In our teens and 20s, a skincare night routine usually consists of a makeup wipe and basic moisturizer. Real skincare fanatics may have applied serum or had the odd exfoliation session—but more than that probably seemed excessive. Then along comes our fourth decade and along with it, new priorities. A good night's sleep beats a sticky-floored club, we'll spend a little more on the 'nice' olive oil (so life-enhancing) and our skincare routines become less of a hurried chore and more of a self-care moment.
We know that our skin is liable to change as the decades go by, so it's a good idea to reassess our skincare routine every now and then. Most of us have a general idea of what our skin likes, but if you really want to nail down what skincare ingredients and product types constitute a great evening skincare routine for your particular life stage, look no further.
The first step? Understanding the link between sleep and skin, as your skincare routine for the day should be different from your regimen at bedtime.
Why we need a separate skincare night routine
Your skin's overnight behavior should inform your skincare night routine:
- Cell turnover: When you doze off, your whole body kicks into repair mode, skin included. New cells are created, old ones are shed, excess fluid is drained, and toxins are broken down. Naturally, the more time there is to do this, the better.
- Circadian clean-up: Your circadian rhythm—a.k.a. body clock—is wired to work through the night, so poor sleep means incomplete tasks: fluid sticks around as puffiness, toxins as dark circles, and natural moisture is lost through an unrestored skin barrier.
- Hormone production: Hormones play a part, with protein-building human growth hormone (HGH) produced during a good night’s sleep and stress hormone cortisol released after a bad one.
- Sebum regulation: “Not getting enough sleep can trigger a response from your adrenal gland that leads to the overproduction of sebum, clogging pores and causing blemishes,” confirms dermatologist and Murad skincare founder Dr. Murad.
Clearly, good sleep is crucial for good skin. By using particular ingredients that work in tandem with your body's natural overnight renewal processes you can make the most of the hours you spend in bed.
A nighttime skin routine doesn't need to factor in sun exposure, which means your skin is fully focussed on regeneration. Now is a great time to apply retinoids and skincare acids, because even the best retinol creams can be destabilized by UV while exfoliating acids such as glycolic acid make the skin more photosensitive. Another factor to consider is texture. Night cream formulations are generally thicker, which might make them too heavy for the day, as well as uncomfortable to layer under makeup. The skincare night routine is these heavier textures' time to shine, as they create an occlusive layer that prevents water from evaporating overnight.
The best skincare night routine for every age
A good skincare night routine, regardless of any age, needs to be simple. We've included the essential steps for each age range, with extras added so you can customize it to be perfect for you.
Skincare night routine in your 30s
The best thing you can do for your skin in your 30s is to focus equally on prevention and hydration. Catch it before it falls, and you will reap the benefits of better skin tone, elasticity, and texture for years to come.
Step 1: Double cleanse
Make the most of natural repair by wearing your most active skincare to bed, starting with a really good cleanse so everything absorbs properly. Smart skincare tricks are habit-forming, so now is the time to begin a game-changing double cleanse routine. Begin with an easy swipe-on formula to remove surface makeup and grime, micellar water, or a gentle cream cleanser is perfect. Then, go in and really clean your skin with your preferred texture of cleanser. Dry types will gravitate towards oils and balms, if you're oily a gel or foaming cream will suit.
Step 2: Treat
Your 30s are a great time to learn how to use retinol as it is definitely a long-game ingredient. "Retinol is a fantastic active, increasing skin cell turnover and stimulating new skin growth while the body is in its resting state,” agrees cosmetic surgeon Dr. Jonquille Chantrey. Due to this cell turnover improvement, retinol can soften wrinkles, create a fresh texture, help regulate oil production and prevent the blockages that can lead to acne. Begin by using a low percentage product and apply it only every second night to build tolerance.
Step 3: Hydrate
Finally, you will want to hydrate your skin and seal in those actives before you head to sleep. Texture comes down to preference, but nearly all of the best face moisturizers contain hyaluronic acid, a lightweight hydrating ingredient, and other gentle moisture-boosters include squalene, glycerin, and botanicals such as rosewater. Resist the temptation to apply bucketloads of cream, less is more.
Weekly treatment: Clarify
Many of us experience breakouts well into our 30s, and a weekly treatment can help keep congestion at bay. Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) that acts as an anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial agent and can dissolve congestion within pores. “For spots, the ingredient to look out for is salicylic acid, which helps control sebum,” confirms Rachel Huskinson, director of Skin Lounge Clinic.
Our beauty editor recommends...
La Roche-Posay Toleriane Purifying Foaming Cleanser | RRP: £12.40/$14.99
Suitable for just about any skin type, this is satisfyingly foamy but also infused with a cocktail of good, nourishing stuff: prebiotic thermal water, ceramides, niacinamide (opens in new tab), and glycerin for a thorough yet non-stripping cleanse.
