As a skincare consultant, I’m often asked if having two separate routines for the morning and night is necessary. My answer is usually the same: it’s up to you, your skin, and your goals. I know quality skincare is not cheap, and I also know that for most, it’s a hassle to get indulged in a multi-step regimen with all sorts of different products. It’s nothing wrong with keeping things simple—you know, less is more. So I’m not here to push unnecessary products or urge you to commit to a complicated routine that doesn’t fit your lifestyle. Remember, the best skincare routine is the one that you can stick to it. Whether you prefer a simple cleanse and moisturize approach or a full-blown 10-step regimen, the key is to be consistent.
However, there’s the other side, and that’s people with more problematic complexions with specific concerns to target. For those, applying the same products at night and morning, or skipping the AM or PM routine, can be the recipe for a catastrophe. It can also be ineffective in treating issues like acne, wrinkles, and dark spots.
So what’s the take here? Whether following the same routine in the morning and night or having two separate strategies for different times of the day, it’s really up to your skin and how much time and money you are willing to spend. Here are all the points I share with my patients to help them create the best morning and night skincare routines for their needs.
Morning vs. night skincare routine
First of all, it’s nothing wrong with having the same skincare in your AM and PM routines. It’s cost-effective, less of a hassle, and still gives great results if you use the right products and layer them in the correct order. However, keep in mind that the skin has different needs for day and night. So by focusing on these needs separately with two targeted routines, you ensure your skin receives the best possible care at every time of the day.
In the grand scheme of things, the morning routine should focus on protection and hydration, while the night should be about repair and treatment. This rule pretty much applies to everyone, and it’s the best way to do your skincare—it’s also what most derms recommend.
Since the skin is more responsive to regenerative ingredients like retinoids and peptides at night when it enters the repairing mode, you need to give it products that support the process while you sleep, whereas sunscreen and antioxidants such as vitamin C are more effective during the day to protect from pollution and sun damage.
Don’t worry. You don’t need two completely different lineups of products for your morning and nighttime routine. Swapping out your lightweight morning moisturizer for a heavier one and incorporating a retinol or AHA/BHA product at night is most of the time enough.
Different types of skin may require different morning and nighttime routines
Here’s another truth: There’s no one-size-fits-all answer in skincare, so what ends up well for your friend may end up bad for you.
For example, someone with oily skin may benefit from toner in the morning to get rid of excess sebum, while dry skin may require a richer cream at night to prevent dehydration. Similarly, people with dry skin often skip the morning cleanse to avoid over-stripping the moisture, while those with oily complexions indulge in a double-cleansing routine to remove the oil, bacteria, and makeup more thoroughly.
With countless options available, building a personalized morning and night routine that works for you (and only you) is no easy feat. If you’re feeling stuck, here are some helpful tips to get started.
The morning routine is all about keeping your skin moisturized and protected from external stressors throughout the day. So a lightweight moisturizer, an antioxidant serum, and sunscreen are necessary.
Kick off your morning routine by cleansing your skin. Whether you prefer to use a gentle cleanser or simply splash your face in lukewarm water, it’s your choice. But if you wake up with very dry and flaky skin, consider skipping the cleanser in the morning since it may strip the essential oils and leave your face feeling even more parched. Use water or a face mist instead. On the other hand, if you have a greasy complexion, cleansing in the morning can help reduce oiliness and prevent the formation of pimples and congested pores.
During the day, it’s best to use a lightweight moisturizer to provide hydration to your skin without making it feel heavy or greasy. Pick a formula with humectants like hyaluronic acid, glycerin, panthenol, and aloe vera, and apply it after cleansing and serum. Feel free to reapply the moisturizer up to three times a day if necessary.
Having your skin fully defended against sun damage, pollution, dust, and other environmental factors during the day is absolutely non-negotiable. These factors contribute to skin damage and can even prematurely age it. So at the bare minimum, you should apply sun protection as the last step of your daytime routine and reapply it every two hours when you spend a lot of time outdoors—I recommend these SPF 50 sunscreens.
To further consolidate your skin’s defense, you can apply an antioxidant serum with vitamin C after cleansing and before moisturizing. Think of it as the cavalry that fights those free radicals that have managed to get through the sunscreen and enter the skin.
