaphil claims this cleanser is “gentle enough for a baby’s skin.” This formulation works for all skin types, including sensitive ones, thanks to a soap-free composition that won’t strip skin’s natural oils or overdry.
This creamy formula is clinically proven to provide continuous hydration to protect against dryness. It’s formulated with Micellar Technology that gently yet effectively removes dirt, makeup and impurities, as well as a dermatologist-backed blend of niacinamide (vitamin B3), panthenol (vitamin B5) and hydrating glycerin to improve the skin’s resilience.
Step 3: Balance
Toner is a somewhat controversial skincare step. People either can’t do without it or think it’s completely useless. For what it’s worth, it’s not a waste of your time or money. Many people skip a toner because they think of them as being harsh and stinging.
Today’s toners are formulated to address specific skin concerns, such as excess oil or dryness. Toners help restore the skin’s pH balance while prepping it for the rest of your products before your nighttime routine. In the morning, a toner (or essence) can replace your cleanser as long as you wash your skin the night before.
- Jurlique Activating Water Essence, $67
Suitable for all skin types, this essence should be applied to the skin after cleansing to rejuvenate and provide long-lasting continuous hydration. Several ingredients in this essence attract and hold water, such as glycerin, and saccharide isomerate, to increase the skin’s hydration and promote a smoother, softer, and healthy-looking complexion.
- Pangea Organics Facial Toner, $24
This brightening and anti-aging toner hydrates, balances, and decongests. It’s available in three different formulations based on skin type and can be used throughout the day to refresh your skin — even over makeup.
Step 4: Treat
The treatment step is crucial because it targets specific skin concerns on a deeper level. One of the leading products that fall into this category is a serum, the heavy lifter in your skincare routine because it’s more concentrated due to its small molecular composition.
There are copious formulas to choose from, no matter what your skin type or concern. Should you decide to use multiple serums, apply the thinnest formula first.
Acne treatments fall under this category, too.
- Formulyst Active Serum Vitamin B, C, E, Ferulic + Niacinamide, $80
Formulyst’s Active Serum contains the highest concentration of pure vitamins C (a powerful 20%), B, and E, ferulic acid (an antioxidant that works to boost the effects of other antioxidants), and niacinamide — one of two primary forms of vitamin B3 that helps manage acne, rosacea, and pigmentation issues while softening wrinkles. With that said, this is a vitamin C serum everyone can get on board with.
- Murad Retinol Youth Renewal Serum, $89
This power-packed serum is formulated with two forms of retinol — one that works quickly and another that’s time-released — to soften fine lines and wrinkles and even out the skin tone while stimulating collagen production. A retinol booster enhances the results, while hyaluronic acid minimizes dryness and promotes a from-within glow.
- DDF Benzoyl Peroxide Gel, $36
Benzoyl peroxide helps reduce excess oil that can cause breakouts. However, at 5% benzoyl peroxide concentration, this product must be used sparingly and with caution.
Step 5: Moisturize
As mentioned, when you’re sleeping, the skin is in a reparative mode, working hard to regenerate and rebuild the damage precipitated by daily activities and habits. That said, nighttime is the optimal period to restore your skin with a night cream catered to your skin type and condition.
- Hada Labo Skin Plumping Gel Cream, $15.79
This serum and moisturizer hybrid improves skin hydration and texture. It features Super Hyaluronic Acid, an exclusive combination of three types of Hyaluronic Acid for long-lasting moisture. The hydrating face cream is lightweight, non-greasy and fast-absorbing, and is said to help your face feel softer and smoother.
- CeraVe Moisturizing Cream, $15
Don’t be fooled by the plain packaging and low price point. Thousands of nearly five-star reviews will tell you that this moisturizer packs a punch. Dermatologists developed this profoundly hydrating cream for dehydrated skin on the face (including crepey skin under the eyes), but one can also use it on the body. Non-greasy, CeraVe Moisturizing Cream boasts a patented MVE Delivery Technology to release a steady stream of hyaluronic acid and three essential ceramides throughout the day and night. You’ll immediately notice an improvement in your crepey skin, but even more so with continued use.
