Every night while you sleep, your skin gets ready for the day ahead—here’s how to increase your chances of waking up looking refreshed
By Mariève Inoue
All day, your skin protects you against external attacks such as UV rays and pollution, but once the sun goes down, it takes on a different role. “At night, the skin’s main function is regeneration, which enables cell renewal,” says Nolwenn Gonthier, the national education manager for Lancôme Canada. “During this process, weak cells are eliminated and new ones are grown.” Skin-cell renewal is at its peak in the middle of the night, so any toxins that have accumulated during the day are removed then, as well. “There’s also an increase in blood circulation, which facilitates this elimination while providing the necessary energy for the renewal process,” says Anne-Sophie Brillouet, the senior director of research and development at Neutrogena.
Because of these dual roles, the skin’s needs vary depending on time of day. The following explores some of the ways you can prepare your skin for a night of gentle regeneration—and reap the rewards in the morning.
How can I take advantage of my skin’s nighttime regeneration process?
“It’s important to have a regular sleep schedule and to sleep during the skin’s ‘golden hours’—between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m.—when regeneration reaches its peak,” says Gonthier. It’s also crucial to remove makeup and cleanse the skin every night, as well as to exfoliate a few times a week. “Because your skin is more receptive at night, strive to use products at bedtime that have high concentrations of active ingredients that target its specific needs and help with hydration,” says Gonthier, explaining that the renewal process tends to rob the skin of some of its moisture. “Adequate hydration overnight helps to maintain the skin overall,” says Brillouet.
What’s the ideal bedtime skin-care routine?
After removing any makeup, the next step is to rid the skin of dirt and toxins. To do so, use a cleanser suited to your skin type: “You don’t want to cause irritation,” warns Brillouet. “So avoid soap-based formulas, which can be harsh.”
Next, says Gonthier, “start with a skin-care essence to prepare the cells and to maximize the effectiveness of any products that follow.” Then apply a serum and moisturizing cream that promote cell renewal, as well as an eye cream that targets issues such as dark circles and puffiness. If your skin is on the dry side, top everything off with a thicker cream that will “help limit potential water loss,” says Brillouet. Look for ingredients such as oils, butters and waxes.
Which skin issues are best to target at night?
“All of them,” says Gonthier. “The skin’s permeability increases at night, and regeneration is activated regardless of skin type and age.”
So whether you wish to minimize the appear appearance of wrinkles, firm up the skin or lighten dark spots, nighttime’s the best time to do so. But keep in mind that any such improvements “can be cancelled out if you don’t protect your skin from the sun during the day,” says Brillouet. So don’t skimp on the sunscreen.
Which ingredients should I look for?
To promote hydration and regeneration, choose products that feature the following:
➻ Hyaluronic acid, which has a proven track record for hydration
➻ Vitamin C, “known for its ability to improve skin quality and evenness,” says Gonthier
➻ Retinol, an anti-aging ingredient that helps boost cell renewal and improve fine lines, wrinkles, firmness and brightness
➻ AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids), which contribute to cell renewal by “eliminating cells at the surface of the skin,” says Brillouet
➻ PHAs (polyhydroxy acids), which are well-suited to “more sensitive skin types and offer additional hydration and antioxidant action,” Brillouet says
Can I use one moisturizer for day and night?
If you prefer to keep things simple, then yes, you can. However, it’s somewhat wasteful if you use a day product with a built-in SPF, because skin doesn’t need to be protected from the sun at night. Using a night cream for day use also has its drawbacks, since the thicker textures often aren’t as comfortable during the day, especially under makeup.
What should I know about sleeping masks?
“Sleeping masks contain agents that limit water loss” explains Brillouet. They also often have a comforting creamy or balmlike texture, and they can feel heavier on the skin. Depending on your hydration needs, you can use masks on their own, over serums and even to top off your usual moisturizer. The key is to observe your skin habitually, as these needs can change depending on the day, on the season and even on your activity levels.
What types of products should I use on my eye area?
This delicate zone requires special treatment. “Because the skin around the eyes is finer and drier than the rest of the face, and thus ages more quickly, it’s essential to treat it in the morning and at night,” says Gonthier. Vitamin C, caffeine and hyaluronic acid can help with issues such as puffiness and dark circles. “In the morning, light, fresh textures can help protect the eye area and reduce puffiness,” says Gonthier. “But at night, when your skin is recharging, opt for a creamier product to treat dark circles and wrinkles.”
How can I maximize the effect of my nighttime routine?
“Regular skin care has a direct impact on the success and durability of results,” says Gonthier. So make sure to cleanse and care for your skin every night, applying a moisturizer at the very least. There’s often more time to be meticulous at night, so consider adding a step or two to your bedtime routine. “Use a face roller or your fingers to massage your skin while applying serums and creams—this will help activate blood flow,” says Brillouet.
Is it better to apply body lotion at night than in the morning?
Yes, because the skin on the body, including the hands and feet, loses some of its hydration at night. “When you have dry skin, the effect is amplified overnight, which makes moisturizing in the evening especially important,” says Brillouet. And since using a thicker body cream or lotion before bed is more practical than applying it when you’re getting dressed for the day, there’s no better time to moisturize those extremities.
Should I avoid scented skin-care products at night?
It depends on your preference. “Data shows that the scent-related aspect of beauty routines has an impact on stress levels and how easily people fall asleep,” says Brillouet. But, notes Gonthier, “fragrance is mostly a question of sensory appeal and personal preference.” So a scented nighttime body lotion that makes you feel good and relaxes you can help you fall asleep, whereas the scentaverse might make a different choice.
“As for facial formulas,” Gonthier says, “fragrances tend to be softer and to be detectable only while the product is being applied.” So focus more on ingredients and less on fragrance when choosing facial products. And as with body creams and lotions, if you’re not partial to scented products, there are plenty of unscented options on offer.
Photo credit: Marc-Antoine Charlebois