A good night's rest is like drinking from the Fountain of Youth, providing you with the regeneration process you need to wake up glowing. While your skin works to protect itself from many external factors throughout the day, it shifts to a recovery mode at night, with the regeneration process up to three times faster than during the day. Most notably, the skin sees a surge in HGH (human growth hormone) in the nighttime sleep cycle. The release of HGH helps rebuild body tissues1 and spurs increased cell production to invigorate and rejuvenate the dermis.
But sleep is only as helpful as you allow it to be, which is why it's important to implement best practices, from beneficial skin care products and simple nighttime rituals to supportive sleep aids so you can wake up with a glow from head to toe.
Whether you wear makeup or not, a thorough cleanse is essential in the evening. It will remove dirt, pollution, dead skin cell buildup, excess oil, and, yes, makeup if you wear it. You should never go to bed with an unwashed face, as all of those impurities will just sit on your skin, clogging pores, triggering oxidative pathways, and disrupting your skin's microbiome. Double-cleansing is a method in which you first cleanse with an oil-based wash, followed by a gentle water-based one. "Oil is the best cleansing method I've ever found," notes holistic esthetician Britta Plug (watch her demonstrate the method, here). Then you can move to a water-based cleanser based on your needs: If you run dry, consider a wash that has additional soothing ingredients like rose or aloe; if you run oily, consider one with more exfoliants. (Find our favorite washes, here.)
Use heavier and more potent products at night.
If you've ever wondered why there's such a big emphasis on the difference between nighttime and daytime routines, it's this: The skin is more permeable at night2, meaning it's more receptive to skin care products; however, that also means your skin loses significant hydration as you sleep. So if you want to make the most out of your beauty sleep, consider using your stronger actives in the evening, as well as applying a heavier, more occlusive moisturizer to seal it all in.
So as you're putting together your evening lineup, let's assume you've washed your face thoroughly. Then apply your serum or treatment of choice. Most skin care experts recommend retinol or bakuchiol. "It's the gold standard for anyone with blemishes or over the age of 30. Overall, retinol helps brighten dull skin by exfoliating at a cellular level, which results in glowing and smoother new skin. Not only does it help combat new wrinkles, but it also smooths out existing fine lines and wrinkles," says aesthetic nurse practitioner Jennifer Izzarelli, MSN, CANS, N.P. "It also helps regulate oily skin and minimize breakouts. And, if that isn't enough, retinol is proven to fade dark age spots, sun spots and hyperpigmentation and even out complexion over time." Bakuchiol is the natural alternative that has been shown to have the same effects on the skin, sans irritation.
Naturopathic doctor Tess Marshall, N.D., also recommends antioxidants. "Green tea, vitamin C, carrot, and astaxanthin are some of my favorite ingredients." While it's important to apply antioxidants during the day to protect your skin from free radicals, at night these ingredients can actually help repair the skin after a long day.
Finally, top it off with an occlusive oil or cream to seal in the moisture. "You can go with a heavier oil at night, compared to lighter products in the morning that go better under makeup," says Marshall. Not only that, but a heavier oil or cream will help your skin deal with trans-epidermal water loss3, or what happens when moisture evaporates from your epidermis.
The evening is the perfect time for a mini spa.
This is less about the biology of the skin and more about the logistics. Chances are, you have more time in the evening to relax a bit. (Who among us wakes up and thinks, now is the time to experiment with multi-masking?) So utilize your spare moments before bed to pamper your skin with some extra treatments. "Take a relaxing bath and apply a clay-based face mask to draw out any impurities from your day to ensure your skin is clean before bedtime," recommends Lucy Xu, a London-based aesthetic treatment and cosmeceutical skin care specialist. You can even go a step further and swap in an extra-thick sleeping mask once a week to truly hydrate dry skin. "And then I would advise applying a hyaluronic-based overnight face mask, which should help nourish and moisturize your skin overnight."
Create a bedtime routine.
Lifestyle habits and rituals can set the tone for a relaxing evening. "In the hour leading up to bedtime, ensure your room is clean and tidy," advises Xu. "Light some candles to relax you, perhaps spritz a pillow spray onto your sheets and pillowcases, or dab some drops of lavender oil onto your pillow, which can add a soothing scent." If you're one to enjoy a zen-inducing scent, we recommend grabbing a pillow spray to help set the mood.
Marshall urges the importance of this routine, too. "Having a nighttime routine is a form of self-care. It can help calm the body and prepare for sleep. Getting adequate sleep is very important for skin health and a natural glow, especially as you age." Since HGH is released during deep sleep, it's important to get enough sleep so you cycle through light, deep, and REM. Another important hormone is released during sleep: Melatonin, which is one of the most potent antioxidants our bodies make naturally. 4
But if you're stressed or changing up your sleep schedules all of the time, staying in a deep sleep can be hard to come by. According to Marshall, this results in less time for skin regeneration. "We also have the highest cellular activity in the skin while we sleep, which means all of the collagen production and repair and antioxidant activity we crave happens when we are sleeping." In other words, the better you prepare yourself for sleep, like creating a bedtime routine and sticking to the same sleep schedule, the better your chances of achieving that gorgeous glow.