As far as your nighttime routine goes, the focus should be on replenishing the skin barrier and treating your specific skin issues. Therefore, you need to change your daytime moisturizer for a heavier cream and the antioxidant serum for targeted treatment like retinol. Additionally, you can add an exfoliator, eye cream, facial oil, and even a sleeping mask.
Reach for targeted treatment
Because the skin is most receptive now, you need to bring out the heavy hitters to allow them to work their magic overnight. As such, this is the ideal time to reach for a retinol serum which is pretty much an all-in-one solution for most skin foes and a great preventative measure against aging signs. Retinol increases cell turnover and collagen production—two processes that also happen while you sleep—so by applying it before hitting the bed you get the most out of its skin-renewing powers.
If you’re prone to breakouts, however, a treatment with salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide, like Kate Somerville EradiKate, might work better for you to reduce blemishes and keep pimples under control.
P.S.: Once or twice weekly, swap your retinol serum or acne treatment with an exfoliant product with AHAs and BHAs to remove the buildup of dead cells and promote a smoother appearance.
Restore the skin
To restore the lipid barrier—which is your skin’s first line of defense against environmental stressors—try incorporating a night cream with ceramides, niacinamide, fatty acids, and cholesterol. These ingredients help improve the barrier function and increase moisture retention, both necessary for healthy skin. They also reduce the chances of breakouts, dehydration, redness, and rough texture.
Slugging is also a popular skincare technique people turn to in their PM regimen to replenish moisture levels. It basically implies applying a thick layer of petrolatum or other occlusives to the face after finishing the whole skincare routine. This helps create a protective film over the skin to lock in moisture and prevent its evaporation while you Zzz. This method is especially effective if you have a dehydrated complexion or during winter when skin tends to get drier than usual. However, if you have oily skin, use a lightweight moisturizer instead to prevent pores from clogging.
Cleanse more thoroughly
Nighttime is also about deep cleansing. If you could skip face washing in the morning, you need to give your skin a thorough cleanse at night to remove the makeup and sunscreen of the day as well as eliminate all the traces of dirt and pollution accumulated. Most of the time, a gentle cleanser will do the job, but in case your skin produces excess sebum and breaks out often, it’s better to give it a double cleanse. That means using a cleansing oil first, which is more effective at removing oil-based impurities (like makeup and sebum), and following with a water-based face wash after to remove the oil residues left by the first cleanse.
Time for some extra TLC
Finally, to give your complexion a boost of hydration overnight, consider using a facial oil or sleeping mask as the final step in your PM routine. Adding a nourishing eye cream into your nighttime routine may help as well, as the delicate skin around your eyes can benefit from targeted hydration and anti-aging ingredients.
The best order to apply skincare products for an effective routine
The secret to a perfect skincare routine is to layer your products strategically, starting with the lightest, most watery textures and working your way up to the thickest, most occlusive ones. Make sure to cleanse first, then follow up with toner, serum, eye cream, moisturizer, and sunscreen in the correct order for maximum benefits.
Morning or night, here’s the best order to apply your products:
- Eye Cream
- Face oil
Why is a nighttime routine essential?
The skin regenerates at night, so using targeted products to support the natural repairing process is essential to maintain your skin healthy. Also, this study shows that the pH of the skin is naturally more acidic at night, which makes it easier for products to penetrate, especially exfoliants that are acidic in their nature. This means the nighttime routine can provide more significant benefits than the daytime routine.
What time should you do your night skincare routine?
It depends; you need to find a time that suits your schedule and allows you to dedicate at least 8 minutes to properly care for your skin. You can do it right after you complete your evening activities or before bedtime. It’s your choice as long as you’re committed to doing it every night.
Is it okay to only do skincare in the morning?
It’s preferable to do your skincare routine twice a day, in the morning and in the evening. But if your skin is already in good shape and you have no issues to target, don’t feel guilty about skipping a few products in your nighttime routine or the day one (it’s your choice). However, at night, you should still cleanse your skin, and in the morning, apply sunscreen. That’s non-negotiable.