Consider it a spa treatment that happens while you sleep. Top beauty and health experts offer tips for improving your hair, skin, and nails while your mind and body go on autopilot. Pick one bedtime ritual, and you can wake up with whiter teeth or clearer skin.
For healthier hair...Before going to bed, brush your hair with a natural boar-bristle brush, suggests Eva Scrivo, a hairstylist and salon owner in New York City. "It's the best hair treatment because it distributes the oil from your scalp down the hair shaft, nourishing your hair in the process," she says. If your scalp or hair is very dry, however, before brushing, apply a treatment with rich essential oils, such as Phyto Phytopolleine Botanical Scalp Treatment ($30, sephora.com). Or, if your scalp is naturally oily, comb hair with Dr. Hauschka Neem Hair Lotion ($22, beautyhabit.com), a botanical tonic that balances oil and dryness and strengthens weaker strands.
To brighten your smile...For cleaner teeth, dentist Marc Lowenberg of Lowenberg & Lituchy in New York City suggests mixing about a teaspoon of baking soda with several drops of hydrogen peroxide to form a paste, and then brushing with it at night. "The mixture gently removes surface stains," he says. If you want to whiten your teeth, use a kit with a paint-on application. "Strips are great for perfectly straight teeth," he explains. But the paint-on versions get inside all the nooks of teeth that are a little crooked." Try Crest Night Effects Premium for Sensitive Teeth ($18, drugstores), an overnight treatment that will brighten teeth each night.
To diminish a blemish...If you see, or feel, a doozy of a pimple coming on, cleanse your skin, then smooth a blemish treatment over the spot and any areas prone to breakouts. "Benzoyl peroxide is the gold standard when it comes to treating pimples," says David J. Leffell, a professor of dermatology and plastic surgery at Yale University School of Medicine. The ingredient kills bacteria, promotes healing, and is offered in up to 10 percent solutions (the most potent). However, what makes benzoyl peroxide good (its potency) also makes it bad: Adult women are often sensitive to the ingredient. So try a milder 5 percent benzoyl peroxide treatment, such as Clinique Emergency Gel-Lotion ($13.50, clinique.com). Or use salicylic acid, a gentler ingredient that can be found in Good Skin All Right Portable Anti-Acne Swabs ($8.50, Kohl's stores).
To limit lines...Sunlight breaks down the active ingredients in many skin-care creams, so nighttime is ideal for using a treatment with retinol, one of the few clinically proven skin-smoothers. Leslie Baumann, a dermatologist and the author of The Skin Type Solution (Bantam; 2006), suggests Philosophy Help Me Retinol Night Treatment ($45, sephora.com). Since retinol can be irritating, apply a pea-size amount every third night for two weeks to get used to it. Then work up to applying it every other night. Retinol accelerates the renewal of skin cells. As a result, flaking is natural and sun sensitivity can occur (so wear sunscreen daily). If your skin is very sensitive, try a niacinamide cream, such as Olay Total Effects Intensive Restoration Treatment ($19, drugstores). "Niacinamide is an agent that's mild on the skin. It improves skin texture and reduces redness," says Arnold Klein, a professor of dermatology and medicine at the University of California Los Angeles.
To even out skin tone...Blotches and dark spots are often caused by sun damage (from years of sun exposure) and by hormone changes due to pregnancy or birth control pills. To get rid of a patch, apply a hydroquinone cream, such as Rodan+Fields Reverse Skin Lightening Lotion ($65, rodanandfields.com), each night for three months. For even results, smooth the cream over your entire face. Natural ingredients, such as soy, also brighten skin but can take longer to work. For a natural alternative, use Aveeno Positively Radiant Triple Boosting Serum ($14, drugstores), and wear sunscreen daily to prevent future patches.
For softer lips...The secret to moist lips is regular use of an emollient balm. Unlike other parts of your face, your lips don't have oil glands, Baumann says. So slick on a salve, like C.O. Bigelow Lip Formula ($7.50, cobigelow.com); its sweet-almond oil will leave lips plump and pillowy. For smooth skin..."Your skin actually loses water while you sleep," says New York City dermatologist Doris J. Day, author of Forget the Facelift (Avery/Penguin USA; 2006). Before hitting the sheets, cover your body with a rich lotion. Kiehl's Creme de Corps Light-Weight Body Lotion ($20, kiehls.com) is a summer-weight version of the company's cult super moisturizer, CrÃ¨me de Corps. The lighter version has glycerin, olive oil, and jojoba butter to soften skin and prevent water loss.
To soothe sore muscles...If you overdid it during Spinning class, try massaging overwrought muscles with J.R. Watkins Original Pain Relieving White Cream Liniment ($5, Target stores). Massage warms the muscle and increases blood flow, which helps remove the lactic acid that's responsible for the pain.
To soften hands...A night of sleep is probably the longest you go without washing your hands, which depletes skin of natural moisture. Take advantage of the break by slathering on an ultra rich hand moisturizer; LeCouvent des Minimes Repairing Hand Cream Honey & Shea ($10, bathandbodyworks.com) is one. Its shea butter stops water loss and feels luxurious on the skin. For smooth feet...Feet take a lot of daily abuse. To get them soft and callous free, use a lotion with lactic acid, which sloughs off dead skin cells. Doctors like AmLactin 12 percent Moisturizing Lotion ($14, drugstores), which has a 12 percent lactic acid formula. Coat feet with the creamy salve before bed.