The Exact Order You Should Apply Your Skincare Products — Morning and Night

Morning Skincare Routine

The main focus of your morning routine should be hydration, plus setting the stage for the day with protection against whatever elements your skin is going to come into contact with.

Although most of the world is still abiding by shelter-in-place or social distance mandates, our day-to-day routines right now still impact our skin, from wearing a face mask regularly to the endless Zoom work calls you’re doing all day long. And if you’re anything like me, not adhering to proper posture and resting your chin on your hands instead.

“You may believe that most of the skin damage you get is caused by sun exposure and outdoor pollution, but the World Health Organization has now determined that indoor pollution is worse than outdoor pollution,” says Dr. Loretta Ciraldo, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Dr. Loretta skincare. “Consider what you’re doing during the day and what elements you may be facing when you’re applying your skincare products in the morning.”

Step 1: Cleanser

Using a gentle cleanser in the morning is important for any skin type, concern, etc.

“Cleansers for sensitive skin in particular should have a creamy or milky formulation,” says Dr. Jennifer MacGregor, dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology, who also notes that any topical treatments can have a bit of a drying effect at first. “I love Cetaphil milky cleanser because it gently cleanses without drying or stripping your skin’s moisture barrier.”

Step 2: Any topical treatment

“Differin is the only topical that can be applied day or night,” says MacGregor, but it should always be applied to skin directly after cleansing and patting — never rubbing — skin dry.

“Use only a pea-sized amount of Differin gel around your entire face,” recommends MacGregor. Then gently massage until the gel is absorbed.

Step 3: Serum

A hydrating serum is a great option for morning to ensure the skin is moisturized. MacGregor’s favorite, Alto Defense Serum by Skin Better, offers a generous mix of antioxidants, fatty acids, and ceramides. These powerhouse ingredients build a saran wrap-like cover over the skin, which protect from dryness and free radicals, plus it soothes inflammation and the appearance of skin redness. Remember: Hydrated skin is happy skin.

Step 4: Eye Gel

An eye gel can de-puff smooth out the under-eye area, which will make makeup application easier. Tap Biossance Squalane + Peptide Eye Gel around the upper and lower eye area with your fingertip to calm and hydrate skin.

Step 5: Moisturizer

Once your serum and eye gel are fully absorbed, follow up with a lightweight, but seriously hydrating moisturizer to further prime and prep your skin for the day ahead.

When it comes to the best ingredients in a moisturizer to satisfy thirsty skin, “look for barrier repair ingredients, like fatty acids and squalane,” recommends Alexiades, as a healthy skin barrier is essential to smooth, hydrated skin. Omega-3 and omega-6 are the most popular fatty acids. Although common plant, nut and seed oils, like sunflower, safflower, flaxseed, and rose-hip seed, also have high concentrations of omega acids, so keep an eye out for those ingredients, too.

But before you settle on a morning moisturizer, evaluate whether stress is also affecting your skin’s oil production, causing your face to look extra shiny by lunchtime.

“If moisturizers with those ingredients are too creamy and your skin is oily, consider Theraplex HydroLotion or CeraVe moisturizing cream,” says MacGregor, adding that these formulations were specifically designed for sensitive skin.

Step 6: SPF

“You should finish off with SPF,” says Dr. Ellen Marmur, dermatologist and founder of Marmur Metamorphosis Skincare. “No matter the time of the year, this ingredient should always be a factor in your routine in order to fully protect your skin from the sun’s UV rays.”

Active topicals (like Differin) that work to increase cell turnover tend to also increase photosensitivity, says Alexiades, making daily sunscreen applications an absolute must.

Marmur suggests using a mineral sunscreen with zinc or titanium dioxide, which sits on top of skin instead of getting absorbed. EltaMD’s UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46 is a sunscreen beloved by beauty editors and dermatologists alike.

Nighttime Skincare Routine

At night, Dr. Marmur says that your primary concern should be repairing and rejuvenating your skin.

“Your skin needs to be nourished morning and night,” adds Dr. Ciraldo. “But nighttime is when you should address your personal skin issues.”

Plus, let’s be realistic: Who has time to do a face mask when they’re getting ready in the morning?

Step 1: Cleanser

You’ve probably heard how important it is not to sleep with your makeup on, so unsurprisingly, cleansing your face should be the first step in your nighttime routine, but which cleanser you reach for depends on your skin type.

“People with normal to dry skin should choose a hydrating cleanser,” says Alexiades. “If you strip the skin with an alpha hydroxy acid cleanser, it may be too dry and the Differin gel will further peel the skin and result in itchiness and flaking.”

