When it comes to skincare, patience is a virtue– one month’s worth of patience, to be exact. Unpopular fact: skin regenerates once a month, which is why you may find yourself frustrated or feeling jipped by all of the effects your skincare product promises to achieve overnight. Truth is, there’s no such thing as the miracle ingredient for all of our skin woes, or the result timeline-equivalent of Usain Bolt, but there is hope. While you might not see any immediate changes to your skin after incorporating a new product, the long-term results of consistently and intelligently applying key ingredients at night can benefit you drastically.
- Oil Cleansing: What’s that on your face? Oil build-up? Makeup? Sunscreen? Sweat? Smog? Everything you came into contact with throughout the day? Your traditional surfactant (surface active ingredient) might not quite cut it, especially if you’re particularly heavy-handed with the makeup, have oily skin, wear sunscreen, etc. Oil cleansers attach themselves particularly well to sebum that’s naturally produced by your skin, along with other oil-based products. But don’t confuse your typical cooking oil with the likes of specially-formulated cleansing oils. Unlike your coconut or olive oil, cleansing oils also contain emulsifiers, which allow those trapped oils to dissolve and rinse away with water, whereas your coconut oil doesn’t ever stop being hydrophobic. Cleansing oil is used by massaging into dry skin (read: not wet) from your forehead to the underside of your chin (or however far your makeup line goes, ladies) and then rinsing away with tepid water. Massaging for a longer period of time is necessary to melt off the pollutants and other irritants that stick to your face, but there’s no need to rub it in like a deep tissue massage– that will inevitably promote wrinkles.
PROS: Deep cleansing; doesn’t strip or dry out your skin; works well with sensitive, blemish-prone, or red-prone skin.
CONS: Can’t be used with lash extensions, but otherwise, none.
- Micellar Water: Micellar water as we know it today was invented in 1995 by the French brand, Bioderma (a cult favorite to this day), as an alternative to France’s harsh tap water which can dry out, irritate, and even cause dermatitis in your skin. Long story short, micellar water contains tiny oil particles (micelles) suspended in water to remove dirt, oil, and makeup. “But isn’t that what the cleansing oil does?” Well, yes. But this is what we like to call a “double cleanse” because let’s be honest: you pretend that your face isn’t that dirty when it’s actually pretty congested with dust, pollution, pet dander, dead skin, etc., and deep down inside, you know it. You cannot justify the fact that you didn’t thoroughly wash your face last night, and with the invention of micellar water, you really don’t have an excuse. Don’t do your other products a disservice by not washing the day off. To apply, you just put it on a cotton pad and gently swipe your face, neck, and decollete. You’ll notice leftover dirt and other nasties clinging to your used cotton pad. Repeat.
PROS: Gentle on skin; good for folks who live in areas with hard water; good on the go (no running water needed); a makeup artist’s secret weapon against small mistakes.
CONS: An added step to your routine; requires the use of cotton pads; can irritate the eyes when overused.
- Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA) Toner: A water-soluble acid (which is why it’s best used as a toner), this is not your 7th-grade Noxzema astringent pads that you used to dry out your hormone-induced acne. You know how they say your body does a million things while you sleep? Your skin is no different. Your cells are dividing and repairing in a beautiful biological stage called mitosis, resulting in the “movement” of your three layers of skin (subcutis, dermis, and epidermis). In a cascading effect, your most outer layer, the epidermis, dies and becomes the surface layer stratum corneum, also known as “dead skin.” Swiping a cotton pad of AHA toner across your face and neck removes traces of dirt left behind from your (probably) lazy double cleansing, restores the natural acidic pH balance of your skin after your alkaline cleansers, and more importantly, exfoliates that surface layer of your skin to break the bonds of dead skin cells (and help eliminate blackheads), reduce the onset of fine lines, brighten hyperpigmentation, and even out your skin texture. A well-formulated AHA (look for lactic or glycolic acid) can help speed up the one-month skin regeneration process to unveil newer skin, but be wary: this also means your skin is more sensitive to the damaging effects of the sun, so make sure to do this step at night and wear an appropriate amount of sunscreen every morning.
PROS: Brighter, smoother skin.
CONS: Easy to overdo it; might sting; not all AHAs are created equally-safe for sensitive skin.
- Essence: Tired yet? We’re only halfway through. Essence is a watery fluid used to prepare your skin for your serum (more on that later). An essence typically contains hydrating ingredients, like hyaluronic acid, and other active ingredients to penetrate deeply into your now well-exfoliated face. You pour out a nickel size portion into your palm (depending on how much surface area you’re working with), rub between your hands, and gently pat into your face, neck, and decollete. The idea is similar to that of a damp sponge: When a sponge is dampened, it can quickly absorb the next product that follows. Adding product to a dried-out sponge has less effect.
