These days, an extensive, luxurious, 30-minute-long nighttime skincare routine seems almost standard—religion, expected, and yes, a tad over the top. And yet, there is also something that feels rather delightful in the indulgence. Not only is removing our makeup and rhythmically massaging serums, creams, and oils into our complexions great for encouraging a healthy glow, but the ritual of it also feels completely therapeutic and has basically become a daily form of self-care.
That being said, as much as we love and hoard our favorite bottles, tubes, and pots (just watch an episode of our Instagram series #ByrdieBedtime if you don't believe us), sometimes—usually at the end of a long day—our regimen also feels daunting. And impossible. And needlessly excessive. And we find ourselves wondering: Is all of this even worth it?
While we'll never grieve the sheer number of game- and bathroom vanity–changing products currently available to us, the majority of what's marketed isn't really necessary. Of course, that will never stop us from blushing in reaction to the newest launches and debuts, but for those days or phases in our life when trimming the excess feels obligatory in order to maintain our sanity—and our nightly sleep quota—it's nice to know that we can get away with a more streamlined routine. Which, according to top dermatologists, can take roughly half the time and effort without compromising our skin.
We've known for awhile that many dermatologists already advocate for a simpler, more strategic routine, and this was something I was reminded of a couple months ago when I had the opportunity to attend the American Academy of Dermatology's (AAD) annual meeting in San Diego. And while I've known many dermatologists don't necessarily back a 10-step regimen each night, you could have knocked me over with a feather when Candace Spann, MD, of Couture Dermatology & Plastic Surgery, and Rebecca Kazin, MD, of Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery, boldly admitted to a roomful of eager beauty editors that their nighttime skincare routine typically consists of just one simple thing: a makeup wipe. My initial reaction: They're kidding, right?
After all, not only are Spann and Kazin arguably two of the best dermatologists in the country, but they also have impeccable skin. And I don't know about you, but when I think of loading up all my skincare in the morning (their strategy) and thereafter placing all faith in a cleansing cloth to rid skin of a full day's worth of grime… well, images of oil, blackheads, and whiteheads immediately bubble to mind. So I decided to follow up with both Spann and Kazin to learn more about their confessions, their morning versus nighttime skincare strategies, and whether or not a makeup wipe can truly suffice as a nightly skincare routine. Oh, and just for your information, both derms blame their sometimes one-step regimen on a crazy-busy schedule and epic fatigue come nightfall. World-known dermatologists: They're people too.
Ahead two dermatologists explain their ultra-simple evening skincare strategy and what your morning and evening skincare regimens can actually look like if you're a product minimalist at heart. (Or if like us, it's hard to rip yourself away from Netflix and a comforting pile of pillows after 10 p.m.)
1. If Necessary, You Can Use a Retinoid Earlier in the Day
One of the main reasons a hefty nighttime skincare routine is so ingrained in us is that we've been taught that it's the ultimate time of day to prep our skin for what it does best come nightfall: repair itself. And since successfully repaired skin typically equates to healthy, glowy skin, we pretty much only ever want to encourage the process. (Hence, our sometimes overzealous approach to our before-bed product quota.) And while both Spann and Kazin confirm nighttime is the preferred time to add repairing products like retinoids to your routine, it's not entirely necessary. (Although since many retinoids are photosensitizing, they will be most effective in the evening.)
That being said, if you find the right retinol—like Kazin's pick shown above from PCA Skin—you can actually use it effectively in the morning. "Ideally the reparative (aka retinoids) portion of the skincare regimen is applied at night, but there are some (myself included!) who cannot do that, so applying it in the morning is better than not applying it at all." Thanks to an advanced delivery system and highly stabilized ingredients, your skin will reap benefits regardless of when the formula is applied.
2. You Might Not Have to Moisturize
We've been told time and time again that a quality nighttime moisturizer is one of the nonnegotiable steps of a balanced complexion. However, both Spann and Kazin say you can actually skip this step and cap your evening routine with a high-quality retinoid instead. (Just as long as you apply it to a freshly cleansed face—be it from cloth or cleanser.)
"Some people feel that they have to moisturize no matter what. If you are not dry that day or at all, you actually don't need to moisturize," Kazin confirms. However, if you do veer dry or live in an ultra-dry climate, you'll want to keep your moisturizing routine.
3. Makeup Wipes May Suffice If You Have the Right Skin Type
Surprise: Cleansing your face with a makeup wipe or cleansing cloth is actually not the heinous act it's sometimes condemned to be. However, you want to invest in wipes that are strategically formulated and don't have any harsh chemicals or ingredients. (Byrdie editors are obsessed with these ones from Koh Gen Do, which are infused with skin-loving herbs like rosemary leaf, sage leaf, lavender, artemisia princeps leaf, perilla ocymoides leaf, and ginger root.)
So who's (more so) in the clear to use cleansing cloths in lieu of a typical cleanser? "Normal, oily, and non-sensitive," says Kazin. However, if your complexion easily gets dry or is sensitive, your best bet will be to stick to a gentle cleanser. When she has more time for her nighttime routine, Spann tells us she keeps it simple with EltaMD's Foaming Facial Cleanser ($25) or Neutrogena's Fresh Foaming Cleanser ($5)
4. Make Sure Your Morning Routine Is On Point
Not surprisingly, if you're going to be more lax about your nighttime routine, you're going to have to be more on top of things once you wake up and prior to heading out into the elements. However, according to both Spann and Kazin, your routine can still remain amazingly simple: Cleanse, add antioxidants, and finish the process with a hit of protection in the form of SPF.
Next up, sunscreen or an SPF-infused moisturizer. Spann tells us that she especially loves this one from Colorscience prior to applying her makeup every morning or PCA Skin's Sheer Tint Broad Spectrum SPF 45 ($50).
5. Add Any Extras
According to Spann, the quintessential steps for keeping skin as youthful and healthy as possible lie in antioxidants, sunscreen, and a retinoid. (Which, in case you missed it the first time, can all be done in the morning if you just can't be bothered come bedtime.) That being said, though your skin might not suffer all that much from keeping it simple with a makeup wipe or quick cleanse circa 9 p.m., your complexion might do better in the long run if you incorporate a couple of extras. Or at the bare minimum, slap a retinol on before hitting the sheets. Another one of Spann's favorite products she likes to add on: a vitamin- and peptide-infused eye cream like this one from SkinCeuticals.
So while late nights and busy lifestyles can make us feel tired and unmotivated for anything beyond a makeup wipe at night, it might ultimately be better for your skin to incorporate a few other products. (Or at least on as many nights as you can muster.) In the meantime, however, make sure to keep those makeup wipes close at hand because going to bed with a full face of makeup is still strongly discouraged.