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Daytime vs. Nighttime Moisturizers – Do You Really Need Them?

Find out the difference between moisturizers that are supposed to be used in the daytime and those reserved for nighttime.
By Dermspotlight Staff,
Updated March 12, 2021
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Now that the colder weather is upon us, many people want to incorporate a moisturizer into their skin care routine. Well, I have news for you. It would be best if you used a moisturizer daily, no matter what the season, which includes at least once a day to the body and twice a day to the face. You might also be wondering if you should take it a step further and use daytime and a nighttime moisturizer to hydrate your sensitive skin?

Is there a difference between a day and a night moisturizer when it comes to your facial routine, and does the variations between the two work?

First of all, moisturizers are essential for any facial or body skin care regimen all year round. [1] Skin is the largest organ of the body and quite impressive as it regulates body temperature, senses if it is cold, hot, wet, or dry outside. Think of it as a shield from the outside world—security of protection from water loss and infections. Losing too much water can result in abnormal function and wreak havoc to the skin. Adding a moisturizer will help limit that water loss. A measurement specifically, known as TEWL or transepidermal water loss, is how many companies check the efficacy of their hydration product properties to ensure you get the moisture they promise. [2]

In the end, a healthy skin barrier can decrease the risk of irritation, dryness, and itch that can lead to facial redness, discomfort, and infections.

What is Moisturizer? Exactly?

In general, moisturizers can replace the moisture that we continuously lose with factors such as age, the environment, products, and even genetics. The skin is composed of natural fats known as lipids, and, unfortunately, these decline as we age. Specifically, this includes essential fatty acids, ceramides, and cholesterol. Each of these components serves as a critical role to help maintain lipid balance, increase the skin’s hydration and function, respectively.

Moisturizers carry essential components such as ceramides, which are waxy lipid molecules that help form your skin, retain moisture, and provide a substantial barrier. [3] Moisturizers are full of ingredients, known as humectants, that can attract water from the environment into the skin. [1]

Some examples include peptides, glycerin, urea, alpha hydroxy acids, lactic acid, and vitamin B5. They even have ingredients that soothe and soften, replace the lipids, and prevent water loss to the skin; these are known as emollients. [1]

Some examples of emollients include mineral oil, lanolin, petrolatum, cocoa butter, and shea butter. Furthermore, there are ingredients infused into moisturizers such as plant extracts, retinols, and even SPF so that you can target specific concerns to your skin such as anti-aging or even get an extra boost in hydration and protection. Targeting is where one can distinguish between daytime and nighttime moisturizer.

Daytime Moisturizers

Daytime moisturizers are usually lighter in texture to accommodate the typical increase of activity you have during the day, as well as the addition of daily make-up application.

A thick creamy consistency with or without the make-up application can lead to a shiny complexion or make the skin feel too greasy. Skin is exposed to so many elements throughout the day, such as pollution, dust, and sweat, which can lead to clogged pores, so a thick moisturizer would not be wise.

Also, don’t forget about the daily exposure from UV radiation and the blue light from our computers and smartphones that can contribute to photoaging of the skin and increase your risk of skin cancers. With all these components, it is vital to use a moisturizer that is light and won’t clog your pores as well as give you extra protection against the outside world. Examples, Advanced Dermatology, Meaningful Beauty, The Ordinary, Rodan and Fields.

Typically, daytime moisturizers are rich in antioxidants such as green tea polyphenols, vitamin C, and even newer generation retinols that don’t degrade with exposure to UV light. [1] They may even contain hyaluronic acid or vitamins that work as a natural hydrator, such as vitamin E, vitamin B5, to give dry skin an extra boost of moisture retention.

Nighttime Moisturizers

Nighttime moisturizers are usually heavier in texture and contain products to repair the skin while you are at rest. You empower your nighttime routine with ingredients such as argireline, retinols, antioxidants, or extra hydrating components such as hyaluronic acid. It is proven that during restful sleep, our skin repairs itself, so why not give it an extra boost with elements within a luxurious wrinkle cream to contribute to the repairing cycle? Brilliant concept, indeed!