PROS: Hydrates; improves efficacy of your serum.
CONS: Why the hell is this stuff so expensive?
- Serum: Ah, the good stuff. All your hard work really amounts to the proper care and usage of this one step. Nighttime is the best time for ingredients that break down with exposure to the sun or cause slight bouts of irritation to the skin, which can hurt more in sunlight or heat (look for opaque packaging to avoid your product deactivating in sunlight). One sun-phobic ingredient, retinol (which is my “miracle ingredient”), is powerful enough to cause your skin to peel or flake off depending on the formula’s potency. Over-the-Counter (OTC) treatments are less likely to have this effect than their prescription sisters, but can still cause irritation in more sensitive skin types. A derivative of vitamin A, retinol is often misrepresented as an exfoliant (like AHAs) because of its ability to make your skin peel, but in fact, functions more like a telecommunicating antioxidant: telling other cells how to look and feel young again. The best part? While you sleep, growth hormones are naturally secreted, which help regenerate collagen-producing cells– something retinol also does. It’s a double-whammy. When my skin is still damp with essence, I pour the serum into my hands and pat into my face and neck.
PROS: Fights free radical damage that leads to wrinkles; increases collagen production which improves elasticity; fades discoloration; reverses photodamage.
CONS: Can be irritating to the skin; peeling effects with more potent formulas.
- Eye Cream/Gel/Serum: Depending on how you sleep, a number of different factors can lead to dark or puffy eyes. Though majority of this is based on our genetics, which can’t be reversed (sorry), you can keep them from getting worse. Slightly elevating your head on a pillow can help drain excess fluid from your face, including under eye bags, while sleeping on your back can prevent creasing and fine lines from forming. On a topical level, every type of eye cream has been created to help with various problems. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that the skin under your eyes is no different than the rest of your face. My under eyes are particularly sensitive, so I avoid using retinol products so they don’t swell to the size of golf balls (true story). A lot of trial and error goes into finding the right product that works for you. Instead of retinol (which, if your eyes can stand it, is great), I tend toward products that contain antioxidants to fight off UV or environmental damage, AHAs to turn over the skin to avoid wrinkling, caffeine to constrict the blood vessels and reduce puffiness, and hyaluronic acid for moisture. Contrary to popular belief, eye creams and serums should not be rubbed beneath the eyes. The best practice if you’re prone to (or just worrying about) wrinkles is to use your ring fingers (the weakest of them all) and tap the product along the highest point of your cheekbone, where the lowest point of your under eye bags might start, out toward the edges of your eyes, where crows feet can appear. If you tend to run puffy, massaging in your eye cream to improve blood flow and drainage helps– just make sure to use enough of the product so that you’re not pulling tightly across the skin.
PROS: An under eye product for your specific need exists; acts as a good base beneath makeup.
CONS: Can require a lot of trial and error if you’re sensitive; will not help in the slightest against dark circles or puffiness caused by your genes; will never eliminate your wrinkles, but can help prevent them.
- Moisturizer: Of all the great things that happen to us while we sleep (reducing our stress hormone, AKA cortisol levels which can cause inflammation and acne; increasing our sleep hormone, AKA melatonin which helps fight the onset of age spots, fine lines, and even cancer; just to name a few), we still lose out on a few things while we catch up on our shut-eye. As we’re sleeping, our skin reduces sebum production, rises in temperature, and raises acidity levels, leading to a loss in moisture. It’s imperative to moisturize your face not only to counteract that loss, but to seal all the goodness that you’ve just applied. Depending on what you need, there are different lotions, night creams, and face oils to target or promote certain functions. On most nights, I treat myself to a Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA) face oil. Unlike the water-soluble AHAs that chemically exfoliate the surface layers of your skin, BHAs are oil-soluble and penetrate deeper into the pore near the hair follicle. Chances are, you’re already well-versed in the BHA world thanks to the popularity of anti-acne products formulated with salicylic acid. Face oils with anti-acne ingredients like BHA do well in that they don’t cause any dryness like a lot of BHA products, meaning people with both dry and oily skin can reap the benefits.
PROS: There’s something for everyone.
CONS: Finding the right one can be time-consuming, but absolutely worth it.
- Sleep Tight: Besides what you put on your face, how you sleep can work for or against you. Factors such as sleeping in a side position or head de-elevated can undo all the hard work you put in. To take it a step further, you can also use silk pillowcases to help fight against wrinkles, moisture loss, and irritation. Silk is naturally hypoallergenic, which means it repels mold, fungus, and other allergens. It’s also really soft. Silk is less likely to cause friction while you toss and turn, meaning less indents, causing less wrinkles. And to top it all off, silk isn’t absorbent like cotton. Since your skin is already losing out on moisture at night, it’s best to lay that face against something that won’t absorb any more of that much-needed hydration.
WRITER: Jeeae Chang