Night Creams vs. Night Oils: Finding What Works For You

Because getting ready for bed has never been more fun.

Photo: CoffeeAndMilk/Getty Images.

Ah, yes. There’s nothing like the feeling of washing our makeup off at the end of a long day. And, thanks to things like subscription beauty boxes and gua sha, getting ready for bed is more of a personalized ritual (and fun) than ever before.

Apart from cleansing, the most important step in one’s PM beauty routine is the last one. And now, more than ever, brands are promoting the very real idea that while some moisturizers don’t sit so well under a face full of makeup all day, a heavy cream is just what your skin needs to heal itself while you catch some Z’s. But what does that mean for the fix-all oil products that are supposed to renew and restore radiance and youth? Well, it turns out: While oils appeal to the senses, look good on the shelf, and can act as a protector to your skin — most of them just end up sitting atop your face, unable to actually penetrate into your pores for long-lasting moisturizing effects. That doesn’t mean they’re useless, but let's just say... they’re more optional than they are necessary.

We caught up with Nicole Lyons, a PA at SmarterSkin Dermatology, to discuss the key differences between night creams and night oils, a few necessary products for our skin routine (including those she swears by), and just which vitamin is crucial for maintaining a year-round glow. Your skin will thank you later.

If someone has drier skin and needs a boost of moisture, which is better for an overnight solution — a cream or oil?
Creams generally absorb better into the skin as most oils form more of a barrier on top of the skin, thus unable to penetrate as deeply as a cream would.

And if someone wants to promote cellular turnover or "repair" their skin?
Repairing the skin, I also opt for creams, but I always suggest one that is rich in ceramides for added hydration. For cellular turnover, you’d need an ingredient that can increase removal/sloughing of the skin — usually products with acids, retinol/retinoid (the strong Rx version), enzymes, and, of course, something that can physically cause cell turn over like a scrub (but these should be used with caution, especially for those with sensitive skin, as well as mindfulness of the products like plastic beads that can harm to our Mother Earth).

Which type of ingredient is most potent when it comes to overnight remedies?
Depending on skin type and what one can tolerate, I still think retinoids are most potent for wrinkles, hyaluronic acid and glycosaminoglycans are the best for dehydration, Vitamin C with ferulic acid for brightening, benzoyl peroxide for acne spot treatment, and a cortisone injection in office for that pesky cystic breakout.

What's the most important distinction between a night cream and a night oil? And what makes something designated technically for "night" use?
Oils tend to sit on top of the skin verses a cream; not a huge difference other than nighttime use is usually either a heavier product (so contains less water and more oils or ceramides) or has a more potent ingredient that is best used at night, like a retinol/retinoid (as it causes photosensitivity so it’s advised to avoid during the day). Remember: Nighttime is when our bodies actually have the time to repair itself so that’s when one should really focus their entry for caring for their skin.

Any product recommendations?
Number one is SPF! Anything with zinc and titanium dioxide and iron oxides; the tint really does aid in added protection, especially against blue light irradiation and photo damage. I love Elta MD and La Roche Posay Anthelios mineral tinted SPF.

Vitamin C is probably my next most important product recommendation. It helps prevent oxidative stress from free radicals and can brighten the skin, as well. The only down side is it’s a hard molecule to stabilize so a good one tends to be most costly. Keeping it sealed tightly and away from bright light may help extend the shelf life. When searching, look where it falls in the ingredient list (the higher up, the better/more concentrated).

Also, choose a company that actually has science to back up its claims. There are no real regulations with skincare from the FDA, like with medications, so any company can make any claim they want. SkinCeuticals, for example, is one of my favs for Vitamin C!

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