Can’t start your day without a hot shower? You’re already on the right track, says Howard Sobel, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City. The steam of a morning shower will open your pores and allow your cleanser to work better. But don’t use the same soap you do at night. “Your skin is nowhere near as ‘dirty’ in the morning as it is at the end of the day,” says Sobel. “If you use the same routine in the morning, you run the risk of stripping essential oils from your skin.” Choose a gentle clarifying cleanser for your a.m. washes—if your skin feels uncomfortable and tight afterward, your cleanser is too strong.
Dark under-eye circles can also make you look tired. Deal with them by applying an eye gel or cream containing caffeine. Blood in the capillaries can pool under the eyes and cause the shadowy look, but “products with caffeine can make a huge difference in the microcirculation around the eye,” says Elizabeth Trattner, D.O.M., an acupuncture physician and integrative medical practitioner in Miami Beach, Fla. Use your ring finger to apply, as it will exert the least amount of pressure and pulling on the sensitive eye area.
Because skin takes much more of a beating during the day than at night, take steps to protect it from the elements. Use a sunscreen with broad-spectrum protection (to block both UVA and UVB rays) before you apply moisturizer, or look for an SPF/moisturizer combo. For best results, consider one that contains hefty antioxidants like vitamins C and E for extra fortification to fight against the barrage of free radicals you’ll face throughout the day.
Any evening routine must first undo the damage done throughout the day. Remove makeup first with an oilbased product, then get rid of remaining dirt and grime with a heavy-duty cleanser. Then, slough off dead skin cells with a gentle exfoliant. “Exfoliants remove the top layer of skin so reparative night products can penetrate the skin more effectively,” says Trattner.
It’s also important to use retinols and retinoids at night, when they don’t have to compete with makeup and environmental stressors. “To avoid dryness and redness, cleanse skin about 20 minutes before applying a retinoid cream. Damp skin increases risk of sensitivity,” says Sobel. “Twenty minutes later, apply your moisturizer.” Or start out slowly by mixing a dot of retinols into your moisturizer. When choosing a nighttime moisturizer, look for heavier creams and oils with anti-inflammatory, soothing ingredients like white tea and chamomile.
After focusing on your face, don’t forget the rest of your body. “People will spend fortunes on face products, but they will completely forget about their skin on the rest of their body,” says Trattner. She suggests exfoliating your entire body with a loofah to increase circulation and glow, and to apply a therapeutic hair and scalp oil before bed. “Oil left in the hair or scalp for 6 to 8 hours can do stressed scalps and hair a world of good. Patients will notice softer hair and healthier scalps after shampooing oils out of their hair in the morning,” says Trattner. Finally, get a good night’s sleep! The more you sleep, the more time your body has to work on creating new skin cells, so all the treatments and ingredients you feed your body can work effectively.