If morning skincare routines are intended to protect the skin from environmental stressors and prepare the skin for makeup application (or not), evening skincare is intended to nourish and recover from the day. Since sleep is the natural time your body regenerates, a proper skincare routine just prior to going to sleep can provide big payback over time with consistent, conscientious application.
Since I recently did a post on a glorious morning routine for winter-worn skin and my feelings about those products has not at all changed, here I will just mention the differences between the two routines. Primarily, morning is the right time for antioxidants and sunscreen. Antioxidants like vitamins C and E are especially useful in neutralizing cell-damaging free radicals we encounter throughout the day, by-products of UV rays, smoke, and pollution. But these are less useful at night, where we are more insulated from these factors.
Evenings are a good time to focus on cell turnover, regeneration, and hydration. Winter weather can cause skin to look drier and duller quicker, thanks to a lack of moisture in the air, dodgy circulation, and chapping caused by wind. To deflect the appearance of dullness and dryness, you might consider incorporating products that encourage faster cell turnover. Skin cells naturally die off about every 28 days, and are replaced with newer (Shinier! Plumper! Smoother!) cells from underneath. But when the climate isn’t kind to us, those 28 days can prove to be too long a cycle. To force skin cells to die sooner, thus replacing themselves with newer cells, we can add acids or retinoids to our routine.
Acids and retinoids are not strictly interchangeable, but for the purpose of skin cell turnover and regeneration, they can be adequately substituted for each other. If used incorrectly, both chemicals have the propensity to be drying and sensitizing, so it’s important to follow your esthetician or dermatologist’s recommendations when first starting these products. If you’re new to acids or retinoids (sometimes collectively referred to as “actives“), choose one or the other (not both) and introduce it into your routine slowly so that your skin has a chance to adjust.Evenings are for focusing on skin cell turnover, regeneration, and hydration. Your morning face will thank you. Click To Tweet
In general, an evening routine looks like this:
- Double cleanse to remove all traces of makeup, sunscreen, and dirt
- Tone to adjust your skin’s pH balance back to normal and to soften the skin
- Treat with actives for exfoliation and increased rate of cell turnover
- Hydrate for plumpness and overall skin health
- Occlude to trap moisture inside the skin while you sleep
Since my picks for cleansers, toners, and hydrating serums are all covered in my morning routine post, we’ll focus on treatments and occlusives in this post.
Please note that I am not encouraging you to use ALL the products below. Choose one, maybe two, from the active category for best results. You only need one occlusive.
Acid and Retinoid Treatments
AHA Whitehead Power Liquid
The Cosrx AHA Whitehead Power Liquid is a personal favorite, and a good, inexpensive choice for those whose primary concerns are pimples or fine lines and wrinkles. It has a thin texture, heavier than water but lighter than a serum or gel. It sinks into the skin nicely. It’s kinda stinky, but the smell doesn’t linger, so who cares.
BHA Blackhead Power Liquid
The Cosrx BHA Blackhead Power Liquid is a good choice for those whose primary concern is clogged pores and blackheads. I don’t use this as much anymore, because my Curology treatment takes care of blackheads, too. Yet another reason to love tretinoin! If you are new to acids, start slow: once or twice a week, and choose either the AHA or BHA but not both.
Curology Tretinoin Blend
This is probably the best thing that has happened to my skin, period. Curology is a subscription service where you order a “custom” blend of active ingredients. My blend contains prescription tretinoin, niacinamide, and vitamin C. Customer service is great. If your order arrives grainy, let them know: that happens sometimes and they’ll immediately ship you a new bottle.
Sunday Riley Good Genes
This lactic acid is my personal favorite acid treatment, as I see results the morning after I use it. It has a very low pH (hovering somewhere in the 3 area) which can make it too harsh for sensitive skin types. It has a delicate lemongrass scent and does tingle upon application. It’s damn expensive though.
Ordinary AHA & BHA Peel
For those who are looking for something a little more heavy duty, the Ordinary peel might be a good option. This is a peel, so it is for once weekly use at most. Also, it’s dirt cheap. This product is best for chemical exfoliation veterans. Not good for beginners, as it’s easy to go too hard and mess up your moisture barrier.
Honestly, if you’re serious about keeping hydration in, you can’t go wrong with Vaseline. It’s gross in theory but it works well. You only need a thin coat. Just make sure that your skin is clean first, as you will trap any dirt and bacteria underneath. You don’t need the baby version; I just liked the pink label on this picture.
I mostly reserve Aquaphor for the initial stages of healing a tattoo, but you can absolutely use it as an occlusive at night. It is easier to spread than Vaseline and doesn’t appear as greasy, so some people prefer it for that reason. It tends to be more expensive than Vaseline, though.
May Lindstrom Blue Cocoon
This lovely balm is technically not an occlusive, but I will often use it in place of Vaseline, and recently it has become the most valued step in my regimen. It’s a soothing balm that leaves my skin very soft in the morning. It can be tricky to use, as it prefers damp or wet skin, and you need a half a pea size amount. Too much leaves you very greasy. I spritz my face with a facial spray and then apply the balm for soft, hydrated, silky morning skin. It’s also expensive as hell.
And that’s it! With consistent, nightly use, your skin will glow through winter and be ready to show off in spring. What are your favorite products to use in winter, and what new items have you got your eye on?
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