Do Overnight Beauty Treatments Really Work Magic While You Sleep?

We all want to wake up looking our best. While overnight treatments could amp up our beauty sleep, is there actually benefit to using products at night?

Woman in Silky Bathrobe During Evening Routine in the Bathroom
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We’re a society that loves to multitask, and applying beauty treatments is no exception. The shelves are full of serums, masks, salves, conditioners, and lip treatments that promise to miraculously work while you sleep. It’s hard not to be tempted by the array of beauty products that claim to offer real results, all while you’re catching your Zzz’s.

We all want to wake up looking our best, whether it’s with less acne, fewer wrinkles, shinier hair, or no dark under-eye circles, and while overnight treatments could amp up our beauty sleep, is there actually benefit to using products at night?

We dug into the research and discovered that the answer is yes ... sometimes.

“There are very few studies on the topical application of beauty overnight,” says Jodi LoGerfo, a dermatology nurse practitioner for the Orentreich Medical Group in New York. “Many of the studies you see done by the beauty brands themselves have an extremely small sample size.”

However, that’s not to say there isn’t some benefit to applying products for overnight use. Like our bodies, our skin has a circadian rhythm, busy working during the day and using the evening to repair and rest. And sleep itself functions as an overnight beauty treatment in a lot of ways. A small study in Sweden compared people who slept a restful eight hours of sleep to those who got only five hours over an extended period. The less-rested group showed more swollen eyes, darker circles under the eyes, paler skin, more wrinkles or fine lines, and more droopy corners of the mouth.

There’s also something that seems to just make sense about a product working better when our skin is not exposed to all the pollution, UV light, and elements we see during the day. “It’s a chance for us to have eight hours of time that we are giving our skin to recover,” says LoGerfo. Additionally, some products, including retinols, increase photosensitivity, so wearing them at night saves your skin from additional sun damage.

Although the data is not yet there to prove it, LoGerfo suggests, “Maybe, just maybe, there is something to overnight beauty application.”

But no matter what products you apply, they can’t combat a dirty, irritating pillowcase, so be sure to use bedding made from high-quality, natural fibers and to change your pillowcase regularly to avoid product buildup that can clog pores.

Here’s what you should know about nighttime skincare:

Start clean

First things first. Recovery starts with clean skin. Leaving on any makeup or pollutants from the day can have the reverse effect, no matter how many topicals you apply.

From there, the heft of the products you use is up to you, but the order should typically be:

  • Cleanser
  • Toner (if using)
  • Serum (if using)
  • Eye cream (if using)
  • Moisturizer

How important is applying moisturizer before bed?

Moisturizer is important for keeping your skin hydrated and minimizing dryness, flaking, and inflammation. Our skin tends to lose hydration later in the afternoon and evening, which may be why, when you apply moisturizer later in the day, it sometimes feels as if your skin really needs it — especially in the winter, when your skin is extra dehydrated.

Now, there aren’t hard numbers to prove it, but LoGerfo thinks moisturizer can be beneficial as part of a nighttime routine.

“Overnight application of products could probably improve the skin barrier and serve as a shield for your skin as the next day,” she says.

Is night cream necessary?

As helpful as moisturizers can be, this does not mean that a “night cream” is necessary. Night creams tend to be thicker, more viscous products designed for overnight saturation. You could use the same moisturizer at both morning and night, but there are a few things to keep in mind. First, if your morning moisturizer includes a sunscreen, you may want to skip it at night. Your skin may also benefit from the application of something a little thicker at night, when you don’t have to worry about looking too “shiny” when you go out or needing to layer it under makeup.

If you have eczema, atopic dermatitis, or any skin condition, a nighttime moisturizer could also help mitigate overnight symptoms, but if you experience acne, you’ll want to avoid anything too thick.  

Should you use overnight serums?

If serums are a part of your beauty routine, there are certain ones you’ll want to apply at night only — not necessarily because they are more effective at night, but because they don’t mix well with the sun.

The most popular is retinol, a derivative of Vitamin A, which is great for addressing both aging and acne, but is deactivated by the sun and makes our skin more sensitive to UV rays. Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), which include lactic acid, glycolic acid, and citric acid, can also make you UV sensitive, so they are also best applied at night. You’ll want to apply a pea-sized amount under your moisturizer in the evening.

Says LoGerfo, “Because we have increased blood flow to the skin at night, I think potentially the skin has increased capacity to absorb better at night.” But again, the studies seeking to confirm this are limited.

Why do peels work best at night?

The same can be said for any peels, masks, or acids like AHAs, which help to exfoliate skin while you sleep. These are also deactivated by the sun (and make you sun-sensitive, so sunscreen the next morning is a must!). If you apply an acid treatment or peel, make sure it’s one safe to leave on overnight rather than something that should only be left on the skin for 10 to 30 minutes.

Should you follow a nighttime hair routine?

Just as with the skin, there are also nighttime hair masks and other products out there that claim to work wonders while we sleep. And as LoGerfo points out, “Our scalp is really just an extension of our skin.”

Just like our skin, our scalp and hair can suffer when we’re sleep deprived. But we also need to be cognizant of possible nighttime damage to our hair, because as we toss and turn during sleep, it can get tangled.

But are there any night treatments LoGerfo would recommend?

“Overnight masks could help moisturize your outer cuticle, but are they the end-all, be-all? I don’t know,” she says.

Anyone wearing overnight hair products without a cap or protective product risks transferring hair products onto their skin, and allowing thick hair products to seep into their pillows.

It’s best to go to sleep with dry, clean hair, use a silk pillowcase for less breakage, and take care of your scalp for optimal hair growth.