Dermatologists & skin experts reveal the ideal step-by-step evening skincare routine to perfectly prep your face before bed

Much like making skincare switches to suit the seasons, what our skin needs also changes from day to night. “During the day, skin is in protection mode and focused on counteracting the negative effects of environmental stressors, such as UV radiation and pollution,” says Dr Emma Wedgeworth, consultant dermatologist. “But at night, the skin cells work differently – to help repair any damage that’s been done during the day.”

It makes sense then to tailor our skincare routine to better suit this dynamic. At night, as our skin recovers, “it’s a great time to use active ingredients,” says Dr Sophie Shotter, aesthetic doctor and founder of Illuminate skin clinic. “It’s also important to think about maintaining hydration (of the skin) as transepidermal water loss (TEWL) occurs while we sleep, meaning skin can feel dry and tight come morning.”

So, what’s the best order to follow, to get the most out of our night-time skincare products? We ask the experts for a step-by-step, and reveal our approved go-to product recommendations to help maximise your dream time.

What should a night-time skincare routine be?

“Our skin cells have their own circadian rhythm, and at night the cells need to restore themselves and recover from the stress of the day,” explains Dr Shotter. This is why sleep deprivation shows itself on our skin – because we’re depriving our skin cells of valuable recovery time.

As well as getting enough shut eye, we can support skin when it’s in repair mode by using ingredients and products that help lock in moisture, encourage cell turnover and boost the production of proteins such as collagen and elastin. Consider these the foundations of your evening skincare routine. 

Here are the steps to include in a night-time skincare routine

Step 1: Cleanser

Step 2: Toner or essence

Step 3: Eye cream

Step 4: Serum or exfoliator

Step 5: Night cream

Step 1: Cleanse

The first step? Cleanse, and then cleanse again. “Cleansing at night is essential for removing dirt, oil, pollutants, and make-up residue,” says Dr Ifeoma Ejikeme, medical consultant and skin expert. 

Use an oil or balm-based cleanser for your first cleanse, recommends Dr Shotter, and then use a water or cream cleanser to do a second cleanse. “I personally choose to double cleanse if I’ve spent the day working in the city, as I feel my skin needs a deep clean,” she adds.

Another double cleansing option is to use a micellar water first, as a make-up remover, and then go in with water and a face wash for a more intensive cleanse. This can be a great option for those of us who have sensitive or dry skin

Try: ELEMIS Pro-Collagen Cleansing Balm

• Size: 100g

• Hydrating formula

• Spa-like scent

• Includes nine essential oils, rose and mimosa waxes, and elderberry, starflower and Optimega oils

This luxurious cleansing balm is a beauty editor’s favourite for good reason. The rich formula melts away make-up, daily pollutants and impurities without stripping moisture from the skin. It also smells incredible.

Try: CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser for Normal to Dry Skin

• Size: 236ml

• Fragrance-free

• Non-comedogenic

• Non-foaming gel

• Suitable for children

Ideal for a second cleanse, this gentle, non-foaming gel sweeps away leftover dirt, make-up and oil without disrupting the skin’s barrier. It’s also loaded with hydrating ingredients, hyaluronic acid and ceramides.

Try: Garnier Micellar Water Facial Cleanser for Sensitive Skin

• Size: 100ml

• Fragrance-free

• Suitable for all skin types

• Cruelty-free

This micellar water is a helpful skincare staple to have on standby, whether it’s for a quick double cleanse or for cleaning up make-up mistakes come morning. This travel-size version of the 400ml original will also save you precious suitcase space for weekends and trips away.

Step 2: Toner or essence

This is not an essential skincare step, but a toner or essence can be a nice addition. “Historically, toners were used to reset the skin's pH after cleansing,” explains Dr Shotter, “but with most modern cleansers, toners aren’t necessary.”

If you do decide to use one, it can be a good idea to steer clear of alcohol-based formulas, as they can be drying. “An essence is a great choice for skin in need of hydration,” points out Dr Ejikeme.

Try: COSRX ADVANCED SNAIL 96 Mucin Power Essence Gel

• Size: 100ml

• Helps improve skin’s elasticity

• Lightweight formula

This must-try essence is powered by snail secretion filtrate, a wonder K-Beauty ingredient that helps to protect your skin from moisture loss. Press onto skin post-cleanse to refresh skin and boost glow.

Try: e.l.f. Pure Skin Toner

• Size: 150ml

• Non-comedogenic

• Fragrance-free

• Vegan-friendly

• Cruelty-free

Super calming, this toner combines hyaluronic acid with niacinamide, aloe juice, oat milk, glycolic acid and witch hazel to help soften and smooth skin. Apply after cleansing, using a reusable cotton pad or simply your hands. Leave to fully absorb before progressing to a serum or night cream.

Using an eye cream at night can help lock in moisture meaning you wake up less dehydrated, with fine lines and wrinkles appearing softened

Step 3: Eye cream

“The delicate eye area benefits from targeted care as this skin is the thinnest on the body,” says Dr Ejikeme. It’s also an area that’s prone to dehydration. “Using an eye cream at night can help lock in moisture meaning you wake up less dehydrated, with fine lines and wrinkles appearing softened,” says Dr Shotter.

Look out for powerhouse ingredients such as peptides and hyaluronic acid for the ultimate treat and treatment in one.

