Best Morning and Nighttime Skincare Routines

In the morning and at night, your skin has different needs. You need protection in the morning because your skin is exposed to the sun, heat, pollution, and dirt, which can damage your skin and prematurely age it. The night is the time to pamper your skin, after all, it has been through during the day. Repair, hydration, and nourishment are necessary for it.

Here’s a look at the best morning and nighttime skincare routines. It’s quick, easy, and effective.

Morning Skincare Routine

The main point of the morning routine is to prep your skin for the day.

Taking care of your skin in the morning is no different to having a shower before you put clean knickers on.

Step 1. Cleanse 

Any non-foaming cleanser is fine – milk, balm (a little), gel – as long as it doesn’t turn your face into a foam bath, carry on. Yes, you can absolutely use the same product in the morning that you use in the evening if you want to, but you’re only cleansing once.

Step 2: Exfoliate

Rather than harsh scrubs (which are thankfully going out of fashion), acids are about taking off the layer of dead skin cells and, depending on the type of acid, stimulating the skin. Your skin’s surface is naturally acidic, and acid toners lower your skin’s pH. They have the effect of blowing a trumpet in your ear. Your skin is forced into action.

Most brands make exfoliating/acid products that you use at the traditional ‘toner’ stage. To call them a ‘toner’ is to do them a great injustice – these are the ‘toners’ of the 21 st century.

Try to have a couple of exfoliating/acid products if you can: a milder version and a more ‘active’ one. There’s no point in having two of one type. Alternate them daily. There are lots of different types of acid but the main ones are glycolic, lactic, and salicylic. If you can only afford one, either buy a mild one and use it twice a day or a stronger one and use it in the evenings only. If you have sensitive skin, or you are just concerned about using acids, start by using them twice a week and see how your skin reacts.

All packaging for anything with any acid in it will legally have to say ‘avoid eye area’. Unless you are using a prescription strength, dermatologist-prescribed hardcore acid, it’s fine. Apply the acidic toners on a cotton pad or gauze then take it around the eyes – full circle – upper brow to corner brow and under eye to inner eye – and reverse.

Caveat: using acids twice a day or even daily may be too much or unnecessary for some skins, especially if you are also using active ingredients in other products, such as strong retinoids in the evenings. If you’re new to acids, start slowly and follow your skin’s response.

Step 3: Spray Hydrate

I love this step. It’s the start of the hydrating process and it wakes me up. Use whatever hydrating flower mist or water you like. Any spray should have glycerin or hyaluronic acid in there somewhere, but something like good-quality rosewater is fine. I mean good quality – i.e. the INCI (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients) list is proper rosewater, not fragrance and coloring. Check your ingredient labels.

You can also use your traditional ‘toner’ at this stage, as long as its main function is to hydrate. Some traditional toners are designed to ‘mattify’ or strip back sebum and this is not what we want. If you are using toner in this way, decant it into a spray bottle and keep it as a spray, too. Try to avoid alcohol at this stage.

Step 4: Apply Eye Product

Do not apply your eye product last. No matter how carefully you apply your serums and moisturizers you will always get some in the eye area, and then your eye product won’t be absorbed where you want it to be. Pointless.

Apply eye products to the orbital area (the area covered by your sunglasses) before serum, moisturizer, and SPF (you can put these on top of the eye product if you fancy it and it’s not a contraindication).

Step 5: Apply Serum/Oils

This step is what I am asked about the most. I use a mixture of oils and serums, and the application goes by texture.

Serums – especially water-based ones – go on first. Next, a couple of drops of facial oil (if you are using one), topped off with your moisturizer. In the case of a heavily siliconed serum, I would probably skip the oil and go straight to moisturizer. Spending 20 seconds ‘warming’ your serum in your hands by rubbing them together is a complete waste of time, money, and product unless your intention is to have fabulously soft palms (see here for my ‘therapist hands’ technique for dispersing product in the palms and onto the fingers).

There will always be exceptions, so if what you are doing works for you, don’t change it on my account.

Step 6: Moisturize

Choose your moisturizer according to your skin type, not a skin condition. Your moisturizer is your coat/protection. People tend to spend far too long choosing their moisturizer and far too little time taking care of what goes on beforehand: for example, using a quick swipe of a wipe, slapping on the expensive face cream, and then wondering why their skin isn’t great.

Remember to avoid anything ‘mattifying’ – a promise that’s often made on products for oily skin. Skin is not designed to be ‘matte’.

If your skin is excessively oily, just go for light hyaluronic acid serums, which help lock in moisture, and oil-free moisturizers. No need to force the issue. Leave that to your makeup.

Step 7: Apply SPF 

I always recommend using a walnut-sized dollop of a separate SPF. A moisturizer with added SPF will not benefit the skin as much as two separate products will. I mean, it’s better than nothing, but wouldn’t you rather be safe than sorry?

Unless that is your everyday outfit of choice, I suggest you wear actual clothes (moisturizer) underneath your raincoat (SPF). You should always use a broad-spectrum sunscreen (see here) that protects against UVA rays, which damage your skin’s elasticity, and UVB rays, which can cause skin damage and alter the structure of cells, potentially leading to skin cancer. I would always recommend an SPF30 or higher.

