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Numerous studies indicate the importance of sleep. Not getting enough shuteye can have a serious adverse effect on attention, cognition, and mood. According to experts, sleep is also essential (approximately seven and a half hours is the sweet spot) because it’s when the body repairs itself. So, from a skin standpoint, the night is the best time to apply products with nourishing and restorative ingredients. Though all skincare steps are important in their own way, a night serum is going to work overtime while you’re catching some z’s.
Best Night Repair Serum Overall: Formulyst Double Defense Serum, $45
The Best for Sensitive Skin: Carrot & Stick The Soothing Serum, $70
Best Night Serum for Dull Skin: Dermalogica Overnight Repair Serum, $67
Best Night Serum Anti-Aging: Murad Revitalixer Recovery Serum, $89
Best Night Serum When You’re on a Budget: The Ordinary 0.5% in Squalene, $5.80
Best Night Serum for Uneven Skin Tone: Estee Lauder Advanced Night Repair, $75
Best Ingredients in Skin Care: Strivectin Super C Retinol Serum, $72.00
Best Night Serum for Retexturizing: Biossance Squalane and Lactic Resurfacing Night Serum, $62
Best Night Serum for Aging Skin: Derma E Ultra-Lift Concentrated Serum, $19.99
Best Night Serum for Dry Skin: Peter Thomas Roth Water Drench Hyaluronic Cloud Serum, $52
Best Night Serum With Retinol: Sunday Riley A+ High Dose Retinoid Serum, $85
Best Night Serum for Oily Skin: Paula’s Choice 1% Retinol Treatment, $58
Best Night Serum for Lightening: PotentLift Advanced Vitamin C + B + E, Ferulic and Retinol Serum, $49.95
Best Night Serum for Acne-Prone Skin: CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum, $14.79
What Ingredients to Look for In a Night Serum
The ingredients found in night serums are practically limitless, but the following are explicitly considered beneficial when worn at night.
AHAs and BHAs
Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) and Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA) are high-level exfoliants that dissolve the glue that holds together dead skin cells, resulting in a smoother, brighter, and softer complexion. They can also help soften fine lines, wrinkles, and dark spots. While AHAs also hydrate the skin and boost collagen production, BHAs help treat blemishes, breakouts, and clogged pores. They’re best worn at night because they make your skin more sensitive to the sun, so always wear an SPF of at least 30 during the day.
Topical vitamin A–based drugs called retinoids—the most used and most studied anti-aging compounds— help reduce fine lines and wrinkles. Tretinoin, under the brand name Retin-A, was the first retinoid. It was used as an acne treatment in the 1970s, but researchers later discovered that it also fades actinic keratosis spots, evens pigmentation, and speeds the turnover of superficial skin cells. Retinol is one of the top skincare ingredients for softening and preventing fine lines and wrinkles, reducing pore size, encouraging collagen production, lessening the appearance of brown spots, increasing cell turnover, and improving skin texture.
Antioxidants and supporting elements (think hyaluronic acid, peptides, alpha, and beta hydroxy acids) help promote stability, strength, and skin function. During the day, antioxidants protect, but at night they repair.
Squalane is a highly-effective emollient and natural antioxidant. When used over time, it can soften fine lines and wrinkles, reduce scarring, reverse UV damage, and fade skin pigmentation. To be clear, squalene is not squalane, which is more appropriate for oily, acne-prone skin versus dry, mature skin. Additionally, studies suggest squalene appears to be critical for reducing free radical oxidative damage to the skin.
Peptides are amino acids that are the building blocks of specific proteins needed by the skin, like collagen and elastin. Using a serum or moisturizer that contains peptides can lead to firmer, younger-looking skin and maybe even fewer breakouts. Clinical studies revealed that peptides could cause a significant increase in dermal collagen and facial wrinkles.
Don’t Overdo It
It can be challenging to train your brain only to use a minimal amount of serum, but remember that a little goes a long way as it’s more concentrated. As a general rule of thumb, use two pumps (a pea-sized amount) or 3-4 drops if you’re using a dropper formula. You don’t need to coat your entire face due to the potency. Simply gently pat the required amount of serum into the skin with your fingertips. Wait approximately 30-60 seconds before applying your night cream.
