Skincare Essentials: How To Set Up A Skincare Routine

Skincare Essentials: How To Set Up A Skincare Routine

Part 2: Nighttime Routine

Your night routine is very important because this is the time you take off your makeup and cleanse your skin from the day’s dust & dirt, but also because it’s the optimal moment to apply your anti-aging products, exfoliators and topical treatments.

Nighttime sleep is magic for the skin, for a number of reasons. Somewhere between 11 pm and midnight is when mitosis occurs, which is a cellular division process that triggers skin renewal. Throughout mitosis, your skin absorbs best the products you put on, so best apply the very best! 😊

Another reason to apply your active ingredients at night is the absence of sunrays and environmental factors, meaning everything that can tamper with your exfoliators, anti-aging and treatment products, or even cause irritation.

On top of that, you need to proper moisturize: at night, your sebum secretions are at their lowest, which means your skin loses hydration faster.

Nighttime care is as important as daytime photo-protection.

And now, the routine!

Step 1: Makeup Remover and Gentle Cleanser

We talked about gentle cleansing in part 1 of our Skincare Essentials story, where you can read more about why gentle cleansing is so important. This also goes for people with oily and/or acne prone skin. Just like you can’t cure a sore throat with ice cream, you can’t get rid of sebum and acne with harsh scrubbing and “cleansers for oily skin”.

The more you fight against your natural sebum secretions, the MORE sebum you get. Your skin reacts to aggressive factors by secreting more sebum as protection.

If you have makeup on, the first thing you’ll want to do is take it off. Then you’ll want to gently cleanse your skin, to take away the dirt, dust, sweat and everything else you ‘collected’ throughout the day.

There is a wide variety of makeup removers on the market, in the shape of lotions, balms and oils. Editor’s choice? Balms and oils –  because we need a gentle cleanse that is also effective. Also, because water-resistant products are stubborn, and taking them off completely means getting rough on your skin, eyes and lashes.

Makeup removing balms and oils delicately dissolve makeup, so you can easily take it away with cotton pads or a damp microfiber towel.

If you don’t like that oily feeling on your face, you can always turn to a biphasic micellar lotion, or a gentle micellar lotion, if you’re not wearing any makeup.

How to choose a makeup remover? However your heart desires (and your budget), preferably a fragrance-free, essential oils-free product. If your skin is dry and/or prone to irritation, you may want to avoid denatured alcohol in your makeup remover.

Below you’ll find a couple of recommendations for makeup removing oils, balms and lotions. Our gentle cleansers recommendations are in our previous post.

Products we recommend:

Clinique – Take The Day Off Cleansing Balm

The Body Shop – Camomile Sumptuous Cleansing Butter

The Body Shop – Camomile Silky Cleansing Oil

Balea – Reinigungsöl (Amazon or in DM chain stores)

Garnier Skin Naturals – Micellar Oil-Infused Cleansing Water

Garnier Skin Naturals – Micellar Cleansing Water For Sensitive Skin

La Roche Posay – Eau Micellaire Ultra Peaux Reactives

Bioderma SensiBio – Solution Micellaire

Step 2: Hydrating Toner (optional)

Read more about this step in part 1 of the Skincare Essentials post. There, you will also find our product recommendations.

Step 3: Exfoliator (morning or night)

We talked more on the topic of exfoliators in our previous post on daytime routine. Although there are no restrictions on using exfoliators in the morning (as long as you wear sunscreen, a minimum SPF30), it is recommended to save this step for your nighttime routine. This allows for acids to deeply penetrate the layers of your skin, without risking any sun damage or irritation. However, you will most likely want to include other active ingredients in your routine, so you’ll have to be careful on product incompatibilities. We’ve broken them down for you below:

  • AHAs/BHAs with Retinol/Tretinoin (both stimulate cell turnover; if combined, may lead to irritation, skin flakes, dry patches. What you can do is alternate evening routines of BHA/AHA with retinol/tretinoin.)
  • AHAs/BHAs with Vitamin C (vitamin C is an acid as well; combining acids may lead to overkill, aka disrupting your natural skin barrier. What you can do is apply vitamin C in the morning and use exfoliators in the evening.)
  • Retinol/Tretinoin with Vitamin C (as we were saying, vitamin C is an acid, so you’ll most likely get a nasty end result from this combo. What you can do is apply your vitamin C product in the morning and leave the retinol/tretinoin cream for your nighttime routine.)
  • Niacinamides with Vitamin C (Niacinamides are a vitamin B3 derivative and what they may do is cancel out vitamin C’s action.  Also, due to its acidic character, vitamin C is more of a standalone product, as it may cause irritation combined with anything. What you can do is apply niacinamides in the evening and leave vitamin C for the morning.)

