Whether you work from home, outside or simply commute to your workplace, throughout the day your skin is exposed to certain elements that have an effect on its overall health: stress, UVA/UVB rays, tobacco and pollution among others. Some of these transform into free radicals that disrupt the skin’s ability to repair itself and speed up aging. Undoubtedly, during the daytime your skin focuses on protecting itself against these agents.
But have you ever wondered what your skin does at night?
When you sleep, your entire body focuses on repairing itself - a process that applies to your skin as it does for your brain and muscles. While you rest, your skin blood flow increases, and the organ focuses on rebuilding its lost collagen and repairing damage from UV exposure. Your skin becomes more permeable (and warmer), and while this means it might be more prone to water loss, it's also an opportunity to boost the natural renewal process through selected and targeted skincare products that will allow you to fight your concerns.
Now, one of the things I realised pretty quickly when I landed in the skincare world is that building a useful routine can get pretty complicated and confusing: "Should I wash my face 2 times a day? What actives do I need? Does price equal quality? Do I need to spend a lot of money in order to find effective products? Why are people using oils? Do I need to use moisturizer when I have acne-prone skin? Should I be using retinol? Do I really, REALLY need my routine to consist of 10 steps or more?" I bet you've thought about all this at least once!
Whether you identify as male, female, all or none of the above, worry not! After years of research I have found the shortest, most effective nighttime routine you should follow in order to have an improved, healthier complexion. Before we jump right into the routine, I'd like to share an important disclaimer: all my product recommendations are alcohol-, paraben-, sulfate- and silicone-free. If you want to understand why, please scroll until the very bottom of this article.
Ready to discover the nighttime routine you didn't even know you needed? Let's go!
Step 1: Makeup Off
We will start by removing makeup and dirt that has accumulated on your skin throughout the day. For this step we'll make use of a cosmetic pad (ideally reusable instead of cotton) and a gentle quality micellar water that won't strip your skin from its natural oils. Here are some of my favourites:
CeraVe Micellar Cleansing Water (295ml - around 12€)
Cleanses, hydrates and removes makeup without damaging your skin barrier. This product is suitable for all skin types and is formulated with ceramides and niacinamide (vitamin B3), which work well for dry, sensitive or rosacea-prone skin.
MÁDARA Micellar Water (400ml - around 25€)
Balances, hydrates and has a calming effect for your skin due to its 99% natural formulation, which includes aloe vera, glycerin, hyaluronic acid, rose water and peony root extract. It's vegan and does not contain gluten or nuts. This is an all-rounder product, suitable for all skin types and for use around the eyes.
Bioderma Sensibio Cleansing Micellar Water (250ml - around 13€) A highly effective, affordable product that is formulated with minimal ingredients and cucumber extract. It's suitable for all skin types (works wonders for sensitive skins) and is also safe to use around the eyes.
IMPORTANT: You may skip this first step (only!) if you didn't apply makeup or sunscreen during the day.
Step 2: Oil cleanse
Moving onto my favourite step, which comes directly from the traditional 10-step k-beauty routine: we'll do an oil cleanse. If you've never heard of it, it might sound gross or even counterproductive, especially if you have acne-prone skin. But let me share something: Oil dissolves oil. An oil cleanse will allow you to get rid of excess sebum produced by glands on your skin during the day, clean out clogged pores, remove dead skin, leftover pollutants, and any traces of makeup that resisted your micellar cleanse.
Most oil cleansers work the same way: you should apply them onto your dried skin with dry hands, massage for a few minutes in circular motion, wet your hands, massage again for a while so that the product gets foamy, then fully rinse with lukewarm water.
Here are my favourite cleansing oils:
PURITO From Green Cleansing Oil (200ml - 26€) Formulated with olive, sunflower seed, jojoba, sweet almond and grapeseed oils, it removes makeup and breaks down oils and sunscreen. It's suitable for sensitive skin and it's vegan. It has a thicker, richer texture than other cleansing oils I've tried but it's effective, and one bottle goes a long way.
Caudalie Vinoclean Makeup Removing Cleansing Oil (150ml - 22€)
Suitable to get rid of stubborn and waterproof makeup, while being gentle enough to be used on your lips and eye areas. It has a really nice scent and contains a blend of vegetable oils, including: sunflower, castor, grapeseed, and sweet almond oils. It's vegan, non-comedogenic and it rinses off easily.
DHC Deep Cleansing Oil (200ml - 28€)
An effective, vegan cleansing product, formulated mainly with olive and rosemary oil. It's an affordable internet-favourite, and doesn't leave residue on the skin.