Aromatherapist and herbalist Trevor Ellestad notes the importance of putting down the phone. Of course the phone's blue light has been extensively studied, and research shows that it can disrupt our circadian rhythm. "Unlike our smartphones, our mind and body can't switch on and off so easily—they need time to transition slowly into sleep," Ellestad says. "Put your phone away earlier than you normally do, open up a book, cue up your favorite meditation app, brew a relaxing cup of tea, and diffuse some calming essential oils to help you wind down and catch some zzz's."
Use at-home light therapy.
Red light and LED facials are widely used by professionals in spas. "At-home light therapy is becoming more popular now," notes Marshall. "The red light helps stimulate mitochondria, the powerhouse of the cells, in your skin that helps to skin deal with oxidative stress," leading to firmer skin. Research confirms this as well: One study found that individuals receiving red light therapy on their face twice a week for 30 total sessions experienced improved skin complexion5, skin tone, skin smoothness, and collagen density (as measured with an ultrasonographic test). So why utilize it in the evening? Well, red light therapy isn't just for skin. Human studies have shown that red light actually improves overall sleep quality6. In the study, a small group of women were given 30 minutes of red light therapy every night for two weeks, and the researchers noted that sleep disturbances were significantly reduced compared to the placebo group.
"Drinking plenty of water per day is also key for glowing skin," says Xu. "Eight glasses of water a day, which amounts to 2 liters of water, is advised to ensure you're properly hydrated, which will, in turn, leave your skin looking glowing and healthy." Not only will this keep you hydrated as you sleep—as we explained before, you lose water through your skin while you sleep—research shows that drinking the recommended levels of water actually increases your dermal thickness7.
Use a silk pillowcase.
They look luxurious. They feel luxurious. And your skin will reap the benefits. Silk pillowcases are a great option for sensitive skin, helping you to avoid that irritated look from traditional cotton come morning. They're also better for keeping those nighttime skin care products on your face, not the pillow: As opposed to cotton, which can draw in moisture from your skin, silk tends to repel moisture.
Use white or pink noise.
Whether your bedroom is on a busy street, or you can't sleep in total silence, a noisemaker is a great bedtime tool for "rocking" yourself to sleep. Both white and pink noise have may help improve sleep quality. Also, if you're a new parent in desperate need of a night's rest, they're beneficial for getting babies to sleep through the night as well.
Take a sleeping-supporting supplement.
"I talk often with my clients about the importance of magnesium, and its critical, underrecognized, role in sleep and overall health," clinical psychologists Micheal J. Breus, Ph.D., tells mbg about sleep supporting supplements.* "Magnesium plays a role in supporting deep, restorative sleep8 by maintaining healthy levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter that promotes relaxation and a good night's rest, and research indicates supplementing magnesium can promote quality sleep8."*
Get an air purifier.
A home air purifier is a great way to maintain a healthy appearance. For the best results, consider going with a modern high-efficiency particulate air9 (HEPA) air purifier. By protecting your skin from poor ventilation—by way of pollution coming in from the outdoors, as well as indoor irritants—you limit the free-flowing particulate matter from penetrating your skin. This helps slow the aging process, improves skin tone, reduces redness and dryness, and helps with blemish-prone skin.
Keep a diffuser or humidifier by your nightstand.
"Diffusing at bedtime is a wonderful way to set the stage for a great night's rest," notes Ellestad. "For example, valerian is used by herbalists to promote restful sleep by encouraging relaxation. Lavender has been reported to induce relaxation." Ellestad suggests using an ultrasonic diffuser. "Designed to infuse your air with the power of essential oils, ultrasonic diffusers can help you access more calm and rest. Just fill the tank, add a relaxing diffuser blend, turn it on, and breathe deeply."
Humidifiers (some of which can diffuse scent as well) add water back into the air. If you live in a dry climate, this can be very beneficial for your overall skin hydration. The ideal indoor humidity range is 40 to 50%, but this number can easily fall below 30% depending on the season or area. Humidifiers can help bring levels up to their ideal range—saving you itchy skin, dry lips, and thirsty hands in the process.
Sleep on your back.
Adjusting your sleeping positions can affect everything from posture to, yes, your skin. Let's say you sleep the full eight hours an evening, with your face pressed against your pillow (as is the case for side or stomach sleepers). That's eight hours every day of pressure and friction on your delicate skin. There's plenty of research to support this, too, like this 2016 study, which identified a set of wrinkles that form from sleep alone. Read: They are not expression lines in the way that forehead or smile lines are caused by repeatedly moving your face over time. These are wrinkles that are formed exclusively from your sleeping position. And according to most dermatologists and sleep experts, sleeping on your back is the best position for your skin.
The bottom line.
If you want to wake up to a glowing, well-rested complexion, you need to prioritize healthy sleep hygiene. You can do this in a variety of ways from simple mood-boosting rituals and practices to sleep supplements.* From there you can maximize sleep's skin benefits by using the right products—like these wow-worthy antioxidant serums.
Alexa Erickson is a California-based writer who specializes in travel, beauty, wellness, and lifestyle. She received a degree in journalism and creative writing from the University of Tampa, and her work has appeared in Reader's Digest, Shape, and more. She has spent the past decade researching and writing about the latest trends and scientific findings related to health and wellness, trotting the globe to review airlines and hotels while featuring cultures around the world.