Step 4: Topical Treatment And/Or Anti-Aging Product

You took off your makeup, cleansed and exfoliated the skin. It’s time to address your skin problems and/or act on anti-aging. Skin problems are so many and so varied, but the most common ones are acne tendencies, excess sebum and dilated pores, blackheads, rosacea, dehydration and dryness of the skin.

There is literally an active ingredient for each of these issues (and more!). Instead of getting lost in the skincare jungle, better understand which are the primary treatment-ingredients and how each of them acts, in order to make the right purchases. Let’s talk about the most popular choices. You’ll find a list of recommendations after each active ingredient.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is an antioxidant powerhouse and is also essential in collagen synthesis, which translates into healthy, luminous skin. Long term use may lead to an even toned skin, aka reduced hyperpigmentation and post-acne scarring. It may also help reduce fine lines and wrinkles.

Unfortunately, vitamin C is extremely fickle in cosmetic products; the oxidation is strong with this one in contact with air/heat/light. Moreover, the most effective derivative of vitamin C, ascorbic acid, is the most instable. Fortunately, cosmetic technology has gone to great lengths to provide us with products that contain stabilized ascorbic acid. There are also a couple other vitamin C derivatives which, although not as potent as ascorbic acid, do a pretty good job. Here’s a list:

  • L-Ascorbic Acid (L-AA) – best
  • Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate (SAP)
  • Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate (MAP)
  • Ascorbyl Palmitate (AA-PAL)
  • Ascorbyl Tetra-Isopalmitate (VC-IP)
  • Ascorbyl Glucoside (AA-2G)
  • Ascorbyl 2-Phosphate 6-Palmitate (APPS)
  • 3-O-Ethyl Ascorbate (EAC)

If you haven’t used vitamin C before, start with a low concentration and raise it as your skin gets used to it.

Vitamin C Products:

Klairs – Freshly Juiced Vitamin Drop (L-AA 5%)

COSRX – Triple C Lightning Liquid (L-AA 20.5%)

The Ordinary – Vitamin C Suspension in Silicone (L-AA 30%)

Niod – Ethylated L-Ascorbic Acid 30% Network

The Ordinary – Ascorbyl Glucoside Solution (AA-2G 12%)

Paula’s Choice – C15 Super Booster

Hyaluronic Acid

Hyaluronic acid is a molecule naturally occurring in our body that has the ability to retain water in our tissues, keeping them hydrated and elastic. As we age, our hyaluronic acid levels tend to drop, and so does our skin’s plumpness and elasticity.

Hyaluronic acid products may compensate, to a certain extent, for this loss, and a well-formulated AH product can make all the difference in the world – meaning a well-hydrated skin, less visible fine lines and wrinkles, balanced sebum secretions and a luminous complexion.

There are a number of different AH derivatives. The most common in cosmetic formulas is sodium hyaluronate. A good AH product will usually contain both sodium hyaluronate and pure hyaluronic acid. Although not as potent as the OG hyaluronic acid molecule, sodium hyaluronate is better absorbed by the skin.  When purchasing an AH serum, go for the one that contains multiple hyaluronic acid molecules; a good example of a well-formulated product is the Multi-Molecular Hyaluronic Complex by Niod.

Hyaluronic Acid Products:

Niod – Multi-Molecular Hyaluronic Complex

The Ordinary – Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5

Institut Esthederm – Intensive Hyaluronic Serum

Paula’s Choice – Hyaluronic Acid Booster

Glossier – Super Bounce Hyaluronic Acid + Vitamin B5 Serum

The Inkey List – Hyaluronic Acid Face Serum


 Niacinamides are a vitamin B3 derivative. Long term use of niacinamides can bring genuine benefits, like restoring the natural skin barrier, evening out the skin tone, accelerating cell turnover without causing irritation. Consequently, they work great on sensitive skin, as well, and are compatible with almost all actives mentioned in this article (not so much with vitamin C), with no risk of irritation or flaking.

There are many products on the market that contain niacinamides, a cult combo being niacinamides + zinc, which works great on oily and/or acne prone skin (it’s brilliant in balancing sebum secretions).

