The Skincare Routine You NEED – Nighttime Edition
One of the things I get asked a LOT is what my skincare routine is. What products are actually necessary and which ones do I recommend? I’ve learned a lot about skincare since I wrote about my last skincare routine two years ago (gasp! It has been that long). I also have become more of a minimalist, and while I like that Korean women can have 10-12 step nightly regimens (I admire them!), let’s be honest here: I do not have time for all the extra stuff. I’m going to lay out the bare necessities for you here. If you want to know more about what other dermatologists use and love, check out the Expert Beauty Picks archives here.
So below are the foundations to building a good skincare regimen for nighttime use. If you’re confused about what order to do everything, remember you want to cleanse, tone, and then put medicine or other essential molecular formulations on closest to the skin (retinoids, vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, etc.), followed by serum, moisturizer, eye cream, and sheet mask. I’ve laid out the order or everything in this post here. Don’t do exfoliating things like using your Clarisonic Mia or a black sugar scrub on the same night as you use retinoids, because that may be too irritating to your skin.
Step 1: Cleanse
This is KEY before you start adding on all the other steps below. You’re not going to wax a car without cleaning it first, am I right? Let me back up for a second. Before cleansing I always first take my makeup off using Neutrogena makeup remover wipes. These are gentle and get the trick done (a whole post on the proper way to remove makeup here). We are not in college anymore – no excuses for falling asleep with a full face of makeup on (cringe)! After I get the makeup off, then I alternate between using the CeraVe hydrating cleanser and the fresh soy face cleanser. The CeraVe hydrating cleanser contains ceramides, which I like to think of as the mortar keeping the bricks (your skin cells) together to help retain moisture and strengthen the skin barrier. We produce decreasing amounts of lipids as we age, so replenishing the supply with ceramide containing products is helpful. When I’m feeling extra dry, such as during winter, I tend to use my CeraVe hydrating cleanser more. The fresh soy cleanser acts as a second makeup remover that is also gentle enough to be used around the eyes, so I like using this one when I have on heavy eye makeup that is a bit more stubborn to remove. Plus it contains cucumber extract and rosewater which help to calm and tone the skin.
About once to twice per week I use my Clarisonic Mia 2 cleansing brush with the foaming soap. This more intensive cleaning tool will do a better job cleaning out your pores, removing dead skin and sebum, and taking off all traces of makeup. I use it rarely during the winter, since my skin is already so dry that it can’t really take the deeper cleanse.
Step 2: Tone
A lot of cleansers are alkaline in nature and can raise the pH of your skin. Toner helps by restoring your skin’s natural pH, remove traces of oil, and help tighten pores. I’ve been skipping toner lately because my skin is so dry during the winter, but when my skin looks oily or during the humid summers, I use a simple Neutrogena alcohol-free toner that you can buy at any drugstore. I’d suggest choosing a non-alcoholic toner (avoid words like “witch hazel” or “astringent”) because those can further strip your skin of moisture.
Step 3: Treat
I like to think of this step as the “medical step” as well as my anti-aging step, to help me “turn back the hands of time.” That’s a bit dramatic but I like to think of this step as every dermatologist’s secret weapon: prescription strength retinoid. Retinoids, which are a Vitamin A derivative, have an important role in my field because studies have shown that topical application of retinoids result in new collagen formation and increased epidermal thickness, as well as clinical improvement in wrinkling, dark spots, rough skin, and skin texture. I not only prescribe retinoids to my acne patients, but also to any patients who want to establish a good anti-aging regimen early on. The thing that’s tricky about retinoids though are the side effects. When you initially start you may suffer from “retinoid dermatitis,” meaning some sun sensitivity, redness, and skin irritation. I encourage my patients to push PAST this phase so that you can reap the benefits. If you are getting too red and flaky, I suggest using it every other night and mixing it in with your moisturizer, applying just a pea sized amount of retinoid all over your face and increasing the frequency of use as tolerated. I just increased my retinoid strength from tretinoin 0.025% to 0.05% last week, and my face is bright red and peeling! It actually looks like I have a bad sunburn and my skin is just flaking off. I’m just using it every fourth night for now and will increase the frequency as my skin calms down and adjusts to the more potent formulation.
If you want to try retinoids but don’t want to go the prescription strength route, you can buy over the counter products with retinol, a slightly different formulation of vitamin A, which take a bit longer to work, but may be more gentle with less side effects for those starting out.
Also, do NOT use retinoids if you are trying to conceive because it can potentially cause harm to the developing fetus.
Aside from using retinoids, this is also the step that I would use any medications that you’ve been given, whether it’s acne medications like topical antibiotics or antioxidants (scientific dive into antioxidants here) to prevent free radical damage like the Skinceuticals CE Ferulic or Skinceuticals Phloretin CF. If you’re using vitamin C, remember to keep your bottle of product in the refrigerator and to minimize exposure to any sunlight to maximize the shelf life.
