Beauty sleep is real: How and why to pamper yourself when you're turning in
You might be surprised to know how much your skin is restoring itself when you’re catching Zs
The idea that sleep is powerful is by no means new. We know it can improve our mental health, physical health and quality of life. But what you might be surprised to know is just how much your skin is turning on and repairing itself when you're catching Zs, in ways it can't when you're buzzing around during the day.
"Cellular turnover occurs at that time," says Dr. Dendy Engelman, a New York–based consulting dermatologist for Elizabeth Arden whose patients range from Sofia Vergara to Beyoncé's makeup artist Sir John. This is the process where fresh, new skin cells replace your old, dead ones that have been bombarded with UV rays, pollution and other environmental aggressors throughout the day!
You might be thinking: Can't you slough off dead skin with regular exfoliation? True, mechanical exfoliants (think: scrubs) and chemical exfoliants (acids or enzymes) do help to stimulate cell renewal. But at night, our skin kicks into restorative overdrive. "Cell growth and repair peak around [11 p.m. to midnight]," says Toronto-based dermatologist Dr. Jane Wu, which makes after hours a prime time to slather on products formulated to boost that intrinsic action for maximum benefit — like retinol, a powerful vitamin A derivative that basically re-trains your skin cells to turn over at a faster rate. "When we're at home restoring, we want to support that reparative process," says Engelman. Especially since dead skin cell buildup is a leading cause of lackluster complexions. "If you're holding on to those superficial skin cells, they don't reflect the light as well and [skin] looks dull."
Our skin goes through a lot while we sleep too. "When we sleep, we go through major temperature variations … and when we're hot, we're losing water through the skin. So we want some type of semi-occlusive barrier there to hold that hydration in," Engelman explains.
Need another reason to soup-up your bedtime skincare routine? "Blood flow to the skin also increases at night, which enhances delivery of active ingredients in our skincare products," adds Wu.
In the name of helping your complexion with its overnight glow-up, we've rounded up some heavy-hitting bedtime partners formulated to help ensure that your skin gets some solid, restorative shut-eye. And don't just stop at your face — the rest of your skin is worthy of a pre-sleep beauty ritual, too.
"The first thing I recommend to everyone, if you can tolerate it, is some type of vitamin A," says Engelman. She notes that it can improve the appearance of wrinkles and sun damage, and can help rebuild collagen and elastin in the skin. It can also discourage the formation of blackheads and whiteheads, plus improve the appearance of enlarged pores, says Wu.
But since retinol can be drying and hard for people to tolerate, it's important to heed the advice that always surrounds products that contain it. "[I] recommend that patients start slowly, [applying it one to two times a week], and increase as tolerated, up to every night," advises Wu. And because retinol is known to increase sun sensitivity, next-day protection is a must. "Sunscreen in the a.m. is crucial."
Elizabeth Arden's nighttime capsules take a gentle approach with the addition of moisture-boosting ceramides in each single-use, biodegradable capsule. "[They're] almost like a hydrating retinol," says Engelman.
Elizabeth Arden Retinol Ceramide Capsules Line Erasing Night Serum, $110, Shoppers Drug Mart
Combining powerful vitamin A, for effective exfoliation and rejuvenation, with an antioxidant-rich and anti-inflammatory blend of botanical extracts to help soothe, this potent retinol treatment (which Wu stocks at her dermatology office), works to diminish the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and acne scars.
Miracle 10 Retinol Treatment 30, $90, Miracle 10
Typically a thicker, creamier consistency than a traditional moisturizer, overnight masks are praised for helping to "seal in" facial serums, creams and oils, and prevent natural moisture loss. And, products designed to respect the skin's microbiome are taking the skincare world by storm recently, making Korres's Hydra-Biome mask, which can be used overnight, especially intriguing. Made with real Greek yogurt that delivers an instant cooling sensation, plus hydrating hyaluronic acid, this probiotic-charged multitasker comforts stressed-out skin and claims to rebalance its microbiome.
Korres Hydra–Biome Probiotic Superdose Face Mask, $63, Shoppers Drug Mart
Applying a facial moisturizer, morning and night, is a key step in any skincare routine. But if you battle breakouts, finding the perfect face cream that won't clog your pores can be hard. "For someone with oily, acne-prone skin, it might be best to use a lightweight lotion or gel," says Wu. Her top pick is this bouncy gel-cream hybrid that's been formulated to absorb almost instantly into skin. This drugstore buy is also packed with one of Wu's favourite ingredients, hyaluronic acid, which acts like a hydrating sponge (it can hold 1,000 times its weight in water!).
Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gel Cream, $24, Shoppers Drug Mart
We've already waxed poetic about the major benefits of retinol, which is why using a pre-sleep eye cream spiked with just the right dose of the anti-aging MVP is an excellent idea for anyone hoping to reduce the appearance of fine lines or prevent them from forming in the future.
This new formula from Glow Recipe is made with encapsulated retinol, which allows for timed delivery of the powerhouse ingredient to the skin, decreasing the risk of irritation. It's also infused with other brightening, hydrating and soothing ingredients, such as niacinamide, hyaluronic acid and coffeeberry.
Glow Recipe Avocado Melt Retinol Eye Sleeping Mask, $56, Sephora
Nighttime is the right time for all skin to repair, so why not treat dry, chapped lips while you're in dreamland, too? Available in four delicious scents, Laneige's overnight lip salve falls somewhere between a balm and a cream. The formula contains vitamin C, antioxidants and hyaluronic acid, and works by slowly "melting" into your lips as you catch some shut-eye. Apply a generous layer at bedtime, and get ready to greet the morning with soft, flake-free lips.
Laneige Lip Sleeping Mask, $26, Sephora
"Applying an emollient moisturizer to the rest of the body [is] always recommended as part of your nighttime routine," says Wu. "Moisturizing before bed can help to prevent dry, itchy skin and is the most important step in the prevention and treatment of eczema," she continues. "I recommend that patients take a quick, warm shower — versus a long, hot shower — before bed, pat dry their skin, and apply a moisturizer all over the body while the skin is still damp. This way, the moisture is locked into the skin, and in the morning, your skin will [feel] soft, hydrated and supple."
This Works, a U.K.-based beauty brand, is obsessed with the land of nod and maximizing the potential of your downtime. (The brand has a whole line of overnight products that are infused with a lavender scent designed to help you relax into sleep.) Enriched with anti-aging ingredients like amino acids and retinol, this full-body cream can be used on dry, crepey areas from your hands down to the backs of your knees.
Sleep Plus Dream Body, approx. $43, This Works
"I often counsel patients to pay attention to moisturizing their hands and feet, since these areas are often neglected," says Wu. It may feel super weird at first, but one of the easiest ways to get super soft extremities at home is to apply a generous amount of your favourite treatment cream, put on gloves and a pair of socks, and leave them on overnight. The coverings will help to keep your moisturizer in contact with the skin so it properly absorbs over several hours.
Natasha Bruno is a Toronto-based freelance writer with an obsession for beauty, health & wellness, women's issues, and curly hair. Her byline can also be found in The Kit, the Toronto Star, S/ magazine, Sharp Magazine, Bustle, FASHION magazine, among other outlets. Follow her journey on Instagram @natashajbruno.