While there are universal rules in the world of skincare — “always take your makeup off before bed” and “always wash your hands before cleansing your face” are practically complexion commandments — the products we reach for are unique to our skin concerns, type, and overall goals. In short, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to treating the skin.
This is especially true when it comes to using face moisturizers. Promising to deliver different results from a.m. to p.m., day and night creams have long been heralded as popular mainstays in skincare routines. But are both needed in your daily regimen? We enlisted Michele Farber, MD, to shed light on the matter.
Day Cream vs. Night Cream
As the names suggest, day creams are applied first thing in the morning, and night creams are applied at bedtime. Most moisturizers can really function perfectly fine as both your day and night cream, but they may boast varying benefits. For instance, day creams might offer “protection from the environment” as you’re out and about in the elements and a night cream might focus on overnight “repair” to replenish your skin from the stressors of the day.
According to Dr. Farber, the most notable (read: visible) difference between these two moisturizers lies in their texture and key ingredients. While here at Sunday Riley HQ, we don’t necessarily label our face moisturizers as strictly for day or for night, we’re definitely advocates of using separate moisturizers so your skin can reap the different benefits on a daily basis.
What to Look for in a Day Cream
A day cream typically feels thin and silky to the touch. It should easily glide over the skin. It can be useful to use a thinner cream in the morning that rubs in well and pairs with sunscreen, plus layers nicely under your other skincare and makeup products.
As for the ingredients this a.m. product should feature? “Vitamin C and other antioxidants — they’re important in protecting [the skin] from the environment,” says Dr. Farber. The main goal of a day cream is to ultimately guard the skin against harmful UV rays and pollution while still providing enough hydration for the full day ahead. Antioxidants are important during the daytime to trap oxidative damage that might occur to your skin from pollutants, allergens, etc.
If you’re in the market for a daytime moisturizer, we recommend reaching for Sunday Riley C.E.O. Afterglow Brightening Vitamin C Gel-Cream, an antioxidant powerhouse that features brightening vitamin C (in the form of THD ascorbate) that hydrates and plumps but also is great at preventing sun damage.
And just a friendly reminder: Though sunscreen and vitamin C make the perfect pair, this isn’t to say it’s a replacement for your regular SPF — you should certainly still be slathering on a separate sunscreen. Even if your a.m. moisturizer contains SPF, most sunscreen-moisturizers hybrids aren’t powerful enough to provide ample protection. Plus, since you should be reapplying sunscreen throughout the day, you might not want to do that with your moisturizer depending on your skin type (or even the cost of your moisturizer).
What to Look for in a Night Cream
A night cream, on the other hand, is typically thicker and heavier. It’s usually reserved for those harsh winter months that deplete your skin’s natural moisture barrier, but if you have dry sky year-round, you’d benefit from a richer cream at night that replenishes your skin while you sleep. Just take it from Dr. Farber: “A thicker moisturizer is ideal at night to reduce dryness.”
For your night routine, look for reparative ingredients like ceramides, peptides, and hyaluronic acid. Sunday Riley ICE Ceramide Moisturizing Cream strengthens your skin with ceramides and vitamin F while beetroot and coconut extract pull in hydration. It’s richer than our Afterglow Gel-Cream, yet it seamlessly sinks into your skin.
Your night creams might also contain active ingredients like retinol that are best applied before you sleep because of their potential reaction when exposed to UV light. (Hence, the Sunday Riley A+ Retinoid Serum and Sunday Riley Luna Sleeping Night Oil are recommended for nighttime use as well).
The Bottom Line
So, do you really need two different creams in your skincare arsenal? According to Dr. Farber, it’s not a total necessity and ultimately comes down to preference, what your skin concerns are at the moment, and your budget. Perhaps your skin is doing great with the same face cream applied twice a day. Or, you’re finding that as especially as you get older and you’re potentially dealing with more skin issues, your complexion may thrive by pacing out the different ingredients from your morning moisturizer and your nighttime moisturizer. It’s all about meeting your skin needs.
We only recommend products we have independently researched, tested, and loved. If you purchase a product found through our links, Sunday Edit may earn an affiliate commission.