Step 4: Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize
This is a super important step because we all know that dry sun damaged skin = wrinkly skin (a combination of natural aging and photoaging, explained here). Sure, Botox can be a way to smoothe out a few wrinkles but prevention is really key. I’ve tried a lot of moisturizers over the past few years and here are some of my favorites:
- Skinceuticals B5 Hydrating gel (c/o): this product contains hyaluronic acid (HA) and B5, ingredients to help your skin stay hydrated and smooth. As I mentioned before in my antiaging post, HA is a powerful humectant protein in our skin that helps it retain water. We lose HA as we age, so I like to choose moisturizers that contain HA to try to get some of t back. Caveat: it’s very hard to absorb HA through the skin but even then having some absorption is better than none. I apply some of this gel after washing and toning my skin and I find that it helps retain moisture in my skin better.
- Laneige water bank serum (c/o): I love this serum made by Korean beauty company Laniege. This ultra light, gentle serum goes on super smooth without leaving any sticky residue, and I use it under regular night cream on nights that I think my skin needs an extra boost of hydration.
- Nature Republic Fresh Steam Cream: The one I linked to is specifically designed for combination skin but there are other ones for dry or oily skin. The steam cream was a gift from one of my girlfriends from Korea, and I’ve never found a better intensive moisturizer that I depend on nightly during the winter! Its main ingredient is high quality Shea butter from Africa, mixed with a variety of other soothing and moisturizing oils, all exposed to high temperatures to provide lightweight but lasting hydration to your skin as you sleep. I use this product alone without serum because it is heavy duty enough on its own; I wake up in the morning with my face still feeling incredibly soft and hydrated!
- Shiseido Benefiance Eye Cream: Wrinkles around the eyes are so hard to avoid, especially if you are expressive. Eyelid skin is extremely thin and wrinkles easily, so we have to be extra vigilant about protecting this area. I use the Shiseido Benefiance Eye Cream which is light enough to use during the day as well. One of my rockstar attendings Dr. Cindy Bae (her top skincare picks here) uses plain old petrolatum jelly, which let’s be honest is way cheaper, so I think I’m going to try that out next!
- Skinceuticals triple lipid restore cream (c/o): this product contains ceramides, which as I mentioned above, you can think of as the mortar holding the bricks (your skin cells) together. This helps to repair your skin barrier and lock in moisture. I love using this nighttime cream, which is super thick but melts into your skin, because I wake up with really plump well hydrated skin. It is ok the pricier side though, so for those of you looking for a more affordable alternative I also recommend the Glossier priming moisturizer rich, which is $35. I reviewed this Glossier product and some other cult favorites in this blogpost.
If you are extra busy and need just the bare bones routine, I suggest using foaming cleanser, toner, and eye/facial night cream. Those are the minimum needed!
Extras to be used as needed:
1). Exfoliating scrub: The best exfoliating scrub I’ve ever used is STILL the Skin Food brown sugar scrub. I use it once a week and it leaves my skin feeling so incredibly smooth and polished! In fact, that reminds me, I’m going to put one on now while writing the rest of this article. I alternate the Skin Food scrub with the Cure Natural Aqua Gel, the number 1 exfoliator in Japan which works faster and creates less of a mess. The Cure gel was given to me by another dear friend who became obsessed with this product after trying it. Instructions for using it are below.
2). Face Mask once to twice a week (20 minute leave on masks or overnight masks that act as hydrating gel). I love using the Innisfree It’s Real face masks about once a week and the Laneige Water Sleeping Pack EX once to twice a week. The water pack feels like a thick gel that you leave on overnight, functioning as an intensive night cream. I reviewed both of these and the Skin Food scrub here. I also am a big fan of the Memebox bon vivant sheetmask line with calming, hydrating, and brightening agents like aloe, HA, rose, and more.
I recently picked up a whole SLEW of facemasks in Korea (review to come) but the standout brand from the bunch was Cremorlab. These were probably the best most luxurious sheetmasks I’ve ever tried, and they actually fit the contours of my face with my close set eyes because of extra slits on the eyeholes! I never had such glowing bright skin as I did the day after this mask. I reviewed the Cremorlab herb calming sheetmask in this blogpost here; these masks are available on Amazon here.
4). Ultra moisturizing eye mask once a month: I use the Shiseido Benefiance Pure Retinol Express Smoothing eye mask whenever I feel like the skin around my eyes is getting especially dry.
I am super curious what all of YOUR skincare regimens and favorite products are. I learn so much from hearing from you! Leave a comment below sharing your tried and true skincare routine!