Make sure you apply it everywhere, including the back of your neck and the top of your ears. Women typically apply their SPF before they hit the beach and put their hair in a ponytail the minute they hit the sand. EARS! Even if you aren’t on holiday.

To achieve the SPF on the label, you need 2 milligrams of sunscreen per square centimeter of the area. The official recommendations change regularly, but current thinking is that for the face, it’s a good amount more than you are used to applying as a moisturizer. Double it.

Nighttime Skincare Routine

The main point of your nighttime routine is to help your skin help itself.

Repair and correct.

Your face is not being bombarded with sunlight, dirt, aggressors, etc. at night, so you can get the treatments in while they actually have a better chance of being effective.

‘Your skin repairs itself at night’ is the biggest old wives’ tale out there in skincare. It’s nonsense. And please don’t get me started on ‘your skin sleeps at night’. No. YOU sleep at night. Your skin does not have an on/off switch like your heating. Your skin is repairing itself 24 hours a day – the reason you use treatments while you sleep is because you have the full attention of your skin.

Step 1: Cleanse

‘Do I need to double cleanse?’ is my most frequently asked question about the evening routine. The only time I don’t double cleanse is if I have been indoors all day and have applied neither SPF nor makeup. Otherwise, I go straight in with an oil-based product to hit the grease, dirt, makeup and general gunk on my face after a day in Central London.

If you wear SPF you need to double cleanse. A lot of people who think they are allergic to SPF because it breaks them out are simply not taking the time to wash it off properly. (Please don’t take it personally if you genuinely are allergic to SPF – I’m clearly not talking to you.)

Using the flannel from the morning is fine. I usually use two out of the three products below.

  • Pre-cleanse oil or eye-makeup remover 
  • Oil/balm cleanser
  • Milk/gel cleanser

Step 2: Apply Vitamin A

If you are using vitamin A, apply it to dry skin after cleansing. Leave it for about 20 minutes, then follow it with your eye product. If you need it, apply your moisturizer afterward. If you are new to vitamin A or are using a strong vitamin A product, the effects can be quite extreme at first so you may need to buffer it by applying a moisturizer or mild facial oil around 20–30 minutes after applying it.

Step 3: Apply Eye Product

As in the morning routine, if you typically wake up with puffy eyes, move to a lighter texture and use a serum or gel. Avoid rich creams.

Step 4: Apply Treatment Products (Usually Serums) Or Facial Oils

This is my favourite step. This is where you can really go to town.

Treatment products should be your main expense skincare-wise.

Try to have at least three products you can use, depending on your skin’s needs. At least.

Use a good facial oil, a good serum or treatment – whatever you need for your skin. And before you ask me what you need, really think about it. You know your skin.

Whether or not you use a night-time moisturizer depends on what treatment you use. If your treatment is IN your moisturizer, you’re done. If you are using a lovely night-time oil, you may not want/need anything else. Personally, I am a fan of the ‘piling it on lightly’ approach.

Your skin will breathe regardless of whether you put the product on it or not.

My PM routine is literally: pre-cleanse, cleanse, acid, spray hydrate, eye product, oil/treatment, and night treatment/oil/cream (not all three!).

Sometimes less is really not more. Having one cleanser and one moisturizer is like having one pair of shoes or one bra. If you can afford more than one pair of shoes, you can afford more than one cleanser and more than one moisturizer.

FAQs About Skincare Routines

How much cleanser should I use?

Because we’re not talking about foam, I would break it down by the formula and what are you using the cleanser for – either makeup removing or skin cleansing.

  • First cleanse/makeup removal – balm: either a big fat grape or two grapes if they’re smallish.
  • First cleanse/makeup removal – milk: a heaped teaspoon or two pumps (if applicable).
  • Second cleanse/AM cleanse – a level teaspoon (or one pump, if applicable).

How much serums should I use?

Serums are easy to gauge because the majority of them are in a bottle fitted with a dispensing pump and are designed to be dispensed at one pump per application. Ergo, if you have a large face, use two pumps, and for a smaller face, use one pump. For comparison purposes, about the size of an almond.

There has, however, been a huge increase in the use of pipettes for serums (I hate them – they are messy to use, you’re more likely to drop them and waste product, and they allow air into the formula). If yours has a pipette, start with half a pipette maximum, adding a little more if you need it.

How much moisturizer and night cream should I use?

Depending on your skin and face size, two blueberries, or three if you’re a dry pumpkin head. Think almond-size again.

How much SPF should I use? 

It is suggested that, on average, people apply one-fifth of the amount of product required to actually reach the SPF level listed on the bottle.

At the time of writing, to achieve the SPF on the label, you are advised to use 2 milligrams of sunscreen per square centimetre of the area.

The official recommendations change regularly, but current thinking is, for the face, it’s a good amount more than you are used to applying as a moisturizer. Double it. For your body, it’s a teaspoon per limb. A teaspoon. One for each leg and arm, one for your trunk, one for your back, and if you’re wearing skimpy swimwear or going nude, then good for you! You need to add one lotion allowance for your bottom, hips, thighs etc.

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