If you know what products work well for your skin, that’s only half the battle. When you apply them is the other key to perfect skin success. Your complexion has a natural circadian 24-hour cycle that is influenced by hormonal levels, environmental aggressors, the production of melatonin to protect from the sun, and the need to recharge the skin cells at night.
While the cycle can differ for each individual (especially during one’s period), Curtis advises it be used as a guideline that can be changed at each individual’s discretion. “The skin’s cycle is basically to have an active/protective against the elements phase during the day and a regenerative phase at night.”
Follow the hourly cycle below to find out the best time to apply your products and truly get your skincare routine on track.
The skin will be very sensitive when you first awake. “The natural hormonal (cortisol) activity at this time is more likely to produce a histamine reaction, which can be experienced as sensitivity, inflammation or even allergy,” says Curtis.
Although we normally layer on the products in the morning—the serums, the moisturizers, the oils—to provide for hydration throughout the day, your skin doesn’t need it. “Your skin is already producing sebum in the morning which naturally moisturizes so it doesn’t need to take extra moisture,” says Curtis. Instead focus on protection with a topical antioxidant, a moisturizer to balance oil production, and sunscreen. “The goal of these products is to protect your skin from environmental assaults, such as Ultraviolet Radiation, pollution, stress, and high energy visible light,” says dermatologist Dr. Alison Tam.
“The skin produces sebum during the middle of the day as part of its protective cycle against UV rays that would have been a problem historically when living mostly outdoors without much protection available from the sun and elements,” says Curtis.
“Some people may have skin that feels very dry and dehydrated by the end of the day if their moisturizer does not hydrate well enough,” says Dr. Tam. “Some may even need a second application of moisturizer if their skin is on the extremely dry side.” This is the perfect time to apply hydrating formulas, like masks and serums, because the skin most readily absorbs.
This is the other time of day when skin will be at its most sensitive. Again, apply calming and anti-inflammatory creams.
“At night our skin starts the rejuvenation period,” says Dr. Tam. “As we sleep, our bodies and skin rejuvenate and correct some of the damage that has been done throughout the day.” To take advantage, prep your skin just before bed. Your skin will have the same benefits, whether you apply product at 10 p.m. or 1 a.m.
“Collagen production is boosted, harmful free radicals are neutralized and cells are restored [at night],” says Curtis. “This is why an active night treatment product which assists in the process is so important for healthy, radiant skin.”