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Power Up Your Nighttime Skin Care Routine in Seven Easy Steps

A bottle with clear liquid; a tub of green cleansing balm; a bottle with yellow lgel
Paula’s Choice/Farmacy/First Aid Beauty

Nighttime is when your whole body rests and restores itself—and that includes your skin. With the right routine, you can totally rejuvenate your skin overnight.

At night, the focus of your skin care routine is more about cleaning off the day’s grime and giving your skin plenty of nourishment to absorb overnight. While lengthy routines might be popular, according to the experts, they’re not always necessary.

None of the steps below are musts, but rather, more of a suggestion of the order in which to use the products you need or prefer.

Step One: Cleanser

An open white jar with green cleansing balm; a woman's face with oily balm on it

At the end of the day, cleansing is even more important, because it removes any dirt and oil accumulated during the day. If you’re doing your nighttime skin routine at the same time as removing your makeup and cleaning up for the day, then you should definitely consider double-cleansing.

“Everybody should double cleanse at night,” said Taylor Wordon, esthetician.

Double-cleansing is exactly what it sounds like: a two-step cleansing routine meant to remove your products from the day and cleanse all the way into your pores.

In many cases, a too-short cleansing routine can either leave behind residue from makeup, other products, or your makeup remover itself. It can also prevent the cleansing ingredients from actually reaching the surface of your skin. Start with an oil-based cleanser to remove buildup from the day, and then a gentle liquid or gel cleanser to remove residue and actually clean the skin itself.

For the most part, you can use your favorite liquid or gel cleanser, as long as you start with a gentle, but effective balm, like Versed Day Dissolve Cleansing Balm. This vegan, nontoxic, sustainably produced cleansing balm takes off the day’s makeup and impurities. Eucalyptus oil and vitamin E nourish and refresh the skin, while removing grime and makeup easily.

Versed Day Dissolve Cleansing Balm - Eucalyptus Oil + Vitamin E - 0.6oz

What It Is: This face wash in balm form melts away makeup and impurities without stripping moisture from your skin (thank you, vitamin E). As you massage it into your skin with wet fingertips, the oil-based formula softens to create a light, gentle milk that rinses clean with no oily...

A slightly higher-end product is Farmacy’s Green Clean Makeup Removing Cleansing Balm. Using natural ingredients like sunflower, ginger root, turmeric, moringa, and papaya, it melts away even long-wear or waterproof makeup without leaving the skin with dry patches or stubborn greasy residue.

Step Two: Toner

A pink bottle of toner with watermelon slices; a clear bottle with milky liquid drops
Glow Recipe/Laneige

A toner step simply helps bring a refreshed feeling and a little more balance. Typically consisting of a thin, watery liquid, toners are the step between cleansing and applying the rest of your products. For a more streamlined routine, however, consider a toner that pulls double duty with other steps.

“The key to streamlining the routine is hybrid products,” King said.

There are a myriad of products that do two things simultaneously, like cleansing and toning. These can make a big difference and prevent you from having to buy and use as many products.

For example, you might consider something along the lines of Laneige Cream Skin Toner & Moisturizer. This two-in-one “milky” liquid serves as both a moisturizer and a toner, with white tea leaves that soothe the skin, while toning and moisturizing.

Some hybrid toners also use active ingredients that are typically found in serums. The Glow Recipe Watermelon Glow PHA + BHA Toner, for example, has two hydroxy acids (PHA and BHA) that work as chemical exfoliants to refresh the skin and minimize the appearance of pores.

Step Three: Eye Cream

A white tube of eye cream; a white and yellow bottle of eye cream
The INKEY List/Dr. Jart+

Your night eye cream can be the same as your morning one—same application, same formula. Some people prefer using a slightly more powerful product overnight, especially if the under-eye area is of particular concern to you.

Eye creams are designed to address a variety of issues, from fine lines and wrinkles to dark circles, puffiness, and more. Depending on what you want to focus on, you’ll probably choose different products and active ingredients.

For instance, The INKEY List Eye Cream uses caffeine to “wake up” your eyes, meaning it reduces puffiness, bags, and fine lines. The formula also moisturizes the sensitive skin under your eye that’s sometimes too thin and delicate for typical moisturizers.

Caffeine is a popular ingredient, but it’s far from the only effective one. The Dr. Jart+ Ceramidin Eye Cream combines a blend of ceramides with a hint of niacinamide. The result is a formula that smoothes, firms, and hydrates the delicate skin under your eyes.

To give your under-eye treatment a boost, it might be worth carving out 10-20 minutes in your evening routine once or twice a week to try an under-eye mask. These deliver more concentrated ingredients to this area, but shouldn’t be used every night.

Step Four: Other Active Treatments

A sheet of light flesh-tone acne dots; a black bottle with clear liquid coming out of it
Peace Out/Paula’s Choice

Overnight can be an especially effective time to treat your skin with serums or similar products packed with active ingredients that address acne, dark spots, fine lines, and other concerns. You might decide to use different products at night than those you use in the morning.

In particular, stronger or more concentrated formulas are often recommended for overnight wear, so they’ll have several hours to work uninterrupted. Just remember: use the thinnest formula first!

“If you put thin liquid Vitamin C serum over your thicker moisturizer,” said Nicole Caroline, master esthetician, “you are, in fact, preventing that thinner Vitamin C from absorbing, and may as well not have put it on at all.”

