This Is the Best Time of Day to Moisturize Your Skin

Hint: Bedtime is your skin's best friend.

eczema woman applying moisturizer
Photo: Getty

Taking good care of our skin can be pretty intuitive. You know when your skin is sensitive, and it'll tell you when it likes something you're using. You'll even be able to determine combination of products that work best on specific areas. Although our skin is as drastically different as the genes that make it up, there's one thing that all skin has in common: a need for moisture. Hydration is what helps skin thrive. We can slather on the heaviest creams but understanding the science behind how our skin works is what will make the products we use even more effective.

Optimizing the time you apply your moisturizer and which ones you use will help ensure you're doing right by your skin. Here's how experts recommend you find your skin's moisture rhythm.

Stay Hydrated

Factors like sun exposure, pollution, and even our body's own immune system can impact how well it absorbs moisture. It also affects how much it loses at a particular point in the day. "It's important to replenish water loss by staying hydrated and using serums full of natural moisturizers like plankton, aloe, hyaluronic acid, and plant glycerin," says Ellen Marmur, dermatologist and founder of Marmur Metamorphosis. She recommends MMRepose Serum as a daily hydrator to help keep moisture levels at the max.

But Don't Overdo It

Marmur also dispels a common myth around how much moisture skin can actually absorb: "The body uses water for everything, and the skin will receive just as much as it needs. Drinking double the amount of water will not make your skin double moisturized," says Marmur. Yes, water is definitely needed and highly effective in helping skin properly function, but there's no need to overdo it.

Avoid Drying Products

Even with the right timing, certain ingredients can counteract your hydration efforts, though, leading to moisture loss. "Alcohol-based toners, gels, and lotions tend to dry out the skin. Using too much benzoyl peroxide or applying overly-potent retinoids can lead to peeling, itching, irritation, and redness," says Dr. Howard Sobel, NYC dermatologist and founder of Sobel Skin. Fragrances and preservatives can also irritate and dry out the skin. Sobel suggests swapping in fragrance- and preservative-free creams and lotions like Alastin Skincare Ultra-Nourishing Moisturizer with TriHex Technology.

Keep Things Balanced

Although the perfect formula depends on your skin's individual needs, it's really about balance. "The skin is slightly acidic and wants products to be the same-not more, not less. Most soaps and toners are 100% not compatible with a happy skin surface," says Marmur. "Acids, scrubs, toners, soaps, and home devices like cleaning brushes, sting, or inflame the skin and contribute to skin moisture loss," she adds.

Reset Your Moisture Levels at Night

Our skin needs moisture 24/7, but you want to pump things up when skin loses the most water, which is at night. Overnight masks may seem like more skincare hype, but there's actually good reason to consider these trendy treatments. "Skin's oil production peaks at midday, and there is less oil production at night. Therefore, when you lose that protective layer of natural oils, your skin loses more water, so it's important to replenish the water loss with a moisturizer overnight," says Sobel. "While you are asleep the skin goes into renewal mode. While cells repair and rebuild at all stages of sleep, the majority of cell turnover and regeneration occurs during deep REM sleep. Overnight water loss contributes to your skin being its driest and the barrier can be impaired," Sobel adds. Rub in a potent hydrator like Peter Thomas Roth's Green Releaf Therapeutic Sleep Cream before bed to help your skin recover while you snooze.

Other factors like hot baths right before bed-while relaxing-can exacerbate moisture loss. "Hot water strips the skin of moisture even if you moisturize right after," says Sobel. If you must rinse the day away, make sure you time your moisturizer just right. Sobel says that the best time to apply moisturizer is when your skin is damp, as this can help lock in the hydration from your moisturizer. "Keep in mind that moisturizers should be gently massaged into the skin to increase blood circulation which can help with the absorption of the product. Rubbing the skin too hard can cause over exfoliation and lead to breakouts," Sobel notes. Look for products with hyaluronic acid like The Inkey List's Hyaluronic Acid. Unlike other moisturizers, this one is a potent single ingredient, non-sticky, lighter, and doesn't skimp on hydration.

You don't need to slather on the heaviest cream every night. In fact, you may end up overdoing it. Richer ingredients like shea butter will definitely help lock in hydration and attract moisture to the surface of the skin but can be used a bit more sparingly. "Since they tend to be heavier, it's best to use them one to two times per week, or in the colder months when your skin needs some extra TLC." Going overboard or too heavy too often may lead to other skin issues, like breakouts. You'll also want to make sure your moisturizers actually absorb before hitting the sheets. Give yourself some time for the products to dry. And consider using a silk pillowcase like The Hollywood Silk Solution pillowcase, which is gentler on your skin at night.


It may sound counter intuitive, but exfoliating actually helps skin retain moisture. Sobel suggests weekly exfoliation. "It works by getting rid of the dry top layers of dead skin cells and brings new, fresh skin cells closer to the surface," Sobel adds.

Have a Water-Rich Snack

What you consume before bed can also impact your skin's moisture retention. Water-rich fruits and vegetables such as watermelon, apples, and cucumbers help keep you hydrated from the inside out and also work to release powerful free-radical fighting antioxidants while you sleep. So, try eating a fruit salad for dessert before bed. And, of course, drinking tons of water, particularly at bedtime, is the best thing you can do for thirsty skin. Avoid processed and salty foods, however. They're dangerous to your health and wreak havoc on your skin. Look for foods rich in Vitamin C and add some dark leafy greens (high in water) to your diet. Healthy food choices help create and maintain healthy, moist skin.

Set the Right Mood

Other bedtime best practices are adding moisture to the air in your bedroom with a humidifier to gently vaporize the air and add humidity. "Do not sleep under a ceiling fan or next to an open window so the air flow will not dehydrate your skin," says Marmur. Also, Sobel says that your retinoids and hyaluronic acid products should be applied in the evening to help accelerate the skin's repair functions as you sleep. Adding retinol-based serum like Care Skincare Tireless, Retinoid Night Serum can help boost collagen production and encourages epidermal cell renewal, while hyaluronic acid deeply hydrates skin, reducing the effects of overnight water loss.

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