Step 3: Face Wash (technically, double cleanse)
Really? A THIRD cleansing step!? Definitely. Weather your makeup or SPF are oil or water based, you don’t want to give these products or any environmental irritants the chance to sink into your skin and do damage overnight. Plus, you need to ensure your oil cleansing product is fully gone so the serums (actives) will be able to penetrate into your skin.
When it comes to choosing a foaming cleanser it's easy to fall into the trap of going for the option that leaves your skin feeling the cleanest it's ever been. Although perhaps pleasant in the short term, using harsh cleansers will dry, irritate and damage your skin barrier, worsening your skin concerns over the long term. You're better off finding an effective, yet gentle cleanser that's going to be respectful to your skin.
My top 3 include:
CeraVe SA Smoothing Cleanser (236ml - 14€)
A hydrating cleanser that removes dirt without damaging your skin barrier thanks to its formulation, which includes hyaluronic acid, salicylic acid (exfoliant) and ceramides. It's affordable, vegan and non-comedogenic. Due to my rosacea and acne-prone skin I've tried many different face cleansers, but I haven't fund a more complete product than this one - it's an all-rounder.
The INKEY List Hyaluronic Acid Cleanser (150ml - 12€)
Its formula is infused with hyaluronic acid complex inulin compound and natural humectants, which work together to leave your skin nourished, retain moisture and help to optimise the skin's pH. It provides a thorough cleanse while respecting your skin barrier.
PURITO Defence Barrier pH Cleanser (150ml - 17€)
This gentle cleanser has been formulated to free the skin of impurities without stripping it of its natural moisture. It's suitable for sensitive and dry skin and includes centella extract, which is known to be hydrating and calming. It's also a vegan product.
Step 4: Hydration Kick
Before we jump into leveraging serums, you will need to ensure that your skin is wet or damp. Moisture is necessary for serums to penetrate more easily into your skin, or more effectively (like in the case of hyaluronic acid).
For this step you might make usage of a face mist. These products are a good idea because they not only deliver moisture into your face, but many times also include ingredients with specific benefits (like reducing redness, leveling the skin pH level, making pores less apparent,...). Additionally, face mists are multi-purpose: you can use them before your serums but also to provide an hydration kick through the day, to refresh tired-looking skin or for a hydration boost when you're under the sun. These are my all-time favourites:
Caudalie Grape Water (200ml - 14€)
Formulated mostly with Grape water and juice, it's suitable for all skin types, including sensitive skin. It's enriched with moisturising polysaccharides and mineral salts, to nourish and soften the skin. I've noticed my overall redness going down whenever I use this product through my routine.
Institut Esthederm Cellular Water (100 ml - 21€)
This product contains hyaluronic acid, peptides, mineral salts and trace elements, which mirror the natural moisture found in the skin to support and brighten your complexion. It's suitable for all skin types, even the most sensitive ones, as it includes no fragrance.
If you would rather fully rely on your serums to deliver actives into your skin, you can skip buying a face mist and instead just spray lukewarm tap water on your face.
Step 5: Serums
It's time to start with some action. This step of the routine is used to treat specific concerns and deliver notable results. Although they have a light consistency, serums include "actives" or "active ingredients" in high concentration, which allow for focused treatment in the lower layers of the epidermis.
These are some of the actives you might want to incorporate in your routine:
Hyaluronic Acid: It helps your facial cells retain moisture so your skin looks hydrated, plump and overall healthy. Despite it technically being an "acid", it's safe to use for all skin types.
Niacinamide: Also known as vitamin B3, this active is a WINNER. It has a multitude of benefits and it's suitable to target different skin concerns such as enlarged pores, uneven skin tone, fine lines, wrinkles, acne scars or dullness.
Retinol: Perhaps one of the most popular and sought-after actives in skincare, it actively works on lines, wrinkles, pigmentation and blemishes by promoting skin renewal and enhancing collagen production. Due to its nature it's extremely important to start with the lowest concentration possible (lowest strength) and build it up over time, considering your skin's needs and the way it interacts with the product.
Vitamin C: Also known as ascorbic acid, it supports the skin's collagen production, evens out your skin tone (by helping out with hyperpigmentation, texture and acne scarring), brightens your complexion and helps protect against harmful environmental damage (free radicals).
It's possible to combine different serums (through thin layers applied separately) if you want to address different concerns at the same time, however I'd recommend focusing on one active at a time to avoid pilling and potential skin reactions.
Skin pilling happens when a product doesn’t fully penetrate into your skin as intended. When rubbed, it forms tiny particles (like little lumps) that remain on the skin’s surface and prevent you from finishing up your routine. If you are determined or feel the need to use several different serums within your routine, it's safest to use products from the same brand and confirm that they can be used together (for instance retinol and vitamin C are better used separately).
