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A night cream is a moisturizer you wear while you sleep; it is heavier than a daytime lotion, and it helps trap hydration in the skin (plus any treatment serum or retinol you have applied prior). Furthermore, night cream usually has replenishing and nourishing properties that help your skin regenerate faster and more efficiently as you slumber. For this reason, night creams are a terrific way to “sleep off” any superficial concerns.
There are a couple of different ways to think about night creams, though, and it depends on what role you need that product to play. Primarily, they will be the last step in the regimen, and you can apply treatment serums or retinol beneath that cream, to lock in the benefits of those same active ingredients.
“Night cream should be a salvation for your skin, packed with ingredients that help the skin repair the damage done during the day, and get ready for the next one,” says board-certified dermatologist Heather Rogers, M.D., of Modern Dermatology in Seattle (and founder of Doctor Rogers Skincare). “During sleep, the body’s circulation increases, leading to better absorption of active ingredients. If the ingredients are beneficial to the skin, this is a good thing. Quality sleep allows for better skin repair and improved overall skin health, particularly if you are using products that aid in the process.”
Read on for our picks for the best night creams, as well as what to look for in those products, and how different skin types and climates should incorporate night cream into their regimen.
The Best Ingredients in Night Creams
Dr. Rogers identifies the following ingredients as ideal ones to look for in a night cream—keeping in mind that you can also get active ingredients in a treatment product, which is applied prior to the night cream. Still, the ingredients below represent the ones most suitable in protecting and replenishing skin, while sealing off those treatments so that they get maximum absorption and expression.
Squalane: “This mimics our skin’s natural oils, making it a superb moisturizer helping to improve skin elasticity, enhance the skin barrier, and reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines,” says Rogers. “It is also packed with antioxidants to help protect the skin from free radicals.”
Plant oils: “Think jojoba oil or esters, limnanthes alba (meadowfoam) seed oil, castor oil, shea butter,” she explains. “They all help rebuild its natural moisturizing factor, a key part of the skin’s barrier.”
Niacinamide: “This is an effective skin-restoring vitamin shown to improve skin barrier function, reduce the appearance of enlarged pores, uneven skin tone, fine lines, wrinkles, dullness, redness, and irritation.”
Centella Asiatica Extract: Also known as cica grass or tiger grass, this is a hypoallergenic extract from a medicinal herb (Indian pennywort and gotu kola). “It has powerful antioxidants that soothe skin irritation, improve skin barrier function, increase hydration, minimize scarring, and aid in restoring skin,” says Rogers.
Ceramides: “These help restore skin barrier function and decrease water loss by filling in the intercellular spaces between skin cells.”
Hyaluronic Acid/Sodium Hyaluronate: “Hyaluronic acid is an excellent skin-replenishing ingredient used to maintain water balance and is a postbiotic able to help feed and maintain a healthy skin microbiome.”
Antioxidants: “Some of the ingredients listed above have antioxidant qualities that are beneficial to the skin,” says Rogers.
Do You Need a Separate Night Cream and Daytime Moisturizer?
Skin type and seasonality are the biggest factors that determine the skincare products you use. If it’s hot and humid, you’ll probably choose something different than you would on a cold and dry day (or night). Ditto if you have oily skin instead of dry skin. So, the answer to the above question—whether or not you actually need a separate moisturizer for daytime and nighttime—varies for many people.
However, this is separate from the fact that many daytime moisturizers incorporate SPF into their formulas. Obviously you do not need SPF at bedtime, so let’s assume that the above question is being asked under the assumption that someone is using a face sunscreen on top of their daytime moisturizer.
For Dry Skin and Climates: It’s probably likelier that you can use the same product day and night, says Rogers. If you are dry skinned, this cream should be heavier in nature compared to what an oily skinned or normal skinned person would wear, and if you are normal or oily skinned and adjusting to a dry climate, it’s likely you may just wear this at night.
For Normal and Oily Skin, or Humid Climates: There’s a good chance your skin has enough moisture to go for a lighter day cream, and then to incorporate a heavy moisturizer at night. “But if you have oily skin, you may only want a lighter moisturizer twice a day, for both applications,” says Rogers. However, if you sleep in an air conditioned bedroom, keep in mind that it is both cool and dry, so you may want that denser night cream regardless.
The Best Night Creams
Best Overall: Genaissance de la Mer The Concentrated Night Balm
This balm, suitable for all skin types, infuses La Mer’s signature Miracle Broth so that skin rejuvenates and heals on hyperspeed as you sleep. It also uses an amino acid ferment for deep hydration, as well as the brand’s “Genaissance Ferment” which combines red algae with 24 karat gold to boost collagen production and keep skin looking firm.
Best for Dry Skin and Climates: Doctor Rogers Restore Face Cream
Here’s a perfect day-and-night cream for dry skin and climates, anchored by squalane, shea butter, niacinamide, and glycerin. It even cuts out your need for eye creams, neck creams, and décolletage creams, so that you can invest all of your anti-aging and nourishing needs into one core product.
Best for Oily Skin and Humid Climates: Aesop B Triple C Facial Balancing Gel
Here’s a curious product, a gel that applies somewhat like honey, and firms skin as it absorbs. It’s a lightweight layer that won’t wear heavily on oily skin types or in humid climates, and infuses skin with nourishing panthenol and antioxidant-rich Vitamin C.
Best for Aging Skin: Omorovicza Rejuvenating Night Cream
This buttery recipe is infused with the healing thermal waters of Hungary. It accelerates cellular turnover with Vitamin A, boosts antioxidant supply with plum almond oil, and improves collagen production thanks to carrot oil. Use it to slow visible signs of aging, and to take a few years off your mug with continued use, too.
Best for Stressed-Out Skin: Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Omega-Rich Cloud Cream
Rich in omega fatty acids, this whip-like night cream suits all skin types, but is especially adept at reviving tired, stressed, or dull skin in a single night’s slumber. It leaves skin looking plumper, fuller, and brighter—and as pillowy soft as the cream itself.
Best Night Mask: Chantecaille Jasmine and Lily Healing Mask
Night masks are slightly different from regular night creams, in that you deploy a mask once every week or so—or in times of dire hydration needs. It will wear slightly more heavily on the skin, perhaps even leaving a slight film that you rinse away come morning. Chantecaille’s extremely hydrating and healing mask is like superfood for the skin; you can enjoy its benefits in a single 20-minute wear, or sleep on it for the most supple, soothed, and hydrated results.