Day moisturiser vs night moisturiser: is there really a difference?

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Kiran Meeda
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It’s the definition of a skincare staple, but do we really need two different moisturisers for the day and night? Here, Stylist gets to the bottom of it. 

From essences to phytic acid and even black seed oil, new ingredients, terms and products seem to enter the beauty vernacular every day. But one product that’s always remained a firm favourite, even amongst all the fluctuating trends? Moisturiser.

There’s a moisturiser for pretty much every skin type and concern: oil-free options for those who have oily skin, those enriched with vitamin E to give dry skin a moisture surge and ones that contain acids for acne-prone skin

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So, we know different moisturisers work for different skin concerns, but what about differentiating by the time of day? During the day, we’re exposed to external conditions such as pollution, sunlight and wind, and it’s at night that our skin enters recovery mode, so is it necessary that we have a different moisturiser for each?

We spoke to former GP and cosmetic doctor, Dr Aamer Khan at The Harley Street Skin Clinic and Dr Jinah Yoo, consultant dermatologist at sk:n to find out.

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What does a moisturiser do?

Plain and simple, moisturisers keep our skin hydrated. “The stratum corneum is the outer layer of the skin and moisturisers help to keep this layer of skin hydrated,” says Dr Aamer Khan. “This helps to protect it from getting dry which can lead to inflammation and infection.”  

How do you work out which moisturiser is best for you?

Like with most skincare, a one size fits all approach isn’t really applicable. The general rule of thumb is that thicker ointments help dry skin, medium-density creams are best for normal to combination and lightweight, fluid lotions work well for oily skin. Dr Jinah Yoo recommends:

For sensitive skin, choose a fragrance-free and hypoallergenic moisturiser to reduce irritation. Moisturisers containing niacinamide (vitamin B3) or aloe vera can help to soothe sensitive skin. Try Dr Sam’s Flawless Moisturiser, £25.

For acne-prone skin, using oil-free, non-comedogenic lightweight moisturisers can reduce the risk of blocked pores. Those containing alpha-hydroxy acids or niacinamide can also help with acne-prone skin. Try La Roche Posay’s Effaclar H Moisturiser, £17.

For dehydrated skin, you need to replenish the water and ingredients such as glycerin and hyaluronic acid can help to attract water to the skin from the surrounding environment. Try Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream, £26.

For combination skin, you can use lightweight moisturisers, but apply an additional amount of either the same moisturiser or a thicker formula to the drier areas of skin. Try Clinique Moisture Surge 72 Hour Auto-Replenishing Hydrator, £37.

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What does a day moisturiser do?

In general, most day moisturisers contain antioxidants and SPF to shield from UVA and UVB rays. “A day moisturiser hydrates the skin and is usually combined with antioxidant ingredients, helping to protect the skin from environmental damage,” says Dr Aamer Khan. 

What does a night moisturiser do?

During the day, your skin is in protection mode and switches to repair mode at night. You’ll usually hear references to beauty sleep, and there is actually some truth to it. “Cellular repair occurs during hormonal changes and the stress hormone cortisol drops during sleep,” says Dr Aamer Khan.  

“Skin starts to regenerate and antioxidant enzymes are produced leading to cellular reparation and strengthening of the skin.” While the skin is repairing, most night moisturisers containing an acid, retinol or collagen work to stimulate this process. 

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So, is there a difference between your day and night moisturiser?

Both work to hydrate the skin, but they do differ in ingredients and texture. “Extra properties have often been added to day moisturisers such as UVA/UVB filters and antioxidants,” says Dr Jinah Yoo. They often come in much lighter textures too, to sit better under make-up and SPF, whereas night moisturises tend to be thicker and richer. “They often contain higher concentrations of hyaluronic acid and may also contain retinol or peptides which have anti-ageing property,” she adds. 

Do you need a day and night moisturiser?

There’s a clear difference between the two, but whether or not you need both moisturisers in your skincare routine depends on the other products you use. “If you are already using an antioxidant and sunscreen in the morning and retinoid and hyaluronic acid serum at night, you don’t necessarily need to use two different moisturisers,” explains Dr Jinah Yoo. You can simply use one moisturiser both morning and night for the simple function of hydrating the skin and strengthening the skin barrier. On the other hand, “If you like to have a simple skincare regime you can use two moisturisers and maybe skip some of the serums.”

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