Try: Olay Retinol 24 Night Eye Cream with Retinol & Vitamin B3

• Size: 15ml

• Fragrance-free

• Contains retinol, niacinamide and vitamin B3

The skin around the eyes is among the first to show signs of ageing and fatigue (such as fine lines, dark circles and uneven texture). To help smooth skin and boost hydration, try this gentle yet effective eye cream from Olay that combines retinol with niacinamide and vitamin B3.

Try: No7 Restore & Renew Multi Action Eye Cream

• Size: 15ml

• Targets puffiness and dark circles

• Contains peptides, shea butter, hyaluronic acid and ginseng extract

Combining hydrating shea butter and hyaluronic acid with the brand’s patented Matrixyl 3000+ peptide technology, this eye cream smooths skin, boosts moisture and restores radiance.

Be careful not to combine too many actives in the same routine

Step 4: Serum or exfoliator

Providing a more concentrated hit of actives, face serums can be an effective way to help target your main skincare goal.

If your goal is smoothness, firmness and extra bounce, keep an eye out for peptide serums to help encourage collagen production. Want to nip dehydration in the bud? Pop a hyaluronic acid serum on damp skin after cleansing.

Another key ingredient to look out for is vitamin A, the experts’ ultimate go-to when implementing new nocturnal skin habits. “Also referred to as retinoid or retinol, vitamin A can help improve the appearance of skin’s texture,” says Dr Wedgeworth. It can also help address signs of ageing as it boosts the production of collagen and elastin (a process that already kicks in at night), as well helping unclog pores for a more glowing complexion and even skin tone. It’s a well-loved all-rounder.

Try: Elizabeth Arden Retinol Ceramide Capsules Line Erasing Night Serum

• Size: 60 capsules

• Biodegradable, single-dose capsules

Laced with barrier-boosting ceramides and plumping retinol, these Elizabeth Arden capsules are a great addition to a bedtime routine. Not only do they help the serum retain its potency, you only need one a day to smooth over the face and neck.

Try: No7 Future Renew Serum

• Size: 50ml

• Future Renew Range tested on over 4,000 women

No7 has always prided itself on its peptide tech and this latest range is set to push the boundaries even further, thanks to its signature blend of peptides. Combined with hyaluronic acid, vitamin C and niacinamide, it helps target everything from skin texture to uneven skin tone and loss of elasticity.

Prompting your skin to start the natural exfoliation process and allow for that all-important cell turnover to begin, exfoliating acids have also started to appear in night-specific skincare and serums. These include alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), such as glycolic acid and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs), such as salicylic acid. “But be careful not to combine too many actives in the same routine,” warns Dr Shotter, to reduce risk of irritation. “For example, alternate your acids and your retinoids on different nights.”

Try: REN Clean Skincare Ready Steady Glow Daily AHA Tonic

• Size: 250ml

• Vegan-friendly

• Cruelty-free

We love a pun here, but love this chemical exfoliator more. Containing lactic acid (a type of AHA) and salicin from willow bark (a type of BHA), it helps give skin a deeper cleanse, leaving it clearer and smoother (make sure to check your cotton pad out after – it’s surprisingly satisfying).

Try: Eucerin Hyaluron Filler Night Peeling & Serum

• Size: 30ml

• Suitable for mature skin

• Contains two formulas

• Non-comedogenic

This clever, two-phase system includes a glycolic and lactic acid-filled lotion to help lift away dead skin, plus a serum packed with hyaluronic acid to help offset dryness.

As retinoids and some exfoliators can make skin more sensitive to UV rays, using a daily sunscreen is even more crucial when using these types of actives.

Confused about how to balance your exfoliating acids with your retinoids? Cue skin cycling – the strategic cycling of your skincare products over a four-night period, incorporating active nights (one for exfoliation and one for a retinoid) and recovery nights. Check out out our guide to skin cycling for the full download and our video below for our top tips on how to get the most out of an exfoliator and how to incorporate exfoliation into your skincare routine.

Step 5: Moisturiser

Our skin naturally loses water as we sleep, which means it can struggle with dryness, causing itching and irritation. So, a hydrating moisturiser is a must. “Apply a moisturiser as the last step,” recommends Dr Ejikeme. “This can help seal in the previous products and boost hydration.”

Seek out superhero hydrators, including ceramides and hyaluronic acid, to keep skin cared for and comfortable from the moment your head hits the pillow until the first tap of the snooze button.

Try: Simple Kind to Skin Vital Vitamin Night Cream

• Size: 50ml

• Alcohol-free

• Cruelty-free

After a no-nonsense, kind-to-skin night cream? Try this purse-friendly pick from Simple that cocoons skin in hydration to leave it feeling softer and more supple.

Try: No7 Future Renew Night Cream

• Size: 50ml

• Smooths, hydrates and brightens skin

• Contains hyaluronic acid, vitamin C and niacinamide

• Lightweight formula

Powered by ‘Pepticology’ (No7’s new peptide technology), hyaluronic acid and vitamin C, this powerful night cream supports the skin’s natural self-repair process while you snooze. Expect brighter skin come morning.

Try: CeraVe PM Facial Moisturising Lotion

• Size: 52ml

• Fragrance-free

• Non-comedogenic

Formulated with ceramides, hyaluronic acid and niacinamide, this creamy yet fast-absorbing night cream melts into skin like a dream – it’s the perfect finishing touch to your night-time regime.

Not sure on the right product for you? Try our skincare tool & find a personalised solution