Exactly When You Should Use Skin-Care Product for the Best Results
Skin is more receptive to certain ingredients depending on the time of day. Here's how to maximize your a.m. and p.m. routines.
ICYMI, your skin’s needs vary from day to night. The reason: your circadian rhythm, which you might know as the sleep-and-wake cycle. “The circadian rhythm is basically a 24-hour internal clock, controlled by the hypothalamus pineal gland as well as the light and dark you see. These triggers allow your body to fluctuate between cycles of sleepiness and alertness,” says New York dermatologist Shereene Idriss, M.D.
Your skin has a corresponding internal clock, too. “The individual skin cells have their own circadian rhythms that are affected by day and night and the different hormones in our bodies,” says Nancy Pellegrino, R.N., a co-founder of the Route beauty brand. Since your cells shift modes throughout a 24-hour cycle, what works best for your skin at 7 a.m. might not create optimal results at 7 p.m. (BTW, you might want to switch up your skin-care routine come summer, too.)
To make the cycle work in your skin’s favor, here's the breakdown of exactly which products you should include in your morning and nighttime skin-care routines.
Your Morning Skin-Care Routine
Think of your skin as a nocturnal animal, says Pellegrino. While the sun is out, it shifts into rest mode. “That’s because when you’re running around all day, your body is busy supplying the energy you need to keep going. Your skin cells have to take a back seat to that,” says Los Angeles dermatologist Anna Guanche, M.D.
But they do have one major priority: to protect themselves from UV rays, pollution, and blue light. Your skin has an internal mechanism to do this. The production of sebum, which peaks in the mid-afternoon, helps create a barrier against these outside aggressors, says Dr. Idriss.
Antioxidants, Sunscreen, and Caffeine
Luckily, you can intervene with your morning skin-care routine, too. “Use an antioxidant like vitamin C to help fight the free radicals that come from these assaults, as well as a sunscreen to prevent oxidative stress and sun damage,” says Dr. Guanche. Try The Route's Everything Day - Skin Rhythm Multitasker (Buy It, $90, ulta.com) to protect against these everyday sources of damage.
The other daytime move you can make is to address early-morning puffiness. “It occurs when the internal liquid highways of the skin are stagnant or tired, which happens after spending about eight hours lying horizontally and not moving very much,” says Mark Curry, a cosmetic chemist and cofounder of the Inkey List. That’s where topical caffeine comes in. “It’s a vasoconstrictor, so it can shrink the blood capillaries around puffy eyes to flush away the built-up fluid,” he says.
Pro tip: Keeping your morning products in the refrigerator can also help since the cold temperatures make your skin contract. The Inkey List's Caffeine Eye Cream (Buy It, $10, sephora.com) is the perfect wake-up call, de-puffing the under-eye area while hydrating the sensitive skin.
Your Nighttime Skin-Care Routine
This is when your skin has the energy and resources to really get to work repairing damage and building cells. “When you’re asleep, your internal and external environments are calm and more controlled, so the skin can be more receptive to the good stuff you apply to it,” Curry explains. This means it’s the best time to use active ingredients in your nighttime skin-care routine, because they are more capable of getting into the skin to make an impact.
Retinol, Night Cream, and Melatonin
Retinol, especially, works best when skin is in this more receptive state. “Skin cells proliferate most around midnight, so that’s the best time to jump-start the skin’s regeneration phase and apply a product like retinol to help boost collagen production,” says Dr. Idriss. Retinoids speed up skin-cell turnover, helping to fight transepidermal skin water loss, which increases at night, Pellegrino adds. Dr. Guanche recommends applying a retinol-packed serum, like RoC Retinol Correxion Night Serum Capsules (Buy It, $33, ulta.com), immediately after cleansing and patting skin dry, or mixing it in with your moisturizer if your skin is feeling sensitive. To prevent loss of hydration further, apply an occlusive, ceramide-rich cream to seal moisture—and the retinol you’ve applied—into the skin.
Melatonin is another ingredient ideal for your nighttime skin-care routine. Internally, it’s the hormone your body releases as the sun goes down to make you tired. While people take it orally as a supplement to help them fall asleep, it can also be used topically as a powerful antioxidant.
“Your skin and hair follicles have melatonin receptors, which are active at nighttime,” says Dr. Guanche. These receptors are bound by the hormone melatonin and are stimulated by topical melatonin, so applying the ingredient before bed will ensure your skin gets the maximum antioxidant benefits. A soothing product like Alpyn Beauty's Calming Midnight Mask with Melatonin and Wild Dandelion (Buy It, $68, sephora.com) will get the job done. (Or peep these other melatonin skin-care products to use while you sleep.)