If you have oily skin, “a sulfur or acid cleanser may be okay to prep the skin before your topicals,” she explains, while noting that with serious breakouts, a medicated cleanser may be prescribed and should only be used at night.

Step 2: Any topical treatment

Just like in the morning, “a pea-sized amount of (in this case) Differin should be first on cleansed skin and then layer creamier formulations on top,” says MacGregor. Be sure to apply Differin all over your face rather than as a spot-treatment to defend against future breakouts.

Step 3: Serum

When treating acne with a topical product, there is truth to the “too much of a good thing” saying. Dr. Alexiades says to definitely avoid using retinol, Retin A, or other retinoids, and think twice before adding chemical exfoliants or peel pads to the mix. “If you use a benzoyl peroxide or acid, beware that your skin may get too raw, dry and inflamed,” she warns.

An ultra-nourishing and replenishing serum is your best — and safest — move for a bedtime serum after a topical. Go with a formula that has soothing, hydrating ingredients to bind moisture to skin without clogging pores, like SkinCeuticals Hydrating B5 Gel.

Step 4: Eye Serum

“Always use an eye repair serum, since this is one of the more sensitive parts of the face and ages faster than other areas,” says Dr. Marmur. “People may habitually itch and rub their eyes during the day due to dryness or just pure stress.” Elemis’ Absolute Eye Serum is designed to reduce dark circles and puffiness while keeping the entire area soft and smooth.

Step 5: Moisturizer

Nighttime is when you can use a moisturizer that’s richer than what you would typically use in the morning. “This will keep your skin hydrated throughout the nighttime and ready for the morning,” explains Dr. Marmur. “Look for a moisturizer that’s oil-free in order to not add to the amount of natural oil your body produces when you’re sleeping.”

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20 Night Creams That Will Help You Wake Up With Glowing Skin

Ask any skincare lover, and they’ll tell you there’s no better feeling than coming home after a long day, removing all your makeup, and applying your nighttime skincare routine. While you can use the same cleansers, toners, and serums that you applied in the AM, if you’re looking to really transform your skin, you should be using a night cream as the last step in your PM routine instead of your regular face moisturizer. 

According to New York City-based dermatologist Dr. Debra Jaliman, that’s because “night creams are more nourishing and hydrating than your daytime moisturizer. Generally, night creams contain more moisturizing ingredients and are thicker in texture.”

Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Joshua Zeichner agrees on the importance of having a night cream in your beauty arsenal, telling InStyle, “We know that skin goes through circadian rhythms, where specific activities occur in the morning and others in the evening. Skin hydration levels start to decline in the afternoon and continue into the evening, and skin cell turnover increases while we sleep. So a night cream is important to address the specific issues that the skin faces in the evening — offering hydrating and enhancing skin repair and collagen production.” 

When it comes to choosing the right night cream for your skin, Dr. Zeichner recommends looking for creams that are “designed for nighttime use, usually containing ingredients that stimulate collagen production to address fine lines and wrinkles, such as retinol, hydroxy acids, peptides, or specialized botanical ingredients.”  

Meanwhile, Dr. Jaliman says that in addition to formulas that will stimulate skin cell renewal, the best night creams should also feature moisturizing ingredients like hyaluronic acid, shea butter, and ceramides. That’s because “improving our skin’s hydration as we sleep is very important.”

With so many night creams on the market, it can be tricky figuring out which ones are actually worth buying, so with these dermatologist guidelines in mind, InStyle editors rounded up 20 night creams that customers say help them wake up with glowing skin each morning. From a retinol-infused night cream to a multitasking option and an affordable drugstore pick, keep reading to shop them all.

These are the best night creams to buy:

Top-Rated Option: CeraVe Skin Renewing Night Cream

Over 10,000 Amazon shoppers are obsessed with this CeraVe night cream, with many calling it a “miracle in a jar.” The popular product is packed with ceramides and peptides that work together to soften and rejuvenate your skin overnight, so you’ll wake up with a refreshed and glowing complexion. Even better, it’s also infused with hyaluronic acid to target fine lines and wrinkles. “This product is amazing,” raved one shopper. “I saw results the first morning after use. Unbelievable. Significantly less redness and a huge reduction in acne. It’s been about two weeks now and my skin looks the best it has in years. I’ve even had compliments this week on my clear, youthful skin! I’m hooked for life.”

