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What Products You Need in Your Nighttime Skin

Sep 01, 2023Sep 01, 2023

It's more simple than you think.

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We all know that a nighttime skin-care routine is key to giving your skin the appropriate reset it needs, but what products do you actually need to use? Do you need a rigorous 10-step plan, or can you thrive as a minimalist and stick to just a few products?

The short answer to both these questions is it depends on your skin type and specific skin-care needs. But there are some general rules of thumb that you can follow to help you find your go-to products — and they are not hard to follow at all.

"A nighttime skincare routine does not have to be elaborate or complicated," says board-certified dermatologist Anar Mikailov, MD. "The two necessary steps are cleansing and moisturizing. You need to remove any debris or impurities from the skin to keep it clear. You also have to keep the skin barrier intact and healthy by moisturizing it so the skin is able to minimize transepidermal water loss (TEWL)."

Dendy Engelman, MD, board-certified dermatologist at Shafer Clinic Fifth Avenue, breaks down finding your nighttime skincare to the five pillars of skin care: cleansing, hydrating, feeding, moisturizing, and protecting. "Your nighttime routine can include a great cleanser and toner, a hydrating product, a serum loaded with powerful actives, and a moisturizer," Dr. Engelman says. "You can add and customize from there, but this gives you a great foundation."

Sounds simple enough, right? To see how the experts break down each step of a night routine, read on below.

Dendy Engelman, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist at Shafer Clinic Fifth Avenue.

Anar Mikailov, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and founder of KP Away.

Cleansing is an essential step in any skin-care routine, but especially at night. Both experts emphasize the importance of washing your face before bed to get rid of everything that may contribute to a number of skin concerns. "During the day, our skin has products from the morning routine like sunscreen, makeup, and maybe other moisturizers," says Dr. Mikailov. "Additionally, throughout the day, we are sweating and exposed to many pollutants in the air, which can cause oxidative stress that leads to skin aging."

He recommends picking a cleanser that best suits your skin type. For example, if you have oily skin, he says it's ideal to get a foam or gel cleanser. Those with drier and more sensitive skin may benefit more from a creamy, non-foaming cleanser that will keep skin hydrated. If you are fighting acne, he says to look for something with salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide.

Even though it's not entirely necessary that you include essence in your routine, it can be a great option if you're looking to give your skin a boost of hydration after cleansing. Dr. Engelman adds that it can help prep the skin for active ingredients and heavier products.

Toners, on the other hand, further removes makeup, dirt, and debris and evens out skin's overall texture. Though he says that toners are not totally necessary either, Dr. Mikailov recommends using them one to three times a week for maximum benefits if you do opt to use one. Those with sensitive skin may want to consider gentle chemical exfoliation with PHAs. Dr. Engelman adds that she likes to use toners as the exfoliating step in her routine and uses an exfoliating lotion like Biologique P50 to brighten and smooth skin while also maintaining skin's pH levels.

Serums are a great way to incorporate active ingredients into your routine. While Dr. Mikailov says that a lot of moisturizers already incorporate the same active ingredients (think vitamin C, retinol, etc.) into their formulations, serums provide a lighter texture that can pair nicely underneath.

"Serums are great for delivering hydrating and nourishing ingredients to the skin," adds Dr. Engelman. "This is really where you get the workhouse ingredients that target your specific skin-care concerns, which can range from general hydration to hyperpigmentation to fine lines to texture and so on."

She recommends something like the SkinMedica HA5 Rejuvenating Hydrator for dry skin because it delivers moisture to the skin robustly. For sensitive skin that wants to enjoy the benefits of retinol without the harsh side effects, Indē Wild 1% Bakuchiol will gently promote skin elasticity, unclog pores, and even out skin texture. She also recommends looking to ceramides to address fine lines and says that the Elizabeth Arden Advanced Light Ceramide Capsules Strengthening & Refining Serum is one of her favorites to recommend to patients.

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The eye area is more sensitive than other parts of your face because of how thin the skin is in that area. For that reason, Dr. Engelman says using an eye cream is a great option to target those concerns without irritating your eyes. "A lot of face products contain fragrance and other ingredients that can be irritating to the eye area, so it's great to use something that you know isn't going to cause any irritation," she explains.

Her go-to is the Valmont V-Line Lifting Eye Cream, which hydrates, reduces puffiness, and tightens and smooths the skin.

A moisturizer is key in providing moisture to your skin and locking in the rest of the ingredients you've used so they can work their magic overnight. "Aside from a cleanser, a moisturizer is the only other necessary product for healthy skin," says Dr. Mikailov. "A good moisturizer prevents transepidermal water loss (TEWL), which keeps the skin barrier protected."

You'll want to pick a moisturizer based on your skin type and most pressing skin concerns. He says for dry skin, opt for something that has thicker occlusive ingredients. "I recommend finding one formulated with plant-based oils and butters that are similar to our normal skin biology," he explains. "Like coconut oil, jojoba oil, squalane, and Vitamin E."

Oily, acne-prone skin should look for something that is lightweight and hydrating, as something that is heavy and made with occlusives may clog pores and may break you out even more. If you're a minimalist skincare lover, he recommends looking for multi-tasking ingredients that are formulated with anti-aging ingredients to tackle many skin concerns at once. For example, he likes Skintensive’s Bakuchiol + Retinol Dual Renewal PM Cream, which combines retinol and antioxidants to help build collagen and improve skin's overall texture.

Dr. Engelman adds that a moisturizer will be important to rebalancing your skin's hydration levels while you sleep, so she recommends something like the Epionce Renewal Facial Cream and Orpheus Skin Resurrection Bio Shield Cream.

Dr. Engelman recommends face masks as treatments for your face. For maximum effect, she says to use it after you tone and before you finish with a moisturizer to lock everything in. If you're opting for an overnight mask, you can skip your moisturizer as the mask will have ingredients and hydrating properties already. The best one for you is based on personal preference, what skin concern you want to treat, and your skin type.

Remember: When it comes to face masks or any product you should be considering in your nighttime skin routine, it's always best to consult with your dermatologist if you have any questions. And there you have it. A skin-care routine — especially a nighttime one — doesn't have to be that intimidating. Just keep in mind your skin type and specific skin-care concerns while following this loose guide, and you'll be on your way to creating a system that works for you and your skin.