When it comes to your beauty regimen, your daytime practice serves to protect your skin from the onslaught of pollutants that it comes across throughout the day (like sunlight, debris, and makeup). With your nighttime skin care routine, your products mainly work to repair your complexion as you sleep — hence the phrase "beauty sleep."
Throughout the day, your skin undergoes different circadian rhythms, says Dr. Joshua Zeichner M.D., board-certified dermatologist and associate professor of Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “Skin hydration levels start to decline around 3:00 p.m., and then continue to stay low in the evening, which is why a nighttime moisturizer is important,” he says. “Skin cell turnover and collagen and repair mechanisms are at their highest in the evening, which is why it mechanistically makes sense to use a collagen stimulating ingredient at night.”
Dr. Debra Jailman, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City, echoes this, noting that your skin renews itself when you're sleeping, which is why it's important to nourish your complexion with the right nutrients.
The golden rule of your product application is to apply by the lightest to the heaviest when layering (just like you do in your a.m. routine). Also key? Zeichner recommends keeping your regimen simple, as using too many products can lead to skin irritation.
For intel on exactly how to build the best nighttime skin care routine, here's what dermatologists want you to know, along with expert-backed products to apply before you snooze.
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1. Remove Makeup
Before you do anything, it's important to thoroughly remove your makeup. Of course, this can be done with a really good cleanser, but Jailman says you could also reach for a micellar cleansing water, which gets rid of your makeup (though doesn't replace your cleanser).
Micellar waters are a mild alternative to any alcohol-containing makeup removers, says Jailman, and so they're super gentle on the skin. That's because they're made up of micelles, molecules that naturally "grab any [dirt and oil] off your skin," providing an extra layer of cleansing without drying your skin out, she explains.
2. Use A Face Cleanser
Washing your face is the most essential step in your skin care routine, says Jailman. Choose a cleanser based on your skin type and concerns: hydrating for dryness (look for glycerin, ceramides, and hyaluronic acids); exfoliating to combat dullness and clear pores (look for physical or chemical exfoliants; or gel-based for oily skin.
3. Swipe On A Toner
Next up: a toner — though this is optional. According to Zeichner, toners provide “a variety of different benefits for the skin, including hydration and brightening.”
If you have oily or acneic skin, use toners that include glycolic acid or salicylic acid, Jailman says. Sensitive skin types should look for those with with aloe vera or chamomile, she says, which are gentle and hydrating. Moisture-boosting toners tend to include hydrating staples like hyaluronic acid and glycerin, while brightening toners are acid-based formulas that contain chemical exfoliants to slough off dead skin cells.
4. Apply Serums
Once your face is cleansed and (maybe) toned, it's time to apply your serums, aka the products that deliver a concentrated dose of skin-boosting ingredients. Think retinol serums for anti-aging, vitamin C for brightening, and niacinamide (vitamin B3) for soothing and fighting hyperpigmentation, says Jailman. Another option? If your skin's on the sensitive side yet you still want the benefits of a retinol, Zeichner recommends using bakuchiol, a plant-based retinol alternative. “Bakuchiol works to stimulate collagen, so it has a similar effect,” he says.
The last step of your nighttime skin care routine? Applying your moisturizer, which Zeichner says can help your complexion reset for the next day. He recommends looking for one with niacinamide to "help soothe inflammation and support healthy collagen production, [and block] production of abnormal pigmentation.”
If your skin is on the mild to moderately oily scale, Jailman suggests moisturizers containing hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and peptides — ingredients that can help your skin retain moisture and support collagen production. If your skin is very dry, she says to look to formulas with shea butter, jojoba oil, and coconut oil for extra hydration.
Bissett, D. (2005). Niacinamide: A B vitamin that improves aging facial skin appearance. Dermatol Surg. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16029679/
Chaudhuri, R.K. and Bojanowski, K. (2014). Bakuchiol: a retinol-like functional compound revealed by gene expression profiling and clinically proven to have anti-aging effects. International Journal of Cosmetic Science. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/ics.12117
Elsevier Inc. (2009). Facial foundation with niacinamide and N-acetylglucosamine improves skin condition in women with sensitive skin. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. https://www.jaad.org/article/S0190-9622(08)01856-2/fulltext
Firooz, A. (2016). Daytime Changes of Skin Biophysical Characteristics: A Study of Hydration, Transepidermal Water Loss, pH, Sebum, Elasticity, Erythema, and Color Index on Middle Eastern Skin. Indian Journal of Dermatology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5122300/
Lyons, A.B. (2019). Circadian Rhythm and the Skin: A Review of the Literature. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6777699/
Dr. Debra Jailman, M.D., board-certified dermatologist based in New York City
Dr. Joshua Zeichner, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and associate professor of dermatology at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City