Kiehls Retinol Skin Renewing Daily Microdose Serum | RRP: $62/£39
An excellent starter retinol serum, made with a low dose of pure retinol plus ingredients designed to soothe and calm the skin such as ceramides (opens in new tab). Top marks for UV-proof packaging to help the ingredients remain stable.
Fresh Rose & Hyaluronic Acid Deep Hydration Moisturizer | RRP: $78/£43
Perfect for tackling dryness flare-ups, this indulgent yet lightweight cream employs soothing rosewater, rose flower oil, angelica leaf extract, and vitamin E, as well as hyaluronic acid to attract moisture like a magnet.
The Ordinary 2% Salicylic Acid Masque | RRP: $19.50/£11
Whether you experience hormonal acne, the odd breakout, or are on the oilier side and experience more frequent flare-ups, keep this in your weekly rotation. Clay and charcoal helps draw out impurities, while salicylic acid aids in exfoliation and calms inflammation.
Skincare night routine in your 40s
Collagen production will begin to slow down as you enter your 40s, so you will want to update your skincare night routine accordingly to include products that increase elasticity, as well as help with skin cell turnover and improve radiance.
Step 1: Cleanse
Hopefully, you're a loyal double cleanser by now (if not, refer to our 30s section, it's never too late to start) As the skin tends to lose natural hydration and elasticity in our 40s, ensure both steps of your cleansing routine are adding nourishment back into the skin, as well as removing things. Swap a milky makeup remover into step one that will gently remove dirt and makeup without stripping the skin or tugging the eye contours.
Step 2: Firm
As you progress in your 40s, you may start to notice your skin begin to lose some of its elasticity and radiance. Incorporating collagen-stimulating ingredients can help to support the skin's structure. This means sticking with your retinol, but upping the game with a higher percentage plus other known collagen-boosters like vitamin C and niacinamide.
Step 3: Deeply hydrate
Finish off your skincare night routine with a moisturizer that packs enough punch for overnight hydration. If dryness is becoming more of an issue, consider using an oil-based product instead of a cream. It'll really seal in moisture, give skin a dewy finish, and offers plenty of slip for a facial massage if you wish.
Weekly treatment: Exfoliate
Cell turnover has begun to slow down by our 40s, but exfoliating with an alpha hydroxy acid can help. Pick between lactic acid vs glycolic acid (glycolic is stronger, lactic is better for sensitive skin) and use once or twice a week to give cells a helping hand to shed. It'll help boost your glow and can superficially fade sunspots.
Our beauty editor recommends...
L’Oreal Paris Retinol & Niacinamide Night Cream | RRP: $36.99/£28.99
This cream perfectly combines the cell-renewing powers of retinol with replenishing and line softening niacinamide. Top marks for the clever press-pump bottle, which is ultra-hygienic and ensures you use the correct amount of product.
Biossance Squalane + Vitamin C Rose Oil | RRP: $72/£57
This lightweight oil simultaneously brightens and nourishes, while super hydrator, plant-based squalane (opens in new tab) locks in moisture when you need it the most.
REN Clean Skincare Glycol Lactic Radiance Renewal Mask | RRP: $36/£27
This blend of skin-refining AHAs (glycolic acid from pineapple extract and lactic acid from passion fruit) works to exfoliate and refine skin texture, while papain from papaya boosts the skin tone and offers a more radiant appearance overall.
Skincare night routine in your 50s
Menopause and lower estrogen levels can impact skin's firmness in your 50s, not to mention deplete that much-sought-after glow. Lines, dryness, and thinning, crepey skin are also common concerns.
Step 1: Cleanser
The trick here is to incorporate treatment ingredients at every stage, so no product is a wasted opportunity to give your skin a boost. Use a cleanser that's also jam-packed with active ingredients. Hydration is an absolute must, and ingredients that protect your skin from environmental dulling as well as strengthen the skin barrier to preserve natural moisture are a solid choice. If it feels luxurious and you love using it too, so much the better.
Step 2: Gentle acid exfoliation
Step up your weekly exfoliation to an every other day session (in between retinol days, see 30s and 40s for our retinol tips) This will help counteract the slowing of cell turnover, smooth your skin texture and help fade pigmentation. Lactic acid is a better bet for daily use than stronger acids like glycolic because it has a larger molecule size. This makes it less likely to irritate while still doing an amazing job of loosening bonds between dead skin cells and acting as a moisture-boosting humectant.
Step 3: Rich nourishment
Your 50s are great for many reasons, not least because now is the best time to invest in a rich (or, yup, we're saying it—spendy) night cream that has replenishing properties along with the usual hydration. Powerful antioxidants are a bonus, as are ceramides to replace the natural depletion that our skin undergoes as the years go by, plus rich plant oils to create a dewy, plumping effect.
Weekly treatment: Sleeping mask
You can do this as often as you like really, especially if you tend to wake up with dry or tight skin. Layer a second cream over your night cream to create an occlusive, a.k.a. protective barrier-forming, sleeping mask. This will stay on top of the skin to lock in moisture and prevent water evaporation. Look for ingredients such as shea butter, oils like argan oil, and waxes.
