We’ve all heard that we need to take our makeup off and wash our face before bed every night. I’m not here to debunk that: It’s definitely true. But some nights, devoting time to a skincare routine is a lot easier than others. Some weeknights, I do a multi-step skincare routine involving a face mask (or two), accompanied by a glass of a big, bold California Cab and the latest episode of whatever Bravo reality show I’m binging that week. And some weekend nights, I get in my front door from an Uber after one cocktail too many and take the shortest pass possible at my face with micellar water, dab on some moisturizer, and fall into bed. See, having a routine that you’ll still do when you’re busy, exhausted, or yes, even a little tipsy, is the important part. If you think you have to do essences, serums, oils, and creams every single night, you might be setting yourself up to fail. Pare back to the basics, though, and you have more freedom to add in more products when you actually have the time (or desire).
Can’t I just wash my face in the morning?
You should wash your face in the morning! But I like a fairly minimal morning routine (so I can sleep longer) and prefer to do the heavy lifting at night. Besides sleeping in a bit longer, a nighttime skincare routine is important for two more major reasons: 1) you really should get the dirt of the day off your face, and 2) cellular regeneration happens at night. Cellular regeneration means your cells are repairing themselves, giving you a youthful glow. Our cells work overtime at night to repair themselves, dividing at less than half the time than when we’re awake. By sticking to a skincare routine, you’re taking advantage of the cellular regeneration process and helping it along. Sure, your body is likely functioning as it should—boosting collagen production and destroying free radicals—but going to bed with a sleeping pack on is giving your skin a leg up. Treat it well, and you’ll definitely see results.
At its most basic, a solid nighttime skincare routine should involve removing makeup, cleansing your face, and moisturizing. Anything else you add on is gravy—but that gravy is usually worth it. Use a makeup remover to do the heavy lifting of taking your makeup off. Using a dedicated remover instead of letting your cleanser do that work allows your cleansing product to focus on its job: removing dirt and impurities from your skin.
My Picks for Makeup Removers…
Clinique Take The Day Off Cleansing Balm is my go-to; the consistency easily melts away my makeup, but it doesn’t feel heavy after cleansing. If you’re a makeup-remover traditionalist (is there such a thing?), you can never go wrong with Lancôme’s Bi-Facil Double-Action remover. Just don’t forget to shake it well! On the go? Skip the makeup wipes and get a makeup remover cloth, like the OG MakeUp Eraser cloth. It’s not my favorite pick for waterproof liner and mascara, but on light makeup days or when I’m traveling, having a product I know won’t spill is a godsend.
My Picks for Cleansers…
I can be pretty bougie when it comes to skincare, but I cannot deny the allure of Pacifica, a vegan, cruelty-free company. Their Sea Foam Face Wash is sulfate- and paraben-free, doesn’t dry out my skin, has a fragrance just light enough to smell (but that won’t hang around), and it’s under $5. Yes, girl. And on the other end of the financial spectrum, I have to give it up for Tata Harper’s Purifying Cleanser. While I’m always conscious about stripping my skin’s natural oils, this cleanser is great for purging the nasties from every skin type.
Add in a moisturizer after you cleanse, even if you have oily skin or tend to be acne-prone. Your skin is doing a lot of work at night, and it needs that extra love.
My Picks for Moisturizers…
At this point in my skincare journey, I’m pretty much a Drunk Elephant evangelist, and nothing makes my heart sing like the combo of their Protini Polypeptide Cream followed up with the Lala Retro Whipped Cream. If your skin is extra dry like mine, that combo will do you right. If you’re on the oilier side (or want a lighter feel during the day), you may just want to stick with the Protini. I understand if the word “cream” makes your pores want to run for the hills, so until you’re more comfortable jumping into the ultra-moisturizing waters, you can go for something a little lighter. Murad’s Essential-C Night Moisture is a thinner consistency and its vitamins A, C, and E will increase that nighttime cell turnover.
If you’re going the minimalist route, that’s really all you need. But on those days your skin is needing a little more TLC, you can always add in extra products to the routine. If you want to add in just one more step… Go with a toner right after you cleanse. Toners of years past were often harsh, astringent, and drying. These days, they’re just setting the scene for your moisturizer and offer a much-needed post-cleansing pH balance or a little extra hydration. I’ll never stop singing the praises of Son & Park’s Beauty Water—a multitasker if I’ve ever seen one, it is the definition of refreshing. For something more clarifying (and cheaper), try Thayers Witch Hazel toners. If you feel a breakout coming on… Add in a spot treatment. Look for ingredients like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. Put it on before your moisturizer so it can penetrate your skin’s surface and stop that spot in its tracks. Mario Bedescu’s Drying Lotion is one of the OG spot treatments. It doesn’t smell great, I’ll give you that—thanks calamine, sulfur, and camphor! But it works for me. Less a spot treatment than a miracle worker, COSRX’s Acne Pimple Master Patches can stop a spot in its tracks—and for less than $5 for 24, it’s a damn good deal.
If you’re feeling extra dry… Try a serum or an essence. A serum is a powerhouse product made for a specific purpose, while an essence is like a lighter version, with a more watery consistency. Both are great pre-moisturizer to inject some moisture into the skin. Essences aren’t cheap, but this Belif Hungarian Water Essence is on the more affordable side, and I can definitely feel a difference when I use it. Feeling fancy? SK-II’s Facial Treatment Essence is a beloved essence—just one sample has me still saving up for a full-size bottle. Serums are powerful little friends. Drunk Elephant’s T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum uses AHAs and BHAs to resurface the skin while you sleep. If you’d rather focus on vitamin C (oh so trendy), Sunday Riley’s C.E.O. Rapid Flash Brightening Serum has been working for me, but Ole Henriksen’s vitamin C–packed Truth Serum is another winner.
If you need to relax… Always Be Masking! From clay masks to charcoal masks to sheet masks, masking options are endless and can tackle just about any issue in 20 minutes or less. Depending on your skin needs that day (and how much time you have), put on a mask and go lie on the couch. You deserve this. I can’t live without my monthly FaceTory subscription, which sends me five new Korean sheet masks per month. I get to try new masks I would likely have never heard of otherwise, and I highly recommend it for sheet maskers everywhere. Other masks I use and love include Drunk Elephant’s T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial, Laniege’s Water Sleeping Mask, Origin’s Clear Improvement charcoal mask, and Shea Moisture’s Peace Rose Oil Complex mud mask.
Tying It All Together
A skincare routine you do every single night can offer great benefits: relaxation, the skin you’ve always dreamed of, and the feeling of accomplishment one gets from properly completing a Korean skincare routine (10 steps is no joke!). But skincare won’t solve all your issues, no matter how hard we, the beauty junkies of the world, try. The solution? Build your skincare into a larger self-care regimen. That can look different for everyone, but consider the other ways you like to care for yourself and try to multitask. Need some ideas? Drink more water, and eat your fruits and veggies. They’re old tips, but they’re ones that really work. The more hydrated you’re keeping your body, the happier it and your skin will be. Give those skin products you’re investing in a leg up with a body you’re taking care of from the inside out. Use your routine time to listen to a podcast or FaceTime a friend (as long as she doesn’t mind watching you exfoliate). Light a candle and meditate while your sheet mask is on—there’s not much else you can do with that time but sit still anyway. Watch a movie, read a book, or create some art while your charcoal mask hardens. Slip into the bath while you do an at-home chemical peel. And finally, when the routine is over, get some sleep. It’s an often-overlooked form of self-care, and your cells will definitely thank you.