The Best Night Serums
Best Night Repair Serum Overall: Formulyst Double Defense Serum, $45Thanks to a powerhouse of antioxidants and a rich retinoid compound, this potent anti-aging formula reduces the appearance of wrinkles and blemishes while leaving you with youthful-looking skin that’s visually smoother, firmer, and more even without stripping the skin of vital moisture. It’s formulated with Hydroxypinacolone Etinoate, one of the most bioavailable non-prescription forms of Vitamin A. It also includes antioxidants like caffeine, vitamin C, and vitamin E that help to fight the effects of skin damage and premature photoaging.
The Best for Sensitive Skin: Carrot & Stick The Soothing Serum, $70The powerful expression of cannabis sativa — hemp extract and seed oil — is the basis of a uniquely soothing formula that helps skin feel stronger and more resilient. Rich concentrations of naturally occurring vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants work to alleviate irritation and promote elasticity for soft, nourished skin.
Best Night Serum for Dull Skin: Dermalogica Overnight Repair Serum, $67As mentioned, when it comes to night serums, the more ingredients, the merrier, as it’s the best time for your skin (the largest organ of the body) to repair itself. While there are an overwhelming array of skincare brands on the market, Dermalogica continues to be a leader from a professional and consumer standpoint — and with good reason: quality, results-driven formulas. In this night serum, peptides and argan and rose oils work together synergistically to soften fine lines and wrinkles and revitalize a lackluster complexion.
Best Night Serum Anti-Aging: Murad Revitalixer Recovery Serum, $89Not only does this sphere-infused formula touted as one of the best night serums for the face, but it also reduces dark under-eye circles and puffiness, thanks to caffeine and niacinamide. A blend of neuropeptide, paracress, and cannabis sativa seed oil help to soften fine lines and wrinkles while you sleep.
Best Night Serum When You’re on a Budget: The Ordinary 0.5% in Squalene, $5.80Retinol from The Ordinary may be a bargain buster, but it’s versatile and suitable for all skin types. The 0.5% strength is a good option for beginners or those with sensitive skin because the squalane in the formula mimics your skin’s natural oils, so no need to worry about dryness and flakes. There’s also a lower 0.2% and higher 1% strength formula in squalane.
Best Night Serum With Retinol: Olay Regenerist Retinol 24 Night Serum, $28.99A popular night serum by Olay is the Regenerist Retinol 24 Night Serum. This fragrance-free serum is said to deliver visible improvements in fine lines and wrinkles, smoothness, brightness, firming, dark spots, and pores. The formula contains both retinol and retinyl propionate that help correct multiple signs of aging. An additional key ingredient is niacinamide, an multi-tasking ingredient that can repair the skin barrier and improve skin moisture, as well as reduce inflammation, blotchiness, hyperpigmentation, acne, and wrinkling.
Best Night Serum for Uneven Skin Tone: Estee Lauder Advanced Night Repair, $75Advanced Night Repair is a face serum developed by Estée Lauder over thirty years ago. This product is credited with being the industry’s first serum. The concept behind Night Repair is that the best time to repair and heal the skin is while you sleep. The key ingredients in this face serum include bifida ferment lysate, baobab seed oil, tripeptide-32, and sodium hyaluronate. Overall, Estee Lauder Advanced Night Repair is said to help with loss of firmness lines and wrinkles, dryness, dehydration, dullness, loss of radiance, and uneven skin tone.
Best Ingredients in Skin Care: Strivectin Super C Retinol Serum, $72.00Strivectin Super C Retinol Serum combines two of the best ingredients in skin care — vitamin C and retinol — into one lightweight serum. The formula includes three different forms of vitamin C, as well as acerola cherry extract, a botanical extract that is naturally rich in vitamin C. When applied to the skin, vitamin C helps to combat free radicals, support collagen synthesis, and reduce the formation of dark spots by inhibiting melanin production.