An acne treatment like the Peace Out Salicylic Acid Acne Healing Dots uses hydrocolloid technology and salicylic acid (at a skin-friendly 0.5% concentration) for acne treatment over several hours. These are perfect for overnight wear. The salicylic acid (aka, BHA) penetrates deep to unclog pores, while aloe vera and vitamin A help balance and maintain clear, non-irritated skin.

Overnight is a great time to tackle breakouts, hyperpigmentation, fine lines, and overall skin tone. Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant is a multipurpose option, with a 2% BHA concentration for maximum effect with minimum worries. The formula also features green tea for soothing. It’s gluten- and cruelty-free, and also excludes many common toxic skin care ingredients, like parabens, sulfates, and phthalates.

SKIN PERFECTING 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant

Our #1 product worldwide + cult favorite, this clinically proven gentle leave-on exfoliant with salicylic acid quickly unclogs pores, smooths wrinkles & evens skin tone. Clears & minimizes enlarged pores; BHA (beta hydroxy acid) sheds built-up layers of skin; Fluid, lightweight...

There’s one more thing to keep in mind if you’re planning to use a retinoid.

“Don’t use benzoyl peroxide and a retinoid at the same time,” said King. “The BP may deactivate the retinoid. I also don’t recommend using a leave-on hydroxy acid and a retinoid at the same time. They may deactivate the retinoid, or the combination may be too irritating.”

Step Five: Moisturizer

A blue jar with white lotion and a flower behind it; a white and blue box and lotion bottle

Moisturizing remains a crucial step in your nighttime routine, just like during the day. However, you might want to consider a different moisturizer to apply for overnight wear.

Generally, overnight moisturizers are formulated to be heavier or creamier, offering more intense hydration. They’re ideal for overnight, as you don’t have to worry about how they sit under makeup and they’ll have several hours to fully absorb. As with daytime moisturizers, take your skin type and other skin concerns into account when choosing the right nighttime moisturizer.

One of the most popular (and affordable) options is CeraVe’s PM Facial Moisturizing Lotion. Hyaluronic acid helps the skin lock in and retain moisture, while peptides boost skin repair overnight. Meanwhile, ceramides revive and restore the protective moisture barrier, with a slow-release technology that’s perfect for overnight absorption.

Fresh Lotus Youth Preserve Dream Night Cream is a more luxurious overnight moisturizer that’s packed with antioxidants. It’s hydrating without being too heavy and free of sulfates SLS and SLES, parabens, and phthalates. Super lotus and peach leaf extract give skin a radiant glow, while moisturizing, and it minimizes fine lines and repairs any damage.

Step Six: Retinol

Two white bottles of retinol treatment, each with a small puddle of yellow gel next to them
First Aid Beauty/The INKEY List

Retinol, as intimidating as it may sound, can be a powerful skin care tool when used correctly. Because retinols are relatively stronger products, you’ll want to start slow. Once or twice a week is a good plan of attack.

When you apply your retinol after your moisturizer, you place a moisture barrier between your skin and the potentially drying retinol, which can help mitigate dryness, flaking, and irritation.

First Aid Beauty’s FAB Skin Lab Retinol Serum is a great intro to retinol. At just a 0.25% retinol concentration (as opposed to the more popular 1%), it’s gentle enough for sensitive skin, while still offering visible smoothing, clarity, and firming of the skin.

Once you’re a bit more comfortable with it, you might decide to try a product that uses a combination of active ingredients with slightly higher concentrations. The INKEY List Retinol Anti-Aging Serum uses both stabilized retinol 1% and granactive retinoid 0.5% in a slow-releasing formula designed to increase effectiveness while lowering irritation.

Step Seven: Face Oils

Biossance Squalane + Vitamin C Rose Oil and Farmacy Honey Grail.

Face oils are more likely to be used at night, although some work for daytime wear, as well. Their physical properties, however, mean, they should pretty much always go on as the last step in your routine if you choose to use them.

“They should be applied last because they help to lock in the previous steps,” King said. “And because anything applied afterwards may not penetrate this inert layer and get absorbed.”

A multipurpose oil, like Biossance Squalane + Vitamin C Rose Oil, is an effective choice. This formula offers three major effects: brightening, hydrating, and firming. Chios crystal oil firms, while vitamin C focuses on brightening and skin elasticity. Squalane provides a boost of moisture, and rose petal extract soothes and gives the product its pleasant, mild scent.

For skin that needs a little extra hydration and calming, something like Farmacy’s Honey Grail Ultra-Hydrating Face Oil works best. Buckwheat honey offers antioxidant and moisture-retaining properties, while sea buckthorn (which includes amino acids, vitamins, and omegas) and five unique blends of flower oils provide hydration and calming effects.

Overnight is the perfect time to really treat and repair your skin, and now you know how to maximize the effectiveness of your routine. Don’t forget to use a face mask treatment a few times a week to tackle any outstanding issues.

Amanda Prahl Amanda Prahl
Amanda Prahl is a freelance contributor to LifeSavvy. She has an MFA in dramatic writing, a BA in literature, and is a former faculty associate focusing on writing craft and history. Her articles have appeared on HowlRound, Slate, Bustle, BroadwayWorld, and ThoughtCo, among others. Read Full Bio »
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