Before you tumble into bed at night too exhausted to wash your face, rub those tired feet, or give your locks some love, consider this: A small investment in your nighttime beauty regimen means a big payoff in the way you look and feel in the morning. Given that we spend one-fourth to one-third of our lives sleeping—and rack up roughly 15 to 20 years of sack time by the time we turn 60—we may as well get some beauty mileage out of our dreamland travels.
But a pre-bed beauty routine serves a greater purpose than just taking advantage of downtime. According to Julia March, a holistic skincare expert in New York City, this type of regimen is important because your skin needs sleep time to regenerate. Skin constantly expels toxins through sweat and oil, so nighttime—when the body is resting and not working so hard—gives skin an opportunity to breathe and restore its balance, explains Suki Kramer, founder of Suki Advanced Organic Science.
So why not make the most of your resting hours to beautify your body head to toe? And don’t forget the bonus: You’ll shave precious moments off your morning prep time if you follow our guide to beauty in the dark.
Cleanse. Cleansing removes the sweat, oil, dirt, and makeup that draw bacteria to the skin and clog pores. It also stimulates circulation—which oxygenates cells and keeps skin supple, elastic, and youthful—and promotes lymphatic flow to reduce puffiness. To get the most out of your cleansing routine, March suggests you “massage skin gently in circular motions from the center of the face out to the ears, chin, and forehead to stimulate circulation and lymphatic flow. You’ll wake up to refreshed, healthy-looking skin.”
Moisturize. Nighttime moisturizers are formulated differently than day-specific products, explains March. They often include “active ingredients like alpha and beta hydroxy acids, vitamin C, and omega-3s, which are broken down faster when exposed to the sun,” she says. Additionally, the retinols, vitamin C, and peptides in night creams can help stimulate collagen production, Kramer says. Just make sure your night cream doesn’t contain SPF, which is not only unnecessary but can irritate your skin if applied day and night.
Something else to consider: Certain ingredients found in many creams—vitamin C, alpha hydroxy acids, retinols—can ramp up sun sensitivity, so it’s especially important to use moisturizers containing these ingredients only at night.
For dry or mature skin, a face oil or serum, applied either alone or under your moisturizer, can provide extra hydration. Face oils “create a thin layer of protection to lock moisture into the skin,” says March. Botanical face oils—look for ones with antioxidants such as argan and grapeseed oil—absorb neatly and plump the skin overnight to make it look healthier, smoother, and more supple.
The skin beneath your eyes is extremely thin and contains few oil glands and almost no fat cells. These characteristics make the area prone to lines, wrinkles, puffiness, and dark circles—even if you get enough sleep each night. A dab of eye cream before bed can plump up the skin to make lines and wrinkles less obvious. If you’re prone to dark under-eye circles, look for a cream containing vitamin K, which plastic surgeons say reduces bruising and may help visible broken capillaries fade in color. Eye gels and serums also work well to tighten up puffiness. Hint: Keep your eye gel chilled—the cold substance will work better to contract and firm up loose skin.
Yes, even your tresses can benefit from a little nighttime TLC. An overnight oil treatment or hair-mask product (an intensive moisturizing treatment for hair, much like a facial mask) can restore softness and luster to dry, damaged, over-processed locks. But these products require time to sink in, and you probably don’t have spare hours (or patience) to go about your day with a goopy treatment in your hair. At bedtime, warm a small amount of jojoba oil, olive oil, shea butter, or a hair mask in your palm for a few seconds, and massage it gently into your strands. Wrap your head in a thin terry cloth towel or old pillowcase you don’t mind staining, or toss on a shower cap, to protect your pillow from the treatment. In the morning, wash out the oil or mask in the shower, and follow up with a leave-in conditioner for an intensive moisturizing treatment.
Our feet absorb the shock of thousands of steps each day—often in heeled shoes—which can leave them looking and feeling gnarly. To work out the kinks, especially if you’re prone to foot and leg cramps, move each foot around in a circular motion from the ankle, first clockwise, then counterclockwise, eight revolutions each. Then flex up and down and side to side eight times. Apply a rich serum or cream to your palms (look for products with peppermint, which stimulates circulation), then take each foot in hand, and gently massage.
Bedtime isn’t just the best time to beautify—it’s also an opportunity to de-stress, says Laura Kauffmann, LAc, cofounder of She Essential Beauty, a Chinese medicine–based skincare line. Draw a warm bath, and sprinkle a handful of lavender and bergamot bath salts in the water. “The salts are high in magnesium, which relaxes your muscles, and the essential oils relax the mind,” she notes. Afterward, slather on a rich body butter or body oil with nourishing shea butter, soy oil, or even highly absorbable sesame oil, which may be too fragrant for day use but is perfect for bedtime.
Rona Berg is author of Beauty: The New Basics (Workman Publishing Company, 2001) and Fast Beauty: 1,000 Quick Fixes (Workman Publishing Company, 2005) and founding editor of Organic Beauty magazine.