Dior La Mousse Off/On Foaming Cleanser | RRP: $42.50/£38
This strikes the perfect balance between being refreshingly sudsy but also creamy and nourishing. It's 90% natural with star ingredients including Water Lily extract to dissolve pollution residue on the skin plus barrier-boosting actives.
La Mer Crème de la Mer Moisturizing Cream | RRP: $345/£240
La Mer definitely creates the crème de la crème of the skincare world, and their iconic cream is the ultimate in hydration that also visibly improves skin texture. Yes, it's pricy, but if you can invest, their world-renowned Miracle Broth is a key ingredient worth trying.
L'Occitane Shea Butter Light Comforting Cream | RRP: $32/£29
Those new to occlusives will appreciate the lighter feel of this non-greasy shea butter-infused cream. Layered onto a hyaluronic acid-rich serum or moisturizer, it helps give extra levels of moisture protection to particularly dry, sensitive skin.
Skincare night routine in your 60s+
Natural sebum levels as well as collagen and elastin production will have slowed down by your 60s, while post-menopausal skin often sees a ramping up of melanin production. This means applying replenishing lipids and continuing to stimulate cell turnover is key as well as using products that really target hyperpigmentation.
Step 1: Cleanser
As ever, removing pollution, grime and makeup is absolutely crucial, and balm cleansers are incredibly welcome on 60+ skin. Not only are they packed with natural oils and waxes to replenish lost moisture, their rich texture means every cleanse has to involve a quick facial massage. This in turn stimulates microcirculation, encouraging the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the skin and a healthy glow.
Step 2: Treatment
As with your 50s, switching between acids and retinol will serve you well by exfoliating the skin's surface and revving up cell turnover to soften lines and fade sun damage from within. If you have dry or rough-textured skin go for glycolic acid in an easy swipe-on toner form. If your pores have become more noticeable (which happens as skin loses elastin) use a BHA toner that will unclog any congestion and help your texture appear smoother and clearer.
Step 3: Essence
Yes, it's an extra step, but now's the time to double down on moisture. Essences typically pack in similar replenishing actives to serums, but in a watery texture with small molecules that absorb efficiently into the skin. They form an essential part of the famously effective Korean Skincare routine, can be pressed into the skin in seconds, and have a silky, pleasant feel that leaves the skin plumped and primed for creams.
Step 4: Moisturize
Now seal it all in with a beautifully rich cream. If you can, it's worth spending a bit more on something that packs in a few active ingredients as well as hydrating ones. We love resveratrol, a buzzworthy vine-derived antioxidant that can help slow collagen degradation to prevent wrinkles and give skin a nicely supported structure (and yes, it is indeed in wine, with red wine having higher levels—do with that information what you must). Other gentle skincare heroes to look out for in your night cream are niacinamide, peptides, and ceramides.
Eve Lom Cleanser | RRP: $71/£60
This iconic balm cleanser comes with its own muslin cloth to add gentle exfoliation into the bargain. Take a finger-swipe of product onto your palms, apply in gentle circular motions onto the forehead, cheeks, nose, and chin then run the cloth under warm water and use it to wipe off the balm.
Farmacy Deep Sweep 2% BHA Pore Cleaning Toner | RRP: $28/£27
A brilliant toner that combines beta-hydroxy acid salicylic to clear pores and give skin a smoother texture, with papaya enzymes that exfoliate away dulling dead cells. It's refreshing yet alcohol-free, formulated to clean beauty (opens in new tab) standards, and contains antioxidants too.
- View Farmacy Deep Sweep 2% Pore Cleaning Toner at Boots for £27 (opens in new tab)
SK-II Facial Treatment Essence | RRP: $99/£100
Pitera, the key ingredient of this essence was discovered in sake breweries in Japan, where older brewers were observed to have strangely youthful hands. 40 years later, we're still reaping the benefits of this formula in hydration, tone improvements, radiance, dark spot lightening, and texture refinement.
woman&home thanks Dr. Murad of Murad (opens in new tab) skincare, Dr. Jonquille Chantrey (opens in new tab) of One Aesthetic Studio (opens in new tab), and Rachel Huskinson of Skin Lounge Clinic (opens in new tab) for their time and expertise.
As woman&home's Beauty Channel Editor, Fiona Mckim has tried more products than she’s had hot dinners and nothing makes her happier than raving about brilliant finds on womanandhome.com or her instagram grid (@fionamckim if you like hair experiments and cute shih-tzus). Fiona joined woman&home as Assistant Beauty Editor in 2013 under industry legend Jo GB, who taught her everything she needed to know (learn about ingredients and employ extreme cynicism). She has since covered every corner of the industry, from interviewing dermatologists and celebrities to reporting backstage at Fashion Week and judging the w&h Beauty Awards.