Your nighttime skincare routine is your best opportunity to feed your skin with ingredients that get a whole 8 hours (or, 7 or 6, or - please don't make me go there *winks*) to interact, uninterruptedly with your skin. Some of these products are best used at night because they play into the whole 'renew, repair' story, and some are best used in your nighttime skincare routine because they may increase your skins sensitivity to the sun... this is what you need to know... http://wp.me/p6LuQS-15y

Which Skincare Products are Best (& safest) When Used at Night?

In Being Savvy at Skincare by Cheryl Woodman MChemLeave a Comment

Your nighttime skincare routine is your best opportunity to feed your skin with ingredients that get a whole 8 hours (or, 7 or 6, or – please don’t make me go there *winks*) to interact, uninterruptedly with your skin. Nighttime is when our bodies rest. Which is a little ironic because although we look peaceful underneath the surface our bodies are like a duck’s legs speedily treading water.

This duck based analogy is a quirky way of explaining that nighttime is when your body regenerates. During our day, we tend to use up nutrients and hormones and at nighttime we regenerate them. At nighttime our bodies become dormant powerhouses whose only focus is repair.

Which means, when it comes to your nighttime skincare routine you should be chanting renew, repair, renew, repair! When we spread this to the usable facts, it means there’s 4 main types of skincare products that should be used in your nighttime skincare routine.

Some of these products are best used at night because they play into the whole ‘renew, repair’ story, and some are best used in your nighttime skincare routine because they may increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun.

My friend, these are the 4 types of skincare products you should reserve solely for your nighttime skincare routine…

Your nighttime skincare routine is your best opportunity to feed your skin with ingredients that get a whole 8 hours (or, 7 or 6, or - please don't make me go there *winks*) to interact, uninterruptedly with your skin. Some of these products are best used at night because they play into the whole 'renew, repair' story, and some are best used in your nighttime skincare routine because they may increase your skins sensitivity to the sun... this is what you need to know... http://wp.me/p6LuQS-15y

1) Vitamin A Based Skincare Products (Retinoids) Should Only be Used at Night

Vitamin A is a powerhouse antioxidant. It’s naturally found in leafy greens, or orange coloured foods like carrots and sweet potatoes and our bodies need it. Without vitamin A we would be blind – and yes that does mean there’s a little truth in the saying that carrots help you see in the dark *winks*.

Our bodies know how to use vitamin A which means whether we eat it or apply it to our skin, it has some juicy effects!

The 2 most well studied benefits of retinoids, which is just a way of saying vitamin A containing skincare, are;

  1. Anti-ageing, and…
  2. Anti-acne/acne fighting.

Which means if you’re concerned about premature signs of ageing or your skin is prone to acne, this is the perfect skincare ingredient for you.

Vitamin A also fits perfectly into a nighttime skincare routine as it helps skin to regenerate and become healthier, which it does best when light is not involved. Retinoids are sensitive to light, imagine heading out in brilliant sunshine without a pair of sunnies. When retinoids are exposed to light they degrade and breakup into ingredients which don’t work in the same way. That means those anti-ageing, anti-acne skills fly out the window.

Retinoids are also best used at nighttime because they may make your skin more sensitive to light. Putting my scientists hat on, I would recommend retinoids for nighttime use based on them being renewing ingredients that are sensitive to light themselves, however I can’t mention retinoids without acknowledging the skin sensitivity debate.

I call this a debate, because we don’t yet know the answer… another reason why retinoids are best used in your nighttime skincare routine. It’s just safest given we’re not yet sure…

So, what’s the deal?

If you research into the use of retinoids for your skin, you’ll start to see press that on one side of the fence shouts their amazing anti-ageing benefits and heros them as THE gold-standard treatment and then you’ll hear the other side of the fence which shouts that they make your skin more sensitive to sunlight and can therefore increase your chances of skin cancer.

Just who do you believe?

The studies which demonstrate retinoids increase your risks of skin cancer have mostly been discredited. It’s also worth to know that the control group in these studies, i.e. the group where they dosed test subjects (rats) with the same cream but without retinoids, also showed an increase in skin cancer lesions compared to the no-cream whatsoever group.

It’s all a tad confusing and there’s definitely a need for a better designed study to lay this question to rest.

For the time being, always use retinoids in your nighttime skincare routine.

Find retinoids in your skincare by searching for these names on the ingredients list; Retinol, retinyl palmitate, hydroxypinacolone retinoate, retinyl retinoate, retinaldehyde… essentially anything that has ‘retin’ in the name.