Buy on Amazon $22

Best Dermatologist Pick: Senté Dermal Repair Cream

Santé’s night cream may be pricey, but Dr. Jaliman says it’s worth every penny. It’s one of her top picks because “it contains green tea and hyaluronic acid and has an ingredient called Heparin Sulfate Analog (HSA) that works to deeply hydrate and maintain your skin’s health. It helps lessen the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.” In addition to hydrating skin and reducing redness, Dr. Jaliman says it’s a great option “for those who need to repair the skin barrier.”

Buy at Dermstore $158

Best for Dry Skin: L’Occitane Ultra-Rich Shea Butter Cream

This L’Occitane night cream uses shea butter and glycerin as its active ingredients, which makes it a great deeply moisturizing treatment. Shoppers with extremely dry skin said this product is the only thing that finally got rid of their dry patches and flaky skin. Plus, they love that the night cream left their skin looking fresh and dewy and not greasy. “This is my holy grail product for my super dry and dehydrated skin. It is a lifesaver during the cold and drying winter in Massachusetts,” raved one reviewer.   

Buy on Amazon $34

Best for Dull Skin: Clarins Extra-Firming Wrinkle Control Regenerating Night Cream

Clarins’ overnight cream will revive lackluster skin and give you a more youthful appearance. Dr. Zeichner is a fan because it’s “a rich, hydrating cream that contains a blend of botanical extracts to help firm and improve the appearance of lines and wrinkles.” Reviewers say that it made their skin look firmer and smoother in just one use. One shopper called it “an overnight facial in a bottle,” before adding “My skin was glowing and plump. I was in awe of how much it changed my skin in less than seven hours. I repurchased this again finally and this morning my boyfriend mentioned how supple and radiant my skin looked”

Buy at Sephora $94

Best Collagen-Infused: Maryann Organics Collagen Night Cream

This night cream by Maryann Organics is infused with collagen to help reverse prominent signs of aging. The multitasking product smoothes fine lines and wrinkles, diminishes the look of dark spots, and hydrates skin at the same time. Customers love how the cream is made in the U.S. from organic materials and that it doesn’t leave behind a sticky or tacky feel. “I love this moisturizer,” said one reviewer. “It’s not super pricey and it does exactly what I need, evens out skin tone and helps wrinkles — really makes me feel awake and young just after 20 minutes of putting it on. Especially overnight I wake up feeling great on my skin in the morning.” 

Buy on Amazon $40

Best Drugstore Option: L’Oreal Revitalift Night Cream

If you’re looking for an effective night cream that won’t break the bank, thousands of Amazon shoppers recommend L’Oreal’s Revitalift version. The product’s three main ingredients (pro-retinol, hyaluronic acid, and vitamin C) hydrate and smooth skin while evening out your complexion. According to the brand, you’ll see brighter and firmer skin with just one week’s use, and tons of customers agree. “After a week, I felt that I had a younger glow. After at least two weeks, my skin actually does look a more consistent texture and color — I haven’t even been wearing makeup,” raved one shopper. “It’s lightweight and smells delicious and is very inexpensive, which surprised me. I almost feel like it’s too lightweight to work, but the ingredients must be doing something for my skin.”

Buy on Amazon $20

Best Multitasking Option: RoC Multi Correxion 5-in-1 Restoring Night Cream

The best beauty products can tackle more than one issue at once, so it’s no wonder this multitasking RoC night cream is so popular with Amazon shoppers. The five-in-one product smooths wrinkles, reduces the appearance of hyperpigmentation, tightens and hydrates skin, and evens out skin tones at the same time. Plus, the product is non-comedogenic, so you never have to worry about it clogging your pores or causing breakouts. One shopper wrote, “I can’t rave enough about this product! I’ve been using it for over a year now and can really tell the difference when I miss a few days. When you put this on the night before, your skin feels so smooth and supple the following morning. Some days I can actually skip my day moisturizer, this product works that well. It is definitely a workhorse against fine lines and pores. I’ve used products costing far more that do much less.”

Buy on Amazon $24

Best Cruelty-Free Option: Kleem Organics Anti-Aging Retinol Cream

If shopping cruelty-free products is important to you, check out this night cream from Kleem Organics. Along with toning and firming your skin, the paraben-free product also works to improve the look and feel of your skin’s overall texture. For these reasons and more, over 4,000 customers have given it a perfect five-star rating, with one writing,  “This stuff feels like silk going on and works great. Soaks in immediately. I used it twice a day when I first received it because of the cold weather my face turns into scales. It worked overnight it seemed. My face is as smooth as a baby’s tushie.”

