The abundance of skin-care options out there can be confusing, so much so that you might wonder why a night cream (versus a daytime one) is even necessary: After all, can’t you just wear your daily moisturizer to bed? A good way to think of a night cream is not just as a moisturizer, but a targeted refresher for the next day. Dermatologist Noelani Gonzalez, the director of cosmetic dermatology at Mount Sinai West, says it’s why you’ll find that night creams tend to be thicker than daytime moisturizers, use exfoliators to improve skin texture, and contain more hydrators to replenish moisture lost during the day (so you wake up looking less tired and puffy). They also contain ingredients like retinol, which shouldn’t be used during the day.
If you’re in the market for a night cream, Gonzalez suggests hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and ceramides for hydration, retinol as an acne fighter and anti-ager, or antioxidants like resveratrol for protecting against environmental stress.
“Glycolic acid also helps exfoliate and renew, and niacinamide helps with redness for those with conditions like rosacea and acne.” Here, we asked three dermatologists for their recommendations on the ones that are worth the money (and added some of our own tried-and-true favorites).
If your goal is anti-aging, Gonzalez and dermatologist Debra Jaliman—an assistant professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine—like this RoC night cream. A big perk is that this one’s formulated in a tube versus a jar, so it has a longer shelf life, but also retinol and glycolic acid for smoothing skin. Jaliman considers it a dupe for the much more expensive Strivectin Advanced Retinol Intensive Moisturizer: “Similar ingredients, very different price points.”
Both derms suggested this drugstore CeraVe night cream, too, which Jaliman says delivers comparable results to much more expensive options. She calls out the ceramides and hyaluronic acid in it as excellent hydrators, plus the niacinamide as a trusted redness reducer. “This is an excellent moisturizer for when the weather starts getting cold and your skin starts losing more moisture,” she says.
Here’s another in the drugstore range. Gonzalez and New York City–based dermatologist Hadley King—a clinical instructor of dermatology at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University—suggested this one for its hydrating elements. “It has antioxidants, green-tea extract, and a peptide-B3 complex, which helps hydrate and exfoliate skin,” says Gonzalez.
If your skin is on the drier end, a cream that’s chock-full of hydrators can help.
Jaliman recommends this one from No7 for replenishing moisture: “This night cream has shea butter, glycerin, and ceramides, which are perfect ingredients for someone in need of a highly hydrating moisturizer.”
More sensitive types might revert to a more natural option, and for them, Gonzalez recommends Burt’s Bees Intense Hydration Night Cream. “It’s great for those with sensitive skin, and the product doesn’t test on animals or use animal ingredients.”
King also alerted us to the fact that DHC (the same Japanese company that produces the culty cleansing oil) has a great night cream. “With olive oil and squalene, the emollient properties of this night cream are powerful, providing deep hydration and sealing in moisture.”
If you have combination skin, Gonzalez says this SkinCeuticals cream is a solid choice for exfoliating and moisturizing. “With alpha hydroxy acids, glycolic and lactic acid, aloe vera, and essential oils, it soothes dry skin, boosts skin radiance, and reduces the appearance of lines.”
For the person who’s going all-in on night creams, Gonzalez adds that this pricey, yet results-oriented, SkinMedica Age Defense Retinol Complex has a little bit of everything: “Retinol for anti-aging, niacinamide (which has been shown to be anti-inflammatory in clinical trials and to enhance the skin’s barrier function), essential oils, and antioxidants to help smooth skin and give it a more rejuvenated look.”
And here’s a retinol-enhanced night cream that always ends up on my empties list. I find that it’s gentle enough to prevent burning or tingling on my reactive skin, and helps me wake up with smoother, more radiant skin. It’s my absolute favorite product for overnight results. I use it sparingly before days when I know I want my skin to look good.
When I’m not using the Murad night cream, I’ve found that spacing it out with this firming cream from Good Science Beauty—a new skin-care line created by a scientist—really helps. It’s the first non-retinol night cream I’ve ever found that gives me comparable results (brighter, smoother skin) without any skin irritation. It relies on barley extract for firming skin, contains emollients like essential oils and glycerin, and uses a patented silicon complex to help all of the ingredients penetrate the skin better.
Verso Night Cream ($110)
And if you’re just looking for a potent retinol to layer at night, people go nuts for this Verso night cream because it contains a Who’s Who of skin ingredients, like retinol, vitamin C, antioxidants, and hyaluronic acid. I wouldn’t suggest it for every day, or for people with very sensitive skin, but it would make a good night cream for someone with oilier, more acne-prone skin.
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