2) Face Balms, Rich Facial Oils and Intensive Moisturisers should be Used In Your Nighttime Skincare Routine…

This may rock your world… did you know your skin changes the rate it secretes sebum at depending on the time of day? This is a true story and it’s been proven many times. In the same way that the time of day and the amount of light we’re exposed to effects how sleepy we feel #Jetlag, it also effects the speed at which your skin pumps out it’s natural oil – sebum.

Our bodies have an in-built clock. It’s fancily called our circadian rhythm, but you don’t really need to remember that name, all you need to know is that this in-built clock controls when our bodies do certain thing i.e. wake-up and sleep. Do you always wake up at pretty much the same time every day? This is why…

We’ve also recently discovered that the skin has its own semi-independent in-built clock. This clock controls how quickly and therefore how much sebum our skin pushes out over the course of a day.

It generally runs like this…

  • Sebum excretion increases from the moment we wake-up.
  • Our skin secretes the most sebum at midday, this is your peak!
  • Sebum secretion decreases from midday.
  • Sebum secretion reaches its lowest point in the evening, just after your lights go off…

So how does this effect which products are best used in your nighttime skincare routine? Well my friend, imagine using an oil heavy product in the morning, close to when your skin is going to be pushing out the most sebum. It’d be a bit like trying to push an inflatable to the bottom of a swimming pool ‘eh…

Skincare products high in oils are best used in your nighttime skincare routine because they are absorbed much more effectively at night.

3) Chemical Exfoliates should Always be Used In Your Nighttime Skincare Routine

The popular kids of the chemical exfoliates world are glycolic and salicylic acid. These guys are very good at their jobs and not only help to exfoliate but also to protect from signs of ageing and even to stimulate collagen synthesis. If you want you some chemical exfoliates in your skincare routine, it’s my advice that you should always use these at night.

This is for a couple of reasons…

  • First up, chemical exfoliates remove dead skin cells which are the most actively protective.
  • They cause a temporary thinning of the skin, as dead skin cells are removed.
  • They may (may, may, may) have been shown to increase skins sensitivity to light.

Technically any product that exfoliates, has the ability to sensitise your skin to pretty much anything, including sunlight. You can think of this a little like what would happen if you sanded down a raincoat. It’s still there, but it’s lost a little of what makes it so waterproof. This is the same for any kind of exfoliation. Exfoliation removes the top layers of skin, which are the ones that provide us with the most protection.

There’s also an FDA study that shows if you use an AHA like glycolic acid and then exposure yourself to UV light, you’re likely to experience up to an 18% increase in skin reddening (aka sensitivity) and an increase in cellular damage. This study however, also happily shows that the skin sensitivity is reversible after you’ve stopped using the product.

These are the reasons why I’d always recommend using a chemical exfoliate in your nighttime skincare routine!

4) Skincare Products High in Light Sensitizing Essential Oils Should be Used at Night

If you’ve been a regular reader of my site for a while, you’ll probably know that I generally tell people to avoid skincare products with essential oils as they tend to contain known allergens, irritants and sensitizers. This can be a toughie, especially when you’re looking for naturally based skincare… and if the truth be told, it was also one of the key drivers behind why I quit my corporate climb the career ladder job to go it alone and develop a range of naturally based, ingredient conscious skincare that was also free from essential oils.

However, I know that this is not for everyone. Some of you lovelies out there will just adore the scent of essential oils far too much to part from them. That’s A-OK, I get it.

If you do use skincare products with essential oils (or even make-up your own!), you should be careful to place certain scents in your nighttime skincare routine.

This is because some essential oils cause what’s called a sensitivity reaction when exposed to UV light. It sounds very technical, but all this means is the ingredients in some essential oils reacts with UV light to increase its effects, a bit like a magnifying glass. This means you have an increased likelihood of sunburn, redness, sun damage and inflammation.

There’s a couple of key ingredients found in essential oils that’re responsible for this effect, they’re called bergaptene and 5-methoxypsolaren. They actually only need to be in the formula at 0.000075% concentration to have a phototoxic effect. That’s such a small percent ‘eh!

Luckily we know which essential oils are carriers, which brings me onto the list of nighttime only recommended essential oils, which are…

  • Bergamot
  • Lemon
  • Lime
  • Bitter Orange
  • Grapefruit
  • Angelica root
  • Cumin
  • Rue

If you make up your own essential oil blends or use skincare products which contain a lot of these ingredients, I’d recommend you use them only in your nighttime skincare routine to stay skin safe.


Tell me about your nighttime skincare routine… What do you use differently to the day? Do you already follow these 4 nighttime only recommendations? Let’s chat below my friend…