Your Nighttime Serum Is More Important Than You Think—Here’s Why

Photo: Getty/Cavan Images
Even in non-pandemic times, it feels like a gift from above to wake from a good night’s sleep to find clear, glowing skin. However, with COVID-19 currently summoning stress on everything from finances to physical health, even those who typically have no problem drifting off to dreamland may find themselves struggling to find a good night’s rest.

As a card-carrying member of Team Insomnia, I am no stranger to the unfortunate side effects of skimpy sleep on skin. Skin generates collagen and boosts blood flow at night, which means that a failure to adequately rest can lead to everything from dullness to wrinkles. And what’s worse? Losing shuteye means your serums, oils, moisturizers, and masks aren’t getting the boost that they need. Skin cells regenerate faster at night than during the day, meaning that our skin is more receptive to products we put on before hitting the sack.

What’s behind this heightened receptivity? Your body’s circadian rhythm, for one. The circadian rhythm doesn’t just tell your body when to get up and when to sleep, it also tells your skin what to do, based on the time of day. During the day, your skin knows its job is to protect against environmental aggressors, but at night, its focus turns to repair and renewal. Another factor is body temperature, which drops during sleep, causing skin temperature to rise. When your skin ups its temp, the products that you slather on are able to permeate more easily. 

Several weeks ago, my quest to sleep well—with the complexion to back it up—led me to the shelves of Shen Beauty, a haven in Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill neighborhood. A team of three sales associates, each with glass skin of their own,  steered me towards ByNacht, a skin-care line formulated specifically to maximize beauty sleep... and maybe even help you get there. And reader, let me tell you, I was hooked. Not only did the serums, balms, and night cream give me what I now fondly think of as “Shen skin,” they also seemed to help me get to sleep faster. Intrigued, I decided to call up an expert to ask what might be going on.

“Without sufficient rest, our bodies and brains go into survival mode,” Rebecca Robbins, PhD, sleep expert and co-author of Sleep for Success! explained. “This affects our appearance in several ways. First, moisture is pulled from the surface so our skin loses its otherwise dewy appearance. Second, when our body has not gotten the sleep that it needs, we are more prone to internal processes, such as inflammation, which can have an external adverse effect on our appearance, as well as increase our likelihood for acne.”

To combat this, moisture-locking ingredients such as hyaluronic acid can help to replenish hydration within skin. ByNacht founder Jessica Hoyer uses HA, plus Persian Silk Tree Extract, in ByNacht Iconic Reborn Radiant Serum ($215), which is so effective it has been dubbed "green Botox". And ByNacht isn’t the only player in the sleep-skincare game. Tatcha Dewy Skin Night Concentrate ($110) taps Okinawa red algae, which is a natural source of polysaccharides that can help skin’s barrier function and increase its moisture retention.

Meanwhile, Kate Sommerville DeliKate Recovery Serum ($85) contains key ingredients such as peptides and ceramides that help to keep the barrier intact while helping prevent transepidermal water loss (aka: water passing from our epidermis and evaporating into the air). However, really any product that contains occlusive ingredients, such as ceramides, will help to protect against water loss, one team of researchers found, and that should be a main goal of any nighttime regimen you have.

As for getting to sleep, ByNacht also makes a Perfect Nacht Sleeping Balm ($90), which is meant to lull you with soothing essential oils of ylang-ylang, melissa officianalis leaf, and lavandula angustoifolia oils. Not knowing that I was meant to apply it to my pulse points, I slathered it all over my face like a night cream and was out within fifiteen minutes. “Night balms have soothing aromas,” Hoyer tells me, “and are made of one hundred percent pure essential oils, which aid in relaxation to help ease us into sleep.”  While I don’t recommend anyone else go off label like I did in case fragrance oils irritate your skin, I tried it on my pulse points for a night, and can confirm it works just as well. Other roller balls like Vitruvi Sleep Roll-On ($32) and This Works Choose Sleep Roller ($15) also tap soothing aromas to help calm the body and mind for bed (and sure, they allow for less user error when it comes to slathering them on).

All of which is good news for anyone looking to maximize their sleep, get there sooner, and move evening skincare from the realm of the preventive and into the realm of the dewy and aspirational, which hopefully translates over Zoom.

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