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Here’s the Best Speedy Nighttime Routine for Glowing, Youthful Skin, According to Top Dermatologists

It takes just 5 minutes and it won't break the bank!

The older we get, the less time we want to spent on an elaborate, over-the-top skincare routine before bed. We want to brush our teeth, slather on some cream and call it a night. On the other hand, the older we get, the more skin woes we have to deal with (age spots, dryness, wrinkles, oh my!) that require a few more minutes to tackle. The good news? Dermatologists say we can easily do a nighttime skincare routine (and reverse aging) in 4 easy steps — that will have you in bed and snoozing in no time.

What’s the importance of a nighttime skincare routine?

For starters, know that whatever your skin type — oily, dry or combination — it’s essential to have some sort of nighttime skincare routine. But, a skincare regimen does not mean it has be complicated. “Simplicity is key with any skincare routine, especially at bedtime when you’re exhausted and ready for bed,” assures dermatologist Pooja Rambhia, MD.

Why do we need a nighttime skincare routine? “They’re important because they help to remove dirt and oil that have accumulated on the skin throughout the day and prep the skin for maximal absorption of [anti-aging] active ingredients like retinol, peptides and antioxidants,” explain Dr. Rambhia.

Further, our body, including our skin, works hard while we sleep! It undergoes repair and regeneration, says Dr. Rambhia. making it even more effective when we are using the right products and ingredients in our nighttime skincare routine.

Why is a nighttime skincare routine important for mature skin?

As we age, we lose a key protein that is responsible for healthy, radiant skin: collagen. A loss of collagen leads to a loss of skin elasticity, moisture and plumpness. Thankfully, you can help to restore that lost collagen with an effective nighttime skincare routine that caters to mature skin. (Click here for more on collagen serums for skin)

Then, of course, there’s hormonal fluctuations and stress to contend with, both of which can throw even the most beautiful skin off balance at times. Keeping up with a consistent, yet simple, nighttime skincare routine can help prevent your skin from reacting when these hormone fluctuations arise.

The best nighttime skincare routine

It seems like we’re constantly being thrown new, often conflicting advice when it comes to our complexions, which can make creating a skincare routine extra difficult. We want in on the latest super-ingredients — be they hyaluronic acid or retinol — but do we really need to use them all? And how do we know which ingredients and products are right for our skin?

If you’re wondering what the building blocks are to a functional nighttime skincare routine, Dr. Rambhia explains in the easy-to-follow, step-by-step guide below.

Step 1: Cleanser

woman washing face in sink for nighttime skincare routine

The first step of a nighttime skincare routine is to cleanse away any dirt, oil and grime your face accumulated throughout the day, whether from environmental factors, makeup or sweat. However, it’s important that your cleanser is not too stripping, advises Dr. Rambhia, and is nice and gentle. She suggests looking for ingredients such as ceramides and hyaluronic acid, both super moisturizing ingredients that will help to counteract the drying effects of soap on the skin.

The good news: There are dozens of great, affordable cleansers on the market. And, since “cleansers spend the least amount of time on the skin, you don’t need to spend tons of money buying fancy ones!” agrees Dr. Rambhia. Here a few great options:

For oily skin: Opt for a foaming consistency, “as they are better at eliminating excessive oil or sebum,” says Dr. Rambhia. Try: CeraVe Foaming Facial Cleanser (Buy from Amazon, $15.49).

For dry skin: Hydrating ingredients are key when it comes to cleansers for dry skin. Dr. Rambhia says to look for ingredients like hyaluronic acid, glycerin and ceramides, all of which will “reinforce the skin barrier.” Try: La Roche-Posay Hydrating Gentle Cleanser (Buy from Amazon, $16.98).

Step 2 : Toner

The best part of this step? It’s optional! While toner is helpful with removing any excess grime, makeup or dirt you may have missed while cleansing, it is not an essential step of a nighttime skincare routine, assures Dr. Rambhia. Toners can be great for dry skin, as some toners contain hydrating ingredients like glycerin, for example, but for sensitive skin (or if you just want a simpler regimen), Dr. Rambhia advises skipping this step, as “some toners can contain fragrances like botanical extract that can irritate the skin.”

If you do want to add a toner into your routine, a great gentle one to try is the Colleen Rothschild Clarifying Solution (Buy from Colleen Rothschild, $36). Its key ingredients tackle many aging arghs: azelaic acid (reduces inflammation), glycolic acid (exfoliates), chamomile and burdock root (soothe sensitive skin), salicylic acid (exfoliates and evens skin tone), lactobacillus ferment (supports healthy microbiome) and niacinamide (reduces pore size).

Step 3: Serums/retinol

woman holding bottle of facial serum

Serums are great for addressing the specific skin concerns you may have, such as fine lines and wrinkles or discoloration. You should also incorporate a retinol, which Dr. Rambhia says she recommends for all her patients, especially those with mature skin as it does wonders for fine lines. “Retinols are vitamin A derivatives that help to stimulate collagen production and repair damage from UV rays — they are my number one anti-aging product!” exclaims Dr. Rambhia.

Kate Kerr, clinical facialist and director of Kate Kerr London Clinic, is also a fan of retinols for mature skin for a nighttime skincare routine. “At night while you sleep, your skin goes into healing mode, so it’s the best time to give it a boost with a variety of active ingredients that help with cell renewal and damage repair,” she says. “The most popular of the ‘active correctives’ is retinol, due not only to its high efficacy, but also to the wide variety of products and formulations designed for various skin types. Most corrective products contain high levels of active ingredients so it’s best to start using them just in the evening.”

