Plus, the nighttime products she likes for building elastin, stimulating collagen growth, and moisturizing and repairing skin while you snooze.

By Rachel Jacoby Zoldan and Susan Brickell
Updated June 05, 2020
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Taking care of your skin isn't as hard as it may seem on Instagram—there are a few golden rules to follow and products to keep in your medicine cabinet. For example, you've probably already heard that vitamin C is a staple for brightening and free radical protection, best used during the daytime hours to ward off the effects of your environment. And chances are, you know that retinol is a must-have anti-aging ingredient to add to your night skin-care routine. But why exactly do the products you need change while you snooze?

Why a Night Skin-Care Routine Is Important

"Skin is affected by circadian rhythms," says Sapna Palep, M.D., a dermatologist and founder of Spring Street Dermatology in New York City. "Stem cells in the epidermis reproduce mainly at night, creating new skin cells that replace aged cells and reduce the appearance of aging."

That nighttime regeneration of cells also helps your skin to better absorb topical treatments overnight, explains Debra Jaliman, M.D. a New York City-based dermatologist.

Since the skin is both rejuvenating itself and better able to absorb whatever products you apply, the evening is the best time to target specific skin issues, including UV damage, inflammation from conditions such as acne and rosacea, hyperpigmentation, as well as collagen, elastin, and hydration loss, says Dr. Palep.

Night creams should be your bedtime BFF.

Sure, you can theoretically use night creams and sleeping masks at any hour, but it may backfire in the form of clogged pores. "Night creams tend to have thicker, richer formulas with more humectants and emollients, which could be too greasy for daytime use," says Dr. Palep. "Sleep masks" (which you've likely seen popping up all over Sephora lately) work similarly but are even more potent with their moisturizing punch. By leaving them on while you sleep, these creams create a seal with humectant ingredients that help keep water in your skin, and they also help ingredients penetrate your skin, adds Dr. Jaliman. (Related: The Best Anti-Aging Night Creams, According to Dermatologists)

Dr. Palep recommends night creams and sleeping masks with a litany of hydrating ingredients, including hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and ceramides. Hyaluronic acid binds water molecules to the skin while glycerin—one of those aforementioned humectants—"works to moisturize the skin by drawing water from the air into the skin's outer layer. It serves as a protective layer that helps to prevent moisture loss," explains Dr. Jaliman. Likewise, ceramides also provide a similar protective layer and prevent moisture loss while you snooze.

Some ingredients are best used while you snooze.

In addition to a night cream, be sure to incorporate ingredients that maximize that time of skin-cell regeneration—like holy grail anti-ager, retinol. "Retinol stimulates the production of new skin cells, and because this happens mostly at night, this is the best time for its use," says Dr. Jaliman. In addition, since retinol sloughs off the outermost dead layer of skin, it makes you more sensitive to the sun and burns, so it's better to use it nightly, she adds. (Related: The Best Retinol Products for Every Skin Type, According to Top Derms)

Similarly, AHAs—alpha hydroxy acids—are great chemical exfoliants that help to gently remove dead skin cells and aid in the renewal process. Because they're photosensitive, it's best to use AHAs at night when you're avoiding any potential sun exposure that can irritate the skin, adds Dr. Jaliman. (Related: Why You Should Add Lactic, Citric, and Other Acids to Your Skin-Care Regimen)

The bottom line on PM products? As long as your night cream or sleeping mask of choice doesn't contain a photosensitive ingredient such as retinol or AHAs, it's perfectly cool to use these as your daytime moisturizer should you prefer the texture and/or consistency of the product. (Reminder: Always make sure to layer SPF on top, every single day, rain or shine.)

But when it comes to fighting skin issues, it pays to amp up your night skin-care routine.

The Ultimate 5-Minute Night Skin-Care Routine

Your night skin-care routine should focus on repairing damage, says Mona Gohara, M.D., associate clinical professor of dermatology at the Yale School of Medicine. There really is something to the term "beauty sleep," because your skin goes to work regenerating itself at night while you snooze, adds Dr. Gohara.

Here, Dr. Gohara shares her five-minute night skin-care routine that will help you restore your skin without a slew of time-consuming steps.

The first step at night is to wash your face with a gentle cleanser, which can be the same cleanser you use for your morning routine. Dr. Gohara previously shared that her go-to's include Dove Beauty Bar (Buy It, $4 for 2 bars, amazon.com), a non-soap cleanser that's good for your skin barrier, and Avène Gentle Milk Cleanser (Buy It, $20, amazon.com), a creamy, milky wash that softens skin.

Next, apply a pea-sized amount of a vitamin A product (translation: a retinoid) to your face to help stimulate collagen production. Divide it among the four quadrants of your face and then rub it in, says Dr. Gohara. While she uses a prescription retin-a micro, she recommends Differin Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment (Buy It, $13, amazon.com), an affordable, over-the-counter version available in most drugstores.

After that, Dr. Gohara recommends layering a serum, such as Obagi Elastiderm Facial Serum (Buy It, $198, amazon.com), to help build elastin. While Dr. Gohara's pick might be pricey, it effectively helps skin bounce back from signs of aging for a firmer, more resilient complexion—and claims to increase skin elasticity in an impressive 24 hours.

Finally, moisturize your skin. Dr. Gohara's favorite nighttime moisturizer might surprise you since it's actually a product meant for your lips: "Y'all might think I'm crazy because I'm using Vaseline on my face, but I just use a tiny bit." After gently spreading it around her face, she follows up by adding "a smidge" of the same Vaseline Lip Therapy (Buy It, $11, amazon.com) to nourish her pout. Vaseline not your jam? Dr. Gohara also suggests No7 Beautiful Skin Night Cream (Buy It, $20, amazon.com) to moisturize the skin to keep it from drying out after using your retin-a. And voilà—you're ready to hit the sack.

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