In addition to vitamin C and retinol, this serum contains NIA-114, the brand’s proprietary form of niacin, to strengthen the skin barrier. Together, these key ingredients are said to restore radiance and clarity, smooth away fine lines and uneven texture, and visibly firm and improve elasticity.
Best Night Serum for Retexturizing: Biossance Squalane and Lactic Resurfacing Night Serum, $62Lactic acid works to exfoliate the skin by breaking down keratin, the protein that binds dead skin cells together. It also increases cell turnover and attracts moisture to the skin (squalene is another key ingredient), resulting in a softer, smoother, and brighter complexion. While the brand claims you’ll see noticeable results in terms of texture after just one use, over time, fine lines and wrinkles are softened as well.
Best Night Serum for Aging Skin: Derma E Ultra-Lift Concentrated Serum, $19.99Copper peptides and resveratrol prevent collagen loss, soften fine lines and wrinkles, and brighten the complexion. Antioxidant-rich Kakadu plum and botanical extracts repair free radical damage, while DMAE helps tighten and tone skin over time.
Best Night Serum for Dry Skin: Peter Thomas Roth Water Drench Hyaluronic Cloud Serum, $52For those with extremely parched skin, a simple hyaluronic acid serum won’t do. For that reason, this formula is an excellent choice for extra dry skin because it contains a potent 30% HA complex made up of three different molecular sizes of HA. There are two other star ingredients: ProHyal+ (a natural form of hyaluronic acid-based on a high concentration in yeast oligosaccharides) and a 1% Pentavitin formulation that studies show keeps the skin hydrated for 72 hours.
Best Night Serum With Retinol: Sunday Riley A+ High Dose Retinoid Serum, $85Full disclosure: This is not a retinol serum for rookie retinol users. This professional strength formula consists of a 5% retinoid ester blend, 1% liposomal-encapsulated retinol, and blue-green algae to provide antioxidant protection. The addition of encapsulated CoQ10 works to improve damaged or aging skin; and if you’re worried about irritation due to the strength, cactus extract, Hawaiian white honey, bisabolol, and ginger calm and soothe.
Best Night Serum for Oily Skin: Paula’s Choice 1% Retinol Treatment, $58One of the hidden benefits of retinol for oily skin is that it sloughs off dead skin cells that can stick to the surface and clog pores. The 1% strength in this formula helps decrease oil production, while licorice and oat extracts reduce the appearance of dark spots and soothe inflammation.
Best Night Serum for Lightening: PotentLift Advanced Vitamin C + B + E, Ferulic and Retinol Serum, $49.95Retinol and vitamin C work together to lighten dark spots and discoloration due to natural aging or sun damage. Vitamins B, E, and ferulic acid hydrate and repair oxidative stress due to an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in your body. All of the ingredients harmoniously brighten and rejuvenate the skin.
Best Night Serum for Acne-Prone Skin: CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum, $14.79Looking for a retinol serum for acne? Keep in mind that your skin can be on the sensitive side (maybe even inflamed.) This formula provides all the benefits of retinol, but with the addition of skin-soothing ceramides and niacinamide to even out the skin tone, reduce redness, and soften acne scars.
Nighttime Face Serums: The Bottom Line
Whether you want to target fine lines and wrinkles, acne or large pores, or discoloration and inflammation, a serum is your best weapon. Unlike other products — like a moisturizer — serums have a smaller molecular composition, meaning they can penetrate deeper to treat the skin from the inside out.
While the common goal is to deliver high concentrations of various active ingredients into the deep layers of the skin, day and night serums are formulated with different additives to target specific a.m. and p.m. needs. While daytime serums hydrate and protect, the purpose of a nighttime serum is to resurface and repair. Also, some ingredients are better used at night because they make the skin more sun-sensitive. Look for formulas that contain AHAs, BHAs, antioxidants, squalene, peptides, and retinol.
There’s no such thing as a quick fix, and consistency is vital if you want to see results — which can take at least 4-6 weeks in most cases. Don’t give up. Stick with it, and you’ll see an improvement over time, providing you’re using a nighttime serum with a high concentration of quality ingredients suited for your skin type.
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