A word of precaution when it comes to serums: “It’s important to never over-do it with numerous serums that contains many different active ingredients, as this has the potential to irritate the skin,” advises Dr. Rambhia.

For dry skin: To add extra hydration back into your skin, opt for a hyaluronic acid and retinol serum, as the hyaluronic acid “attracts and retains moisture in the skin, thus helping to plump the skin and reduce the appearance of subtle fine lines,” says Dr. Rambhia. One of her favorites is the CeraVe Skin Renewing Retinol Serum (Buy from Ulta, $26.99).

For oily skin: This isn’t a serum, but it is an amazing retinoid (which is one step up from a retinol, meaning it’s slightly stronger) that is especially great for oily skin that is prone to acne: the La Roche-Posay Effaclar Adapalene 0.1% (Buy from Amazon, $35.99). An excess of sebum production often leads to breakouts and blemishes, and the adapalene in this retinoid treats acne. (Note: This treatment should be applied after moisturizer.)

For discoloration: A few reliable ingredients to look for in a serum for discoloration are glycolic acid, azaleic acid, tranexamic acid and niacinamide, all of which help even skin tone, fade dark spots and brighten complexion, says Dr. Rambhia. Try: Good Molecules Discoloration Correcting Serum (Buy from Ulta, $12), which contains tranexamic acid and a whopping 4% niacinamide all for a steal.

Step 4: Moisturizer

mature woman applying moisturizer to face for nighttime skincare routine
Nikola Ilic/Getty

Regardless of your skin type, it is crucial to use a moisturizer — especially for mature skin! “As we age, our skins’ ability to retain water and moisture diminishes because there is a decline in the production of hyaluronic acid,” explains Dr. Rambhia.

Nighttime skincare routine moisturizers for oily skin:

There is a common misconception that moisturizer makes oily skin more oily, which is not always true. If you feel your moisturizer is leaving your skin feeling greasy, you may just be using the wrong product.

“Oily skin can still experience dehydration given a lack of water content in the skin, so it’s important to still use a lighter moisturizer to help balance the skin’s moisture levels, thus minimizing compensatory excess oil production,” says Dr. Rambhia.

Opt for a gel-based moisturizer, as they are typically more lightweight and absorb quicker. One we love: IT Cosmetics Confidence in a Gel Cream Oil-Free Moisturizer (Buy from IT Cosmetics, $59) because it’s full of skin-loving ingredients like niacinamide, squalane, vitamin E and peptides, and it’s oil free! For a more affordable, drugstore option, Dr. Rambhia backs Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Cream (Buy from Amazon, $16.06).

Nighttime skincare routine moisturizers for dry skin:

As for dry skin, you really want to look for humectants, like glycerin and hyaluronic acid, that “help to retain water in our skin,” as well as “fatty acids to help seal in moisture and ceramides to strengthen the skin barrier,” suggests Dr. Rambhia. It’s also good to look for a texture and formula that is a bit thicker.

Dr. Rambhia’s recommendations are Vanicream Moisturizing Cream (Buy from Amazon, $12.76) and CeraVe Moisturizing Cream (Buy from Amazon, $17.78).

Have extra time to spare? Add these steps to your routine

Exfoliate skin

If there’s one thing that skincare experts can agree on, it’s the importance of exfoliation. “This is a key step that often gets forgotten or overlooked,” says Elsie Rutterford, co-founder of BYBI Skincare. “Exfoliating can actually prep skin for the other steps in your beauty routine, removing the layer of dead skin cells and ensuring your skin is primed to absorb nutrients.”

Formulations have also come a long way in the past few years. Exfoliation is no longer limited to so-called “physical” scrubs that slough off skin with grainy ingredients. Chemical exfoliants formulated with AHAs and BHAs remove dead cell build-up, leaving the skin looking more radiant. “How often you should do this depends on your skin type and tolerance to certain products,” says Rutterford. “Those with sensitive skin may find an acid exfoliant too harsh to use on a daily basis, so perhaps limit use to once or twice a week.”

In other words, this is not an essential step to do every day, but is beneficial to incorporate a couple times a week. Try: The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Exfoliating Peeling Solution (Buy from Sephora, $9.50).

It’s important to note that when you start using such treatments, the skin can feel a little sore and irritated, but this shouldn’t cause too much alarm. Kerr says, “with products containing AHAs, BHAs and retinol, minor irritation, redness and peeling is completely normal as your skin adjusts to the high level of activity on your skin. The best course of action is to pull back for a day or two until these effects dissipate. Then, reintroduce your active product every second or third day, slowly building up to daily use.”

You’ll also need to up your SPF protection during the day, as acid-based skincare can make your complexion more sensitive to the sun’s rays.

Related: “I’m a Dermatologist and Doing These 4 Steps Every Morning Ensures a Youthful Glow All Day!”

Swipe on a hydrating lip balm

Your lips need just as much moisture as your skin! Before bed, apply a dab of Aquaphor (Buy from Ulta, $4.79) to lips (and eyelashes!).

Apply eye cream

“Eye creams are a nice bonus step, but not necessary,” says Dr. Rambhia. “Eye creams are specifically formulated to be gentler around the eyes given the skin is thinner and more sensitive.” She says to look for peptides, retinol, antioxidants and moisturizing ingredients when choosing an eye cream. Her favorite? RoC Retinol Line Smoothing Anti Wrinkle for Dark Circles Eye Cream (Buy from Ulta, $10.39).

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