You don’t have to be well-versed in the skin care world to know what a moisturizer can do for skin (its job title is right in its name, thankfully!), especially during the winter months. While we all wisely gear up with lip balms and hand creams a plenty to battle cold, dry air, it’s actually night cream—moisturizer’s evening counterpart—that’s often touted as the true must-have product for winter skin.
But what’s the deal with night cream, anyway? Is it really the winter skin care savior the beauty world would have us believe? We asked two derms for the truth about piling on the goods while you snooze.
Why does night cream matter at all?
First, it’s important to understand why a night cream is needed in general. “Skin cells do their greatest renewal and repair while you sleep at night, so applying hydration and moisturizer [at night] is encouraged to maximize absorption and to enhance the skin barrier,” explains Rachel Nazarian, M.D., FAAD, of Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City.
This means nighttime is prime time for the skin to get to work on healing blemishes, wounds, and general wear and tear of life. It also means it’s a time when the skin is free from daily activity and external environmental aggressors, so potent ingredients can absorb into skin without interruption.
Plus, if you’re lying there for eight hours (OK, more like five, but a girl can dream), who wouldn’t want to slather on a cream that puts your skin to work?
Does it matter more when it’s cold?
Ah, the million-dollar question. Believe it or not, night cream is more important when the season changes. Interestingly, it has less to do with your skin and body and more to do with the state of the weather outside—meaning, if you live in a climate with harsh winter conditions, night cream may mean a bit more to you.
“During winter months, environmental humidity drops, and dry air draws moisture out of our skin, leading to cracked, irritated, and often itchy skin,” Dr. Nazarian says. “It’s even more important to apply moisturizers during the colder season to act as a barrier to prevent moisture evaporation from skin but also to draw more hydration into the skin.” That means your night cream is actually acting as a barrier and a magnet for a double dose of hydration.
But, hold up. It’s not just outside weather that can cause skin to become dehydrated, red, and flaky. How we make our homes cozy can also have a role on the skin barrier. “In addition, heating mechanisms used in most houses and apartment buildings often deplete moisture from indoor air as well,” explains S. Manjula Jegasothy, M.D., CEO and founder of Miami Skin Institute. She goes on to explain that when we are sleeping at night in our comfy heated homes, it’s likely our skin is actually radiating moisture as well as heat. The result? Extremely dehydrated skin come morning.
So, what kind of night cream should I use?
This is an entirely personal decision, but Dr. Jegasothy notes the two main “categories” of night cream to consider. The first category, she explains, contains extremely rich, hydrating creams that lock in ambient moisture as well as the skin’s own intrinsic moisture. These creams often include ingredients such as ceramides and hyaluronic acid.
These types of night creams don’t need to cost a fortune. Dr. Nazarian says quality skin barrier–maintaining creams come from CeraVe and Vanicream, both of which contain skin-strengthening ceramides. She also recommends hyaluronic acid–rich Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel, which helps draw water into the skin for temporary dryness relief.
“Garnier Moisture Bomb the Antioxidant Super Moisturizer is lightweight, absorbs quickly without a sticky feel, and is formulated with hyaluronic acid to hydrate the skin,” says Dr. Jegasothy of her pick, which is also packed with beneficial antioxidants and vitamins C and E.
The second category of night creams are those that are more ingredient-rich and include powerful skin care agents such as Retin-A (aka tretinoin) or retinol, Dr. Jegasothy says. “Retin-A and retinol have been proven over decades in hundreds of studies to smooth epidermal skin and build dermal collagen,” she explains.
Although you might have to splurge a little more for a retinol-based night cream, the payoff is worth it. Dr. Jegasothy recommends the chlorophyll-rich MDRejuvena Rejuvaphyl Rejuvenating Complex. “It is a chlorophyll-enhanced retinol cream that contains highly hydrating ceramides,” she says. “Chlorophyll contains hydrating and soothing elements to reduce any irritation that its retinol component may cause.”
Of course, a night cream that is both hydrating and contains retinol or other powerful ingredients is the ultimate goal!
What other switches should I make?
Although we’re not advocating for an entirely new and costly skin care routine, there is another important skin care switch to make when it gets cold.
Trading in your usual eye cream for a more hydrating, heavier version is wise. “As with facial cream, look for one with more ceramides and/or hyaluronic acid,” she says. “The eyelid skin is extremely thin and suffers damage from low humidity and the elements much more intensely than skin on the rest of the face.”
Bottom line: Lather up all over, and catch some ZZZ’s!