There’s a reason you can cure a cold or body aches with a good night’s rest: While you sleep, your entire body restores itself. Your systems work overtime to rejuvenate, to generate new cells, to fight off infections.
And your skin is no different. If you want to have healthy, firm, clear skin, then focus your regimen on those resting hours. Sure, a good SPF moisturizer is imperative when you’re out and about, but there are a handful of other products that can counter stress, smooth fine lines, and clear up acne and dark spots, all while you lie there, passively passed out.
You can in turn magnify the impact of any skincare product, too, by applying them to freshly cleansed skin before bed. If the body is working twice as hard to clear up blemishes and to surface healthy, bright skin cells, then think of the added boost those cells will get from a thorough overnight regimen.
Photography by Marcus A.O. Bryant
The lightest hydrators, serums are the first step in any skincare regimen, applied directly after cleansing. They typically include ultra-moisturizing (or moisture retention) ingredients, like hyaluronic acid, which retains up to 1,000 times its weight in water. Serums can also focus on resurfacing healthy skin cells, by incorporating exfoliating ingredients like lactic or salicylic acid. Others may brighten complexion or correct hyperpigmentation with a Vitamin C boost, or deploy herbal extracts to help firm skin or correct discoloration.
Because serums seep into all three layers of the skin—whereas creams and lotions sit more protectively atop the outermost layer—they can make a major difference in how quickly your skincare goals are met. They are able to work correctively and proactively from within the dermis to impact surface cells. Serums should never replace a moisturizer, however, since they don’t really play defense against moisture-compromising elements, or against toxins and UV rays. But, especially when worn overnight, they’ll help undo much of the stress and damage that you endured throughout the day. Give them a month or three to work their magic, and you’ll notice profound differences in skin quality, texture, brightness, and smoothness.
Overnight Masks and Night Creams
Many people confuse these two products, but they’re easy to distinguish if you compare them to daytime moisturizers and masks. You should wear a daytime moisturizer every day, to help preserve the skin’s moisture levels and shield it against outside threats. Doing so is just as important overnight (with a night cream), to ensure you wake up with healthy, glowing skin, free of any assault from excess dryness (and from 8 hours without any attention). Night creams are often more dense than a daytime moisturizer, too, chock full of nourishing, corrective ingredients that pair with the skin’s regenerative cycle. They’re often too dense to wear by day, but since you won’t be exerting any energy or sweating in your sleep, they’ll wear snug and unencumbered.
Night masks, on the other hand, can take that nourishment to the next level. You can rotate them into your regimen every 3 or 4 days, substituting them for the night cream. They’re even more packed with powerful healing ingredients, often prescriptive to some kind of problem—be it excessive dryness, acne-prone skin, overnight resurfacing, and so forth. You don’t need to use them every night, since you’ll only get diminishing returns from all of their ingredients. But they’re perhaps the most proactive passive product you can wear.
Retinol and Bakuchiol
On an ingredient level, retinol and bakuchiol are two of the best to integrate into your bedtime regimen. You needn’t pair them together, since they aim to do the same thing: reduce signs of aging, like fine lines, wrinkles, dark spots, dullness, and more. They’re often deemed the secret ingredients for preserving youthfulness much longer.
Retinol is the heavy hitter here. It’s an active Vitamin A derivative that, in higher doses (available from your dermatologist), can cause irritation or peeling while your skin adjusts to its presence. This is navigable, and rarely so serious that it should deter you from using it. Smaller doses are available in over-the-counter products, however. But because of retinol’s occasional bite, bakuchiol is the celebrated plant-derived alternative. It delivers similar results and is much better for sensitive skin or less labored regimens.
You can find both ingredients inside many night creams and overnight masks, while a retinol prescription should be applied after serum but before a moisturizer or mask. You can mix it in with your mask or moisturizer each night, too, but should never apply it as the last step in your regimen, since the mask/moisturizer might prevent it from fully seeping in.
However, it’s worth noting that the most effective way to see fast, lasting results is to inquire about a retinol prescription with your dermatologist. And you must continue using retinol or bakuchiol on a nightly basis in order to maintain its skin-smoothing effects. You can expect results in 90 days or more upon introduction from medium-to-high doses, especially from prescription retinol.
When it comes to passive, overnight skincare, here is the most important thing to remember: You need a full night’s sleep to get the benefits. Prioritize getting 7-8 hours every night, while staying hydrated throughout the day. And no amount of sleep will disappear the ongoing effects of waking vices, like smoking, binge drinking, excessive sun exposure, unhealthy eating, and so forth. It’s all part of a balanced, healthy lifestyle—and part of having youthful, clear skin. They really do all work in tandem with one another.