Are Night Creams Beneficial?

A reader asked me a question about night creams a couple of weeks ago, more specifically if they provide any benefits. The answer is unclear, to be frank.


Night creams are thick, heavier versions of day creams, intended to be more moisturizing. They contain more lipids (fats), active ingredients to address specific skin issues (such as age spots, wrinkles, etc), yet they do not contain SPF for sun protection, as many of their daytime compatriots. The idea is that since the skin rejuvenates itself when you sleep, night creams’ active ingredients work with special processes that the skin goes through to repair itself. There is no evidence of this. The body does repair and heal when you sleep, but to extend that reasoning to say that the skin has special healing powers at rest is claiming a Wolverine status that just doesn’t exist.

That being said, there are benefits to treating the skin at night. Many night creams contain compounds that benefit the appearance of the skin; peptides increase the production of collagen (a skin revitalizer), retinol treats wrinkles you already have and Vitamin C, increases production of collagen. And this is by no means an exhaustive list. For these benefits to be realized, however, the cream must contain a sufficient concentration of the active ingredients, they must penetrate the skin sufficiently and stay on long enough to have an effect. For this reason, applying these creams at night make sense.

There are basically two types of night creams:

  • Anti-whatever (anti-ageing, firming, lifting, basically anti-old). These are those creams with retinol,¬†glycolic acid, salicyclic acid and retinyl acetate. These active ingredients increase skin cell turnover (new skin replaces old skin quicker), thereby reducing the appearance of age spots, lines and wrinkles. These active ingredients can be irritating to the skin, especially when exposed to UV rays, hence their appearance in night creams.
  • Intense moisture (ultra-hydrating, nourishing, restorative, etc). These contain higher levels of moisturizers, however there is no evidence that the skin absorbs more of these ingredients at night.

Verdict: Inconclusive. If you are happy with the amount of moisture you are receiving from your day cream, there is no reason to use a night cream, unless you are targeting specific skin issues, or if you have dry skin. Probably better to invest in a humidifier.

You have to know the rules to break the rules.

Sources: New York Times, Self magazine