Also, in preparation for your skin before you sleep, you are washing off that make-up, using cloths, or maybe washing with AHA/BHA (i.e., alpha hydroxy acids/beta-hydroxy acids) to remove all the debris the skin has collected throughout the day.

Cleansers and cloths also remove the dead skin cells that can build up and cause skin dullness. Finishing up your nightly routine with a rich moisturizer to keep your skin hydrated, healthy, and glowing is crucial for the best results. Examples, Mary Kay Skin Care, Image Skin Care, and SIO Beauty.

People Also Ask

Q: Why is moisturizer essential twice daily?

A: It is essential to apply a moisturizer twice daily immediately after washing your face. We recommend washing your face twice daily as this allows applying moisturizer and clearing off dirt and debris, as mentioned above. Because we use a face wash, we can strip the natural oils from our skin, and not replacing the moisture can result in dry, irritated skin.

Q: Do I need a moisturizer if my skin is oily?

A: Yes, there are specialized moisturizers designed for oily complexions such as Mario Badescus, Nerium, and Skinbetter Science. You want to look for something that is non-comedogenic, or that won’t clog your pores. All skin types (i.e., oily, dry, combo, and so forth) should invest in a moisturizer that targets their needs. A board-certified dermatologist can help guide you to the best one.

Q: Do moisturizers vary for certain ages?

A: Yes, usually, you can find “thicker” or “richer” moisturizers for people in their 50s and beyond. As we age, our collagen breaks down, and the skin thins out; therefore, more nutrients and hydration may be needed.

Q: Is a moisturizer with SPF enough to give me enough protection for the entire day?

A: Unfortunately, no. Though it is convenient in the morning, you should always reapply sunscreen every one to two hours if outdoors or after swimming or sweating. You should also reapply sunscreen if you are indoors and sitting by a window or even a computer.

Q: What order should I apply a moisturizer with my other products?

A: The general rule of thumb is to use products that are thinnest in-consistency first (i.e., serums like No. 7 Serum) to thickest (i.e., creams like Plexaderm). It is usually best to make it one of the last items before your sunscreen or before bedtime. However, if you are on topical prescriptions, make sure you consult with a medical professional on the order of application.

Q: Is it alright to apply a moisturizer after applying hyaluronic acid serum, or am I hydrating too much?

A: Yes, it is okay, especially if you are prone to dry skin naturally or with a product such as retinol; I highly recommend it. Hyaluronic acid holds up to 1000X its weight in water, but with dry environments, your skin can get quickly dehydrated. By applying a moisturizer afterward, you are sealing in the moisture and not allowing the dry climate to take it away from you.

The Final Word

There are many products to choose from in the marketplace today like Perricone MD, Nu Skin, StriVectin and Genucel. With new ingredients and constant research happening, unique generations of moisturizers are compounded that can target our specific needs.

Even though you were making life a little more comfortable in regards to using the same moisturizer in the daytime and nighttime, you may be missing out on those extra ingredients to protect and repair the skin. If you are a simple person, one moisturizer can do the trick, but it must be adequate for both times of the day. Also, you may want to incorporate your extra components with the addition of serums, gels, lotions, and such. Not so simple anymore, is it?

The goal of any moisturizer is to decrease the transepidermal water loss or TEWL (aka dry skin). Separating moisturizers and using a daytime and nighttime regimen can help hone in on your problem areas while keeping your skin at the optimal hydration balance.

In the end, using two different moisturizers is key to the best skin care. This way, you are covered 24 hours with hydrating mechanisms, protection, and ingredients that repair the damage already done.

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Renata Block, MMS, PA-C

By Renata Block, MMS, PA-C

Renata Block is a Physician Assistant specializing in Dermatology. She is the creator of Savvy Derm Diva®, an online resource for proper skin care. Make sure you follow her on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter! Need a dermatology consult? Please visit Advanced Dermatology & Aesthetic Medicine, LLC or Call/Text 847-802-9667 for a TeleDerm appointment. MUAH!💋