Buy on Amazon $35

Best Brightening Option: Caudalie Vinoperfect Brightening Glycolic Overnight Cream

Using viniferine and hyaluronic acid, this brightening night cream by Caudalie will visibly reduce the appearance of dark spots and hyperpigmentation while also plumping your skin. In a clinical self-assessment study, 95 percent of users said their skin looked brighter and 100 percent of users said their skin looked more rested after using the night cream for just 56 days. “I’ve used this consistently at night for a least a year now, and I can honestly say this is one of the BEST night creams on the market,” raved one shopper. “No matter what my skin is going through, this cream restores my skin texture at night and leaves it bright come morning. I’ve also seen the effects of brightening as my dark spots have faded tremendously.”

Buy at Sephora $75

Best Firming Option: StriVectin Advanced Retinol Intensive Night Moisturizer

To start off their day with firmer and smoother skin, hundreds of Amazon shoppers slather on this StriVectin night cream before they go to sleep. It’s loaded with powerful ingredients like copper tripeptide and retinol to minimize the look for wrinkles, tighten crepey skin, and increase your skin’s elasticity. “I have definitely noticed a positive effect on my skin. I’m 58, and have fair skin with a tendency to dryness, and, in this recent foul weather, redness. This intensive night moisturizer has done a lot to alleviate that. It goes on easily, and you don’t need a bunch to get good coverage. My skin is clearer, firmer, and some of my fine lines have already started to disappear,” said one shopper.  

Buy on Amazon $112

Best Strengthening Option: Lancome Bienfait Multi-Vital Overnight Moisturizer

This Lancome night cream is a favorite of Nordstrom shoppers who love how well it hydrates their skin and improves their complexion. The popular skincare essential uses a unique strengthening complex made up of omegas 3 and 6 and vitamins E and C, which work together to hydrate skin and protect it from external aggressors. “Absolutely love this night cream,” said one customer. “Best I’ve ever used. I suffer from dry skin on my forehead and cheeks and clogged pores on nose and chin. This has done wonders to hydrate and smooth my skin. I’m 41 and have finally found my holy grail! Better than any other high-end or drugstore brands I’ve used including those twice as expensive.”

Buy at Nordstrom $56

Best Hydrating Option: Burt’s Bees Intense Hydration Night Cream

Target dryness by letting your skin soak up this Burt’s Bees Night Cream while you sleep. Made from 98.9 percent natural ingredients like jojoba oil and Clary sage, the top-rated night cream promises to hydrate your skin for up to 24 hours at a time. After using the cream for a few weeks, many shoppers said it not only softened and moisturized their skin, but it also reduced redness and inflammation. “This feels amazing and creamy,” wrote one customer. “Rubs in well, leaves a little oily sheen, but I like that. I have super dry skin, particularly in the winter so it’s very soothing. I’m sensitive to smells and this doesn’t bother me. I’ve tried multiple natural night creams but none of them leave my skin feeling as hydrated as this one.”

Buy on Amazon $18

Best Fast-Acting Option: It Cosmetics Confidence In Your Beauty Sleep Night Cream

While most skincare products can take weeks or months to work, It Cosmetics says you’ll see results from its night cream in just seven days. The fast-acting formula is full of hyaluronic acid, adenosine, and ceramides that smooth out fine lines, wrinkles, as well as revive dull, dry, and saggy skin, all while you sleep. Shoppers also love how great it smells. “What’s not to love with this cream? It has a pleasant, light lavender scent — perfectly relaxing for nighttime,” wrote one shopper. “I love that it’s thick enough to have that luxurious feel on my face, yet so absorbent that it immediately sinks into the skin. I never knew just how thirsty my skin was until I started using this. And bonus — my fine lines on my forehead have started diminishing after one week of use. It’s noticeable!”

Buy at ULTA $54

Best Day & Night Option: Tula 24-7 Hydrating Day & Night Cream

Looking for a super hydrating night cream that’s also lightweight enough to be used during the day? Check out this option from Tula. The moisturizing treatment gives your skin a dose of olive oil squalane, shea butter, grape seed oil, and vitamin C to increase skin hydration and target dark spots, fine lines, and more. Meanwhile, the probiotics in the cream work to calm skin and reduce inflammation. “This product is amazing and is by far the best moisturizer I’ve ever used,” wrote one reviewer. “I first started using it when I was getting hormonal acne and it soothed my skin almost immediately (along with the salicylic acid gel). Then, I moved from a humid climate to the Arizona desert and it supported me through that too! The only con is the price, but the little jar lasts me well over a month, so no big problem.”