From this step on make sure you apply your products from water based to oil based, from thinnest to thickest. If you apply oil-based products before water-based ones, the latter won't be able to sink into your skin as the oil will act as a coating, and you will definitely be more prone to experience pilling.
I could write an endless list of recommended serums by active ingredient. To keep it short and sweet, I'd rather recommend you to have a look at the following brands: The Ordinary, INKEYLIST, PURITO, COSRX, and selected products from SkinCeuticals (some might contain silicone or alcohol).
Step 6: Lock moisture in
I once heard Hailey Bieber mention in a YouTube Video, that she would never go to sleep without her face looking like a glazed donut. She's not wrong.
In order to ensure your skin soaks in all the actives you're applying and moisture is properly sealed in during the night, you need to finish your routine with an occlusive product. This can be a moisturizer, a product with ceramides, a facial oil or a night mask. These products, which are normally thicker or richer in texture, will trap humectants and prevent moisture from quickly evaporating, giving your skin more time to take it all in. It's key to keep in mind that occlusive products act as a protective coat and per se, will not deliver hydration into your skin, so you need to ensure you do so through steps 4 and 5 of the routine.
Locking moisture in is important for people who experience dry or sensitive skin as well as for people with acne-prone skin. In fact, there are specific face oils that can help in healing acne scarring and regulate sebum production. Mind blowing? Stay tuned.
Here are some of my absolute top picks to finish up the nighttime routine:
The Ordinary "B" Oil (30ml - 10€)
One of my all-time faves, this is a light, nourishing oil that combines microalgae with a blend of wonderful vegetable oils, including argan, brazil nut and rosehip. It helps reinforce the skin's natural barrier function against free radical damage. It's affordable, vegan and suitable for all skin types.
The INKEY List Omega Water Cream Moisturiser (50ml - 12€)
This water-based moisturiser is formulated with a combination of omega fatty acids, glycerin, niacinamide and betaine, which work to lock in moisture, soften your skin, promote a luminous complexion and help to protect the skin’s barrier. It's suitable for all skins (and helps balance oily and combination skin types).
Herbivore Lapis Facial Oil (50ml - 74€)
I normally don't gravitate towards expensive cosmetics because I don't believe that price equals quality. Or results. Trust me, I did not want to like this product...but it's just too good. It includes antioxidants and vitamins to nourish the skin while fighting dryness, flaking, redness, and blemishes. It has anti-inflammatory properties, it's light and easy to apply, it absorbs quickly and it smells like heaven. It's suitable for all skin types, and recommended for oily and acne-prone complexions, since it helps regulate excess sebum production. And worry not, it's also available in 8ml format so you can try it for yourself before committing to such an investment.
BONUS: You can leverage the gliding properties of these products to finish off your routine with a facial guasha massage. It will stimulate your blood and facial fluid flow, activate your skin and help the previously applied actives penetrate better.
Before we end...
I wanted to share a disclaimer. Some active ingredients have an immediate effect (such as hyaluronic acid), but for some others it might take weeks until you start seeing notable results (niacinamide, retinol, etc). Consistency is key and I always recommend sticking to a routine for at least 3 months before taking the decision to ditch or switch a product.
And some good news...
Let us know how your thoughts in the comments!
I am not an expert, I just researched this topic from a place of personal interest. If I used incorrect terminology or expressed something incorrectly, please feel free to let me know.
When looking for skincare products....why do I always try to avoid formulations that include alcohol, paraben, sulfate and silicone?
Simple Alcohols (SD Alcohol, Alcohol Denat, Isopropyl Alcohol or just Alcohol) are generally drying ingredients that won't do good for your skin barrier. These can cause irritation and other skin complications, especially for sensitive, sensitized and dry skin types, so I avoid those whenever I can.
Parabens are cosmetic preservatives which are used to prevent bacteria growth. There have been multiple studies finding paraben presence in breast tumours, though the majority of the scientific community have found these findings inconclusive due to the limitations of said studies. I'd rather be safe than sorry so until there's evidence of these ingredients being fully safe, I'd rather not put them into my skin.
Sulfates act as cleansing agents by loosening up dirt from your skin so water can wash it away more easily. However, in the process, these can also wash off your skin’s natural oils, which can lead to dryness or irritation. To avoid this, I try to find gentler cleansing ingredients or go for products with a lower percentage of sulfates.
Silicones are cheap cosmetic add-ons that make your skin feel softer and smoother (only temporarily). In doing so, these create an artificial coating on top of your skin. This artificial layer might cause or worsen breakouts, create irritation, prevent your skin from breathing and be difficult to completely get rid of over time (what in turn, prevents other products from penetrating your skin).
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