Step 6: Eye Cream
Puffiness, dark circles, fine lines, and wrinkles are more likely to appear around the delicate eye area than other parts of your face due to a void of sebaceous (oil) glands and thinner skin, so an eye cream, gel, or serum is essential to any routine.
- Dr. Brandt 24/7 Retinol Eye Cream, $55
This incredibly impressive eye cream brightens, protects against environmental stressors, and softens the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, thanks to time-released retinol and a proprietary Ruby Crystal Complex. In addition, a Hydra-Balance Complex (lemon tree honey, phospholipids, and amino acids) deeply hydrates and prevents moisture loss.
- Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hydrating Gel Eye Cream, $14
You don’t need a heavy eye cream to tackle dryness under the eyes. Instead, this gel-like formula features hyaluronic acid — a molecule that absorbs 1,000 times its weight in water to help hydrate and plump the skin — to provide a serious moisture surge while softening the appearance of fine lines. It’s also a good choice for eye cream newbies due to its simple yet effective formula.
Step 7: Weekly Extras
Exfoliating and masking come in as step number seven because they aren’t performed every day.
As a general rule of thumb, exfoliate one to three times a week with a scrub or chemical exfoliant such as a glycolic or other type of home peel. It’s essential to remove dead skin cells so that your products can effectively penetrate the skin. Overly dry or sensitive skin types will want to exfoliate less than someone with normal to oily skin because it can prompt inflammation and irritation, expediting aging.
Suppose you’re already using products with active ingredients such as one of the acids (salicylic, glycolic, lactic acid, malic, etc.), retinol, or retinoids. In that case, you’re already covered, so there’s no need for additional exfoliation as you don’t want to strip the skin.
Many people skip out on using a mask because they feel “it takes too much time,” but the reality is, everyone has a spare ten to twenty minutes within seven days. Choose to mask on a day of the week when you have a little more time to yourself. For example, when you’re binging on the latest Netflix series, reading, taking a bath, meditating — whatever works. Also, keep in mind that copious mask delivery systems are available these days (think sheet and overnight masks), making masking easier than ever.
- Eve Lom Rescue Mask, $120
This mask is a weekly “complexion booster” and “emergency treatment” for dull, stressed-out skin. It’s best when used once a week to deep clean the skin or if you’re experiencing blotchy skin, irritable break-outs, jet lag, or morning-after puffiness.
- Glow Recipe Avocado Melt Retinol Sleeping Mask, $42
Formulated to wear while you sleep, this creamy, nourishing mask is formulated with antioxidant-rich avocado, exfoliating PHA, and a gentle form of retinol. This mask is said to reveal smoother, hydrated skin with each use. It can be used by those with normal, dry, and sensitive skin and can address dullness and signs of aging.
The Importance of “Beauty Sleep”
As noted, sleep is the time when your body repairs itself, whether that’s your skin, brain, or muscles. Studies suggest that poor sleep can affect your overall health, and your skin ages at a rapid rate. Aim to get the recommended seven to nine hours each night.
Night Skincare Routine Tips: The Final Word
When you’re sleeping, the skin is in a reparative mode, working hard to regenerate and rebuild the damage precipitated by daily activities and habits. Studies show that the repair of skin cells with DNA damage from the sun appears to peaks at night. Furthermore, when you have a clean, makeup-free face, your nighttime products can work more efficiently.
But just because a night face routine is vital for healthy skin doesn’t mean it has to be complicated. In fact, with the exception of sun protection, the steps are essentially the same as your daytime regime. The difference lies within the formulations as some ingredients work better at night than during the day and vice versa.
Just remember, not matter how much time, effort, and money you put into your nightly skincare routine, one of the biggest investments you can make is getting enough sleep.
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“Cerave National Studies Reveals up to 80% of Americans Wash Their Face Incorrectly” PR Newswire August 2017.
“SOyetakin-White P, Suggs A, Koo B, et al. Does poor sleep quality affect skin ageing?.” Clin Exp Dermatol. 2015;40(1):17-22. doi:10.1111/ced.12455.