Some ingredients are must-haves for the morning, while others should never see the light of day. Finding the right order for your skin care regimens will reap the maximum benefit of actives while reducing unwanted side effects.
For most beauty junkies, finding the right sequence of products and knowing which ingredients are best for the morning or evening application presents a challenge. Do you apply the serum before or after the moisturizer? Does retinol work as an all-day anti-aging ingredient, and when should you apply alpha hydroxy acids?
These general guidelines should help provide order to the many skin care options available for your morning and evening regimens.
Make a Daily Habit of Sunscreens and Antioxidants
With the majority of signs of premature aging resulting from sun damage, it is imperative that clients incorporate a broad-spectrum sunscreen into their daily regimen. Research shows that UVA rays can penetrate glass and slowly age skin unbeknownst to the office worker sitting in a boardroom or corner office all day. A study published in Clinical Interventions in Aging demonstrates that women and men exhibited more signs of aging on the side of their face that was regularly exposed to an office window.
Follow the FDA guidelines and use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that filters both UVA and UVB rays with a minimum SPF rating of 15. Anything over 30 provides negligible incremental benefits, but a SPF 50 may be in order for all-day outdoor activity, especially on fair skin types. Make sure clients know to reapply every two hours and use a water-resistant formula if they are going to be sweating or swimming.
Antioxidant protection can also help defend skin against daily aggressors like smoke, industrial pollution, and other environmental elements that prematurely age the skin. Studies have shown that vitamins C and E at significant levels work synergistically with sunscreen to boost its protection.
In the mid-90s, a team of researchers reported in the journal Acta Derm Venereol the photoprotective effects of both vitamins C and E. Vitamin C conferred more protection against UVA, while vitamin E protected primarily against UVB. When vitamin C or a combination of C and E was formulated with a commercial UVA sunscreen, the results were compounded. These results confirm the usefulness of combining antioxidants with sunscreens for maximum hotoprotection.
While vitamin C works great as a daytime booster to sunscreens, you will want to avoid exposing the packaged product directly to light, which oxidizes L-ascorbic acid and will turn it brown. Oil-soluble forms of vitamin C, like tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate, offer alternative choices.
The Sequence of Skin Care
Cleanse – Regardless of skin type, every skin care regimen should begin with a thorough cleansing in the morning and evening. Oily skin types can benefit from a formulation that destroys the P. acnes bacteria that leads to breakouts, while dry skin types can use richer, more emollient, milk- or cream-based cleansers to start the day.
Cleansing twice a day is recommended; during each trip to the sink or shower: once to remove makeup and a second time to achieve a much deeper cleanse. By removing the deeper embedded dirt, oil and debris within the skin, you will enhance the penetration of other actives to follow in the skin care regimen.
Exfoliate – After cleansing, it is a great time to introduce a chemical or mechanical exfoliation. It is important that clients avoid over-exfoliating their skin, which can abrade the skin’s delicate fabric. Instead, limit the scrubbing or light peels to once a week or, at most, three times a week for oily skin types. Ideally, it should be done at night to avoid leaving the skin raw and exposed to the elements during the day.
Apply a Mask – Typically used as a weekly application, a mask can boost your other skin care products by treating dryness, breakouts, or fine lines and wrinkles. These intense, targeted treatments work best on freshly exfoliated skin before the toner.
Tone – Toners can provide several different functions. Some are designed to remove product residue after cleansing, while others are more focused on restoring the skin’s pH. A pH-restoring toner can also help keep the skin hydrated and enhance penetration of other ingredients with a smaller molecular composition. For example, the water content in a light misting toner can help the water-loving humectants in a hyaluronic acid-based serum pull the actives deep into the dermis for optimum absorption.
Eye Cream – Before the skin has a chance to dry, apply an eye cream to the skin while it is still slightly damp. Again, this will help the water draw any of the actives deep into the skin for maximum benefit.
Apply RX Treatments or Serum – Now would be a good opportunity to introduce any prescribed topical treatments to the skin, when it is free of dirt and debris and is more receptive to the actives. If there are no prescription products in the regimen, apply a serum in its place. A good serum will often feature a high concentration of ingredients coupled with a delivery system to enhance penetration. They may confer anti-aging benefits, hydrate the skin or perform a specialized function, such as whitening/brightening. A gel formulation with a small molecular structure will absorb faster and easier into the skin if it is not blocked by a heavier moisture barrier. Therefore, it is best to follow your serum application with a moisturizer and/or sunscreen where applicable.
Apply Moisturizer – Moisturizers can benefit all skin types, from oily skin types who need lightweight hydration to dryer skin types who need constant replenishment. Think of your moisturizers and sunscreen as the guardians of the skin, presenting a last defense against the elements.
Primer – Some women incorporate a primer in addition to the above steps. This should be the last application before makeup to fill in lines, hide enlarged pores or even out the skin tone. A good primer will set the canvas for an all-day makeup application.
"By following the proper sequencing of products in a well-devised day and evening regimen, clients will see greater return on their total skin care investment."
Evening Regimens for Nightly Repair and Rejuvenation
Get active with cleansers at night. Cleansers with more active ingredients may be best suited for nighttime use. Using a high percentage glycolic acid cleanser at night, for instance, gives the skin time to reduce any redness overnight while optimizing the body’s natural rejuvenation process during the evening hours.