Niacinamide-based products can be used both mornings and evenings (just don’t forget about your morning SPF).

Niacinamides Products:

Paula’s Choice – 10% Niacinamide Booster

The Ordinary – Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%

Hylamide – Pore Control

Olay – Regenerist Daily Regenerating Serum

Glossier – Super Pure Niacinamide + Zinc Serum


Retinol is a vitamin A derivative and your safest bet when it comes to anti-aging actives. Retinol acts on a cellular level, boosting cell turnover and collagen synthesis. This means younger skin, less pronounced (even faded out) wrinkles and fine lines, and an overall better complexion.

Retinol and tretinoin (which we will talk about more in a future post) have been royally labelled the golden standard in beauty, because they are the only actives with proven anti-aging effects. So, yes, you need it! 😊

The problem with retinol is its tolerability, more so by sensitive skin types. Retinol intolerance is usually manifested through redness, itchiness, skin flakes, and it can get really ugly when applied in more-than-the-norm quantities.

With retinol, less is more is rule of thumb. However, there’s a new cool kid in town to the rescue – retinoid – which is a fairly new derivative of the same vitamin A that is far gentler than his siblings and works just fine even on sensitive skin. The Ordinary has a nice selection of retinoids, some in squalane oil, that are ideal for retinol beginners and sensitive skin types.

Now about the flakiness. Yes, you may experience some flakiness. It is a common reaction to retinol, and most people got through this phase. As long as your skin’s reaction is not violent (pruritus), keep in mind that the flaking may last months, and that’s okay. Retinol should be carefully and gradually included in your routine. Use it a couple of times/week and slowly increase frequency of applications, so as to let your skin get used to the it and to avoid irritation.

To achieve optimal results and avoid irritation, it’s best to apply your retinol product(s) at night. Don’t forget about product compatibilities; retinol is pretty difficult to combine with other actives.

Retinol/Retinoid Products:

The Ordinary – Retinol 0.2% in Squalane

Paula’s Choice – Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment

The Inkey List – Retinol Face Serum

Drunk Elephant – A-Passioni Retinol Cream

The Ordinary – Granactive Retinoid 2% in Squalane

It’s important to understand that the ‘skin wonders’ promised by these actives are fulfilled in time, with patience and consistency. For example, the anti-aging effects of retinol are visible after years of constant application, sebum secretion normalization with the help of HA, in months, and so on.

There is no miracle product that can fix all our skin’s problems overnight. There are, however, good results achieved with consistency and well-formulated products.

Step 5: Moisturizer

Your nighttime moisturization is  essential. Moreover, if you don’t use any serums/actives/treatments, you can always opt for a moisturizer that contains either retinol, niacinamides or any other active – this way you will moisturize and act on an anti-aging level, as well.

What to look for in a moisturizer? Moisturization and hydration. Hyaluronic acid is good to have in any type of moisturizer. Ceramides are, also, star ingredients – they’re the ’good’ fats that help restore the skin’s natural barrier. Other awesome ingredients to be found in moisturizers are fatty acids (omega-6, omega-3, omega-9), phospholipids, glycerine, aloe and camomile extract, argan oil. Synthetic binders, like dimethicone, are also good for the skin – they lock hydration into the skin and may give a „filling” effect to fine lines and wrinkles . Vitamins shouldn’t be forgotten, like vitamin E (tocopherol) or pro vitamin B5 (panthenol), as they’re also beneficial to the skin.

What to avoid in moisturizers? Anything that may dehydrate, disrupt your skin’s natural barrier, cause irritation or block your pores –  like fragrance, mineral and essential oils, and denatured alcohol, if you’re allergic/sensitive to it.

Pro tip: If you suffer from dry skin and/or dehydration, you can always apply a light oil on top of your moisturizer (look for oils that have a smaller molecule, like grapeseed, jojoba or chia oils), in order to lock in the moisturization goodness. If you have acne prone skin, but still need extra hydration, try rosehip oil. A couple of drops will work wonders!


Cerave –  PM Facial Moisturizing Lotion

Hada Labo Tokyo – Absolute Smoothing & Moisturizing Cream

Paula s Choice – Omega+ Complex Moisturizer

La Roche Posay – Toleriane Sensitive Riche

COSRX – Hyaluronic Acid Intensive Cream

The Ordinary – Natural Moisturizing Factors + HA


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