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Skin is more receptive to certain ingredients depending on the time of day. Here's how to maximize your routine—starting when you wake up in the morning.

By Erin Reimel and Susan Brickell
Updated June 05, 2020
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Applying skin-care product
Credit: Westend61/Getty

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.

That said, your morning skin-care regimen should be all about prevention and protection, says Mona Gohara, M.D., associate clinical professor of dermatology at the Yale School of Medicine. And at the same time, it shouldn't be too demanding or have you camped out in front of your bathroom mirror. So, Dr. Gohara has created a five-minute skin-care routine that hits all the essential steps.

1. Start with a gentle cleanser.

If you prefer a bar, opt for her go-to Dove Beauty Bar (Buy It, $4 for 2 bars, amazon.com), which is "a simple, easy, non-soap cleanser that's good for your skin barrier," she says. If you like a pump, try Avène Gentle Milk Cleanser (Buy It, $20, amazon.com), which is "creamy and milky and keeps your skin soft," explains Dr. Gohara.

2. Next up, a good eye cream.

Dr. Gohara suggests Clinique Repairwear Anti-Gravity Eye Cream (Buy It, $46, sephora.com) to help reduce puffiness and conceal dark circles. The eye cream is especially good to apply before your concealer, she explains. Another pick from Dr. Gohara: Colorescience Total Eye 3-in-1 Renewal Therapy (Buy It, $69, amazon.com), which does triple duty as an eye cream, concealer, and sunscreen. Just dab it on with the applicator—surprisingly cool-to-the-touch to reduce puffiness—and rub it in. "This stuff is the bomb dot com, because it has sunscreen in it, so it protects your eyes while concealing dark circles," notes Dr. Gohara.

3. Protect with an antioxidant serum.

To boost your protection in the morning, incorporate an antioxidant serum with vitamin C into your routine. "Antioxidants protect your skin from pollution, sun damage, and also your computer screen," says Dr. Gohara. These environmental stressors create free radicals which, in turn, wreak cosmetic havoc on your skin, she adds. "Antioxidants are like the little Pac Man that goes scavenging around for those free radicals."

Although it's a splurge, Dr. Gohara likes vitamin C in the form of SkinCeuticals CE Ferulic (Buy It, $166, dermstore.com). On the plus side, you only need to use a tiny bit for your entire face—meaning, the bottle will really last you. For a more convenient, budget-friendly option, she also recommends La Roche-Posay Pure Vitamin C Face Serum (Buy It, $40, amazon.com).

4. Hydrate and moisturize.

Layer a hyaluronic acid serum on top, which acts like a sponge to absorb water into the skin, so that skin appears and feels plump and hydrated. Dr. Gohara's must-have is SkinMedica HA5 Rejuvenating Hydrator (Buy It, $178, amazon.com), but she's also "obsessed" with L'Oreal Paris Revitalift Hyaluronic Acid Serum (Buy It, $18, amazon.com), which you can score at a fraction of the price.

5. Top with sun protection.

The last (and possibly most important) step is sunscreen. "Sunscreen protects us from ultraviolet light and it also protects us from our computer screens," notes Dr. Gohara. She loves EltaMD UV Facial (Buy It, $30, amazon.com) because you get two products in one: a moisturizer and a sunscreen. Rub in a nickel-sized amount to your whole face, and you're ready to tackle your day. (More options here: The Best Sunscreens Money Can Buy, According to Derms)

Shape Magazine, March 2020 issue

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