Just as antioxidants make great daytime ingredients to help the skin defend against the sun, alpha hydroxyl acids, like glycolic acid, generally perform best at night when they enhance turnover of the skin cell’s natural rejuvenation. The extra hours afforded by the body’s circadian clock give the skin time to recuperate before the skin faces the light of day again.
Give retinol a rest during the day. Retinol, a derivative of vitamin A, has long been known as the gold standard of anti-aging skin care for its ability to regulate the differentiation of skin cells, increase cell turnover, reverse sun damage and treat signs of aging, including fine lines and wrinkles, pigmentation, texture and (to a certain extent) collagen production. As with all retinoids, retinol works best at night when the body is actively repairing and renewing the skin’s cells.
Previously, this anti-aging ingredient was found solely in night creams and serums, but it is becoming increasingly common to find retinol in cleansers and even foundations and sunscreens. However, according to Debra Jaliman, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist with a private practice in New York City and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), this may not be a good idea. She cautions against using products that combine both an SPF and retinol in their ingredients listing.
Retinol can leave the skin thin, delicate and exposed to the sun’s rays, which will lead to further irritation and sun sensitivity if worn during the day. While known as a key anti-aging ingredient, retinol can actually have the opposite effect and make skin age faster due to this increased vulnerability to the sun, according to Jaliman. Clients using retinol at night should take care to wear protective clothing, limit sun exposure, and diligently apply sunscreen throughout the day to avoid side effects.
Retinol is not the only retinoid that can present potential problems when used during the day. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), formulations with retinyl palmitate, a combination of retinol and palmitic acid, may actually encourage potentially cancer-causing skin cells. Concerns arose following a 2009 animal study by the National Toxicology Program (NTP), in which researchers subjected hairless mice to stimulated UV rays in the morning for five days a week for 40 weeks. The mice either received a control cream containing 0.001 percent retinoic acid or 0.1, 0.5, one or two percent retinyl palmitate in the afternoon of the days they were exposed to the light. While the retinoic acid enhanced the photocarcinogenic activity of UVB rays in the mice and increased skin lesions, the retinyl palmitate had the same effects but also increased the presence of squamous cell neoplasms, marking the beginning of skin cancer.
Yet, despite the EWG’s recommendations, retinyl palmitate remains a controversial debate. An independent analysis published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found there was no evidence that retinyl palmitate in sunscreens is cancer-causing, arguing that the clinical findings do not necessarily represent realistic, real-world activity. In addition, AAD dermatologists noted that by nature mice are highly susceptible to the effects of UV radiation even in the absence of retinyl palmitate.The Skin Cancer Foundation also found similar conclusions, noting that the evidence did not support the claims that the ingredient is a photocarcinogen.
Because retinol and other vitamin A derivatives are particularly vulnerable to light and air, formulators must take extra care to prepare retinol products under special yellow lights and a nitrogen blanket to protect it against the degrading effects of light and air. Look for products that are properly formulated and packaged in airless pumps or opaque, multi-layered aluminum tubes with tight-fitting caps. Lastly, clients who are on a nightly retinol regimen should take extra precaution to protect their skin with a broad-spectrum sunscreen during the day. Retinol can make the skin’s epidermis thinner and more sensitive to the sun.
"Clients using retinol at night should take care to wear protective clothing, limit sun exposure and diligently apply sunscreen throughout the day to avoid side effects."
Take cover with hydroquinone. It is another nocturnal favorite long favored by dermatologists for its whitening benefits. Hydroquinone inhibits the skin from making the enzyme responsible for converting dopa to melanin and can potentially diminish melasma at high enough concentrations.
Yet, just like retinol, hydroquinone does not always play well in the light of day. Research shows that excess use of this ingredient, combined with sun exposure, can cause adverse reactions in the skin. According to a report published on Medscape, efficacy is proportionate to concentration, as is the incidence of adverse effects. All concentrations can lead to skin irritation, phototoxic reactions with secondary post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, and irreversible exogenous ochronosis, characterized by blue or brownish dark pigmentations.
The fact that hydroquinone is also commonly combined with retinoids is yet another reason to stay out of the sun when using this ingredient.
Reserve the benzoyl peroxide for the evening regimen. Acne patients using benzoyl peroxide 2.5 percent or clindamycin phosphate 1.2 percent will want to minimize their exposure to sunlight while using these topical drugs. Extra care should be taken to wear protective clothing and use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a SPF rating of 15 or higher. The FDA recently reclassified benzoyl peroxide in light of findings that the acne medication can decrease the skin’s tolerance to UV radiation, thus increasing sunburn after repeated applications. Manufacturers are now required to add a warning on their labels which states, “If going outside, apply sunscreen after using this product.”
As a general rule, it is best to avoid introducing too many products too soon when dispensing morning and evening regimens. Ask your client, “If there is one thing you would like to change about your skin, what would it be?” Provide examples like acne, lines and wrinkles or pigmentation. Then, develop day and night regimens that focus on treating that chief concern in a safe and properly sequenced order.
Sam Dhatt was born and raised in India. He achieved his masters in Chemistry and an M.B.A in Marketing and Finance. Dhatt’s introduction as a leader in innovative technology begins with his work in 1992 with alpha hydroxy acids, which was in its infancy at the time. Then in 1995, he started his own cosmetics research and development company, Allure Cosmetics, Inc. In addition, Allure Cosmetics, Inc. also supplies hair care, foot care, spa products, cosmetic accessories and makeup to their 700 clients worldwide. In 1999, Dhatt opened another company, DermaQuest® Skin Therapy.