When you fall into bed tonight, take a moment to thank your body for all the work it’s about to do. That’s right -- the most passive part of your day is actually the busiest and most productive for your complexion. When you’re in a deep, restful state, and not being bombarded by UV rays and pollution, cell turnover and collagen production begin, explains Manhattan dermatologist Dendy Engelman. What’s more, after an initial dip, your body temperature rises while you sleep, making skin more receptive to the active ingredients you put on top. To take full advantage of this dream scenario, read on.
Nighttime is the right time for retinol. The vitamin A derivative is the most-studied anti-aging ingredient, and has been proven to boost cell turnover and collagen production. But it’s also a notoriously delicate molecule that loses potency when exposed to light, and it can cause irritation, like dryness and flaking. Use a pea-size amount sparingly every other evening.
TRY: Dermalogica Overnight Retinol Repair, $97, dermalogica.com.
For a more radiant, even complexion, enlist an alpha hydroxy acid, like glycolic acid, which dissolves the desmosomes (or “glue”) that keep dead cells stuck to the skin’s surface. Put it on your face, neck, and chest, and let it do its thing while you doze. Like retinol, AHAs can cause peeling, so limit use to every other night, and layer moisturizer on top.
TRY: Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum, $90, sephora.com.
Everyone’s skin loses water at night, but if you’re already prone to feeling parched, flood your face with extra moisture via an overnight treatment. Hyaluronic acid is the Sham Wow of skin care, attracting and holding a thousand times its weight in water. Add it to your p.m. routine twice a week, and soak in the benefits.
TRY: Aveeno Positively Radiant Overnight Hydrating Facial Moisturizer, $14, target.com.
Fix Skin Damage
Topical antioxidants block free radicals, the unstable molecules that gobble up collagen and damage DNA. They’re typically caused by sunlight and pollution, and recent studies suggest their effects linger long after sundown. Applying a facial oil containing vitamins E or C or green tea at night not only helps repair the day’s damage; it also prepares skin for tomorrow’s onslaught.
TRY: Moonlit Skincare Midnight Shift Overnight Facial Oil with vitamin E and green tea, $34, shopmoonlit.com.
Sensitive skin needs a special assist to bolster its barrier and ease irritation. Keep things simple with a fragrance-free night cream, and look for calming ingredients like oatmeal, feverfew, or tiger grass (a chlorophyll-containing Asian herb, also known as cica).
TRY: Dr. Jart+ Cicapair Tiger Grass Nightly Re.Pair Mask, $48, sephora.com.
Lips are quick to dry out, because they have fewer oil and sweat glands and protective layers than the rest of your face. When a daily swipe of lip balm isn’t cutting it, slather on fatty acids before bed. A generous coat of emollient cocoa butter, ceramide, or jojoba oil will replenish moisture and seal it in.
TRY: Burt’s Bees Overnight Intensive Lip Treatment, $9, burtsbees.com.
Salicylic acid is the gold standard for pimple-prone adult skin. This beta hydroxy acid is oil-soluble, so it has the chops to degunk oil, dirt, and dead cells that clog pores. Spot-treat with it during the day if you have a blemish or breakout, but smooth a nightly mask onto your face, neck, and even back to decongest skin and prevent future eruptions.
TRY: The Body Shop Tea Tree Anti-Imperfection Night Mask, $22, thebodyshop.com.
A gentler alternative to skinbleaching hydroquinone, licoriceroot extract interrupts the enzymes that activate melanin production and cause liver spots. Smooth sunscreen onto your hands by day (UVB rays are a known cause of hyperpigmentation), and target darker areas with a licoriceroot serum at night.
TRY: Aveda Hand Relief Night Renewal Serum, $35, aveda.com.
If a few drops of styling oil tame frayed ends before blow-drying, imagine what’s possible when you work the stuff into strands and leave it overnight. Argan and sweetalmond oil rehab hair by replacing lost lipids and smoothing down cuticles. Comb them through the bottom two-thirds (or start at the roots, if your texture is coarse), and shampoo them out in the a.m. Lightweight nighttime formulas shouldn’t ruin bedding, but why not cover your pillow with a towel for peace of mind?
TRY: Vernon François Overnight Repair Treatment Oil, $42, vernonfrancois.com.
Michael Breus, a clinical psychologist and board-certified sleep specialist in Los Angeles (thesleepdoctor.com). Rebecca Robbins, a postdoctoral researcher at the NYU School of Medicine and co-author of Sleep for Success! (AuthorHouse). Ronald Moy, a dermatologist in Beverly Hills, California. Dendy Engelman, a dermatologist in New York City