Buy at ULTA $52

Best Vitamin C Cream: Derma E Vitamin C Intense Night Cream

This Derma E night cream is loved by hundreds of Ulta customers because it uses vitamin C to make dark spots and hyperpigmentation much less noticeable. The vegan face cream also helps smooth wrinkles, improve skin texture, and even out skin tone. “I apply a thick amount right before I go to bed, and magic seems to happen overnight. I’m a skincare buff and have tried so many products. I’m hooked on this night cream. My acne scars are slowly fading and skin is consistently smoother and more radiant. And the price for this cream is incredible, compared to hundreds I’ve spent on other brands that haven’t worked half as well.” 

Buy at ULTA $20

Best for Wrinkles: No. 7 Lift & Luminate Triple Action Night Cream

Ulta customers say their wrinkles have met their match with this night cream by No. 7. According to the brand, your fine lines will be reduced and skin will appear firmer with just two weeks of use. The product also targets dark spots and scarring at the same time, leaving you with a brighter and smoother complexion. “This cream does exactly what it states it does, just better. In less than two weeks, I could see a huge difference in my skin,” raved one shopper. “Both my face and neck are so amazingly soft now. It has made me just speechless at how wonderful this product works.”

Buy at ULTA $27

Best for Sensitive Skin: Clinique Smart Night Custom-Repair Moisturizer Cream

If you suffer from sensitive skin and need a night cream that won’t cause any outbreaks or irritations, consider this Clinique option. Along with being non-acnegenic and allergy-tested, the cream is also free from any fragrances, parabens, sulfates, and phthalates. Shoppers love the skincare product because it revived their dull and dry complexions and left them with smoother, firmer, and plumper skin. “I’ve been using this moisturizer for a little over a month now and I am quite pleased,” wrote one customer. “It is not heavy, has not caused any breakouts and I have noticed improvement in the appearance of my skin. I’m sure the longer I use it, the more it will help, and I look forward to further results.”

Buy at Nordstrom $59

Best Splurge: Shiseido Future Solution LX Total Regenerating Moisturizer Night Cream

If you’re willing to splurge on a top-of-the-line night cream, Nordstrom shoppers say to make it this Shiseido option. The rich and hydrating formula features the brand’s signature SkingenecellEnmei complex, which “slows down the appearance of visible signs of aging and helps restore and prolong a youthful look.” The cream is also infused with Brunet extract and Japanese botanicals that make your skin look and feel more supple. One shopper wrote, “This cream is amazing. It makes pores tiny, leaves a beautiful texture on your skin, and my face has a healthy glow all day. I went on vacation and forgot my regular very expensive cream at home. Had a sample of the Future Solutions cream and used it. I kept looking in the mirror because my skin looked gorgeous after one day. By the time I got home, I had to buy cream! It continues to make my skin look terrific, and I will continue to buy it.”

Buy at Nordstrom $285

Best Retinol Option: Murad Retinol Youth Renewal Night Cream

Retinol is the main ingredient in this Murad night cream, meaning it will boost skin’s natural collagen production and help reverse prominent signs of aging. The cream’s ultra-hydrating formula also features niacinamide and picolinamide, which help even out skin tone and leave you with a glowing complexion. In a four-week clinical trial, 83 percent of users said they “noticed firmer, more supple skin,” while 80 percent said they “saw increased radiance and glow.” One shopper called it their “holy grail” before adding, “This night cream is great for those who want to reduce fine lines and reduce breakouts. I was struggling with acne after stopping birth control and was under quite a bit of life stress (i.e. wrinkles formed) and this stuff has saved my skin.”

Buy at Sephora $82

Best Mask: Glow Recipe Watermelon + AHA Glow Sleeping Mask

This Glow Recipe Sleeping Mask is one of Sephora’s most popular overnight treatments with an impressive 205,000 “loves” from shoppers who say it has transformed their skin. Like the other night creams on this list, the nighttime product should be applied to your face before you go to sleep. The hyaluronic acid and AHAs in the formula to exfoliate dead skin cells and shrink the look of pores, while the watermelon extract and peony root work together to hydrate and brighten the skin. “This stuff is amazing! The first night that I tried it, it made my face tingle. The next morning I woke up with a very noticeable difference. My pores were minimized, my skin tone was even, my fine lines were less noticeable, my skin looked healthier than it has in a long time. Very polished. The results got even better as I kept using it.”

Buy at Sephora $59

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