Your skin can’t tell the time. Just ask your dermatologist. That means you can wear a night cream during the day and a day cream at night. The basic purpose of any moisturiser is to protect the outer layer of the skin, making it soft and less likely to crack. This physical barrier helps prevent moisture from evaporating; a process that happens all the time.
However, during sleep, when your skin is not being influenced by sunlight, pollution and stress, is a good time for skin to repair itself. Just as you need sleep, your skin needs downtime to de-stress. So you can wear a good basic cream, day and night, and if your skin is oily, you probably don’t need to apply anything at night.
Dermatologist Dr Leslie Baumann, chief of the Division of Cosmetic Dermatology at the University of Miami School of Medicine, concurs: “Oily types do not need a night cream unless for a treatment such as to reduce inflammation or to get rid of dark pigmentation patches.”
In general, the less chemicals you put on your skin the better, so it’s best to avoid the ingredients you need during the day but not at night, such as those in sunscreens, while you’re sleeping.
For sensitive skin, sleep can be a welcome respite and a chance to combat the inflammation that can be caused by make-up and sunscreens. Look for calming ingredients, such as oat extract and wheat germ, to reduce redness. La Prairie Cellular Night Repair Cream has soothing ingredients to reduce redness and irritation.
Sleep is the perfect time to use active ingredients such as retinol and vitamin C, which break down under UV light. Retinol also causes sun sensitivity, so it makes sense to use it when you’re not exposed to the sun. Retinol is one of the few ingredients that dermatologists agree can repair damage and stimulate collagen production.
“It’s the only thing that treats wrinkles you already have,” Dr Baumann says.
L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Night and RoC Retin-Ox Night are two products using retinol derivative, along with vitamin C, to boost firmness and smooth out wrinkles. Products such as RoC Retin-Ox Night and Origins Night-a-Mins also contain mild exfoliating ingredients so that skin feels smoother in the morning, ready for make-up.
Night is a good time to repair the damage caused by the sun. Antioxidants such as idebenone, vitamin E and coenzyme Q10 and green tea containing antioxidants may help prevent new wrinkles from forming, says Dr Baumann, while ingredients such as ceramides and fatty acids (including hyaluronic acid, found in Shiseido’s Benefiance range) help trap moisture and repair the skin’s protective barrier. Clarins Renew-Plus Night Lotion and Clinique Repairwear Lift Firming Night Cream contain antioxidants along with retinol.
Dr Jeannette Graf, author of Stop Aging, Start Living, says, “While you sleep, blood flow to the skin increases, the pH level decreases and the protective barrier is weakened. These ingredients work best under these conditions.”
What you have for dinner can affect your skin while you sleep. According to Dr Graf, the primary source of lowered pH levels in the skin is caused by diet. At the cellular level, excess acidity (low pH) slows regeneration and prevents cells from protecting themselves against metabolic damage. This leads to a dull, ashy complexion and premature wrinkles.
“Acid build-up comes from foods you already think of as unhealthy,” says Dr Graf, “such as animal proteins and refined sugar. Alkalising foods are fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds.” Dr Graf says your dinner plate should contain three-quarters alkalising foods to one-quarter acid-producing foods.
Night is also the best time to fade pigmentation caused by the sun or hormonal imbalances. Ingredients such as hydroquinone, kojic acid and licorice extract help to fade spots and freckles but make the skin more sensitive to the sun. Clinique Even Better Skin Tone Corrector and MD Skincare Hydra-Pure Radiance Renewal Serum contain ingredients such as ascorbyl glucoside (a form of vitamin C) and salicylic acid to lighten pigmentation.
The main enemy of fresh, radiant skin is simply poor sleep. According to research by Elizabeth Arden, more than 60 per cent of women experience problematic sleep, which compromises the skin’s ability to repair itself, leading to fine lines, uneven skin tone and dull, dry, tired-looking skin. The company has formulated Prevage Anti-aging Night Cream to aid the process, using idebenone, the latest star player in the anti-ageing battle. (Dermatologists love this new antioxidant because it appears to work.)
Getting enough of the right kind of sleep is also important, according to sleep researcher Dr Delwyn Bartlett of the Australasian Sleep Association. “The skin repairs itself in slow-wave or deep sleep,” Dr Bartlett explains. “When you’re in a state of slow-wave sleep, you secrete growth hormone, which repairs damaged cells.”
Some creams also use fragrance to aid restful sleep. Creating a ritual of preparing for bed by massaging with a delicately scented cream can help aid healthy sleep habits. Lancôme Primordiale Optimum Nuit has a pleasant scent to help you sleep and also contains a polymer to help skin deal with temperature changes during the night.
To be effective, a cream must contain active ingredients in sufficient concentration and these must penetrate the skin and stay there long enough to have an effect.
Dr Daniel Maes, senior vice president of research and development for Estée Lauder, believes you shouldn’t wait until just before bed to apply a night cream. He helped develop the antioxidant product Advanced Night Repair, which has been a top seller since 1982. According to Dr Maes, you should apply night products as soon as you get home, to help you de-stress from the day and give the ingredients maximum time to take effect. “By applying products well before midnight, it gives the active ingredients a full eight hours to penetrate your skin and work their magic before dawn,” Dr Maes says. And there’s nothing like a full eight hours to make you feel fabulous the next day.