NY Mag: The Best Night Creams, According to Dermatologists and Facialists
At the end of a long day, completing a multistep skin-care routine may be the last thing you want to do — but if you reach for one product (after washing your face, of course), there are some very compelling reasons to go for a night cream. According to dermatologist Dr. Michele Green, “Nighttime is the restorative time for your skin, so you should give your skin the extra TLC by using a night cream.” She says night creams “address different concerns than daytime moisturizers — typically, they provide intense hydration and concentrated ingredients to fight signs of aging and other concerns.” We heard similarly from dermatologist Noelani Gonzalez, the director of cosmetic dermatology at Mount Sinai West, who says that night creams tend to be thicker than daytime moisturizers, use exfoliators to improve skin texture, and contain more hydrators to replenish moisture lost during the day (so you wake up looking less tired and puffy). They also contain ingredients like retinol, which shouldn’t be used during the day.
Like many classic skin-care products, there are many night creams to choose from. Generally speaking, Gonzalez suggests looking for one with hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and ceramides for hydration, retinol as an acne fighter and anti-ager, or antioxidants like resveratrol for protecting against environmental stress. “Glycolic acid also helps exfoliate and renew, and niacinamide helps with redness for those with conditions like rosacea and acne.” Here, we asked eleven dermatologists and facialists for their recommendations on the ones that are worth the money, the ones that fight acne, and the ones that might help slow down early signs of aging.
Best overall night cream
Gonzalez and dermatologist Debra Jaliman — an assistant professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine — both suggested this drugstore CeraVe night cream, which Jaliman says delivers comparable results to much more expensive options. She calls out the ceramides and hyaluronic acid in it as excellent hydrators, plus the niacinamide as a trusted redness reducer. “This is an excellent moisturizer for when the weather starts getting cold and your skin starts losing more moisture,” she says. Facialist Jordana Mattioli named the cream as a favorite, too. “For normal to combination skin, CeraVe PM facial moisturizing lotion has a non greasy texture with brightening niacinamide and skin restoring ceramides,” she says. It’s also one of the more affordable night creams on this list — so two dermatologists’ and a facialist’s rave reviews and a price tag that will let you stock up makes this one best overall in our book.
Best night cream for sensitive skin
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“This is one of my all-time favorites and can be tolerated by those with very sensitive skin,” says Dr. Anna Karp, dermatologist at the Skin Institute New York. “It has a cool-on-contact feel and contains hyaluronic acid which provide extra moisturization (due to its ability to hold 1,000 times its weight in water).” She also notes that the gel formula helps the cream sink into skin quickly. This cream is something of a cult-dermatologist favorite: It’s made appearances on our lists of the best moisturizers for dry skin, best moisturizer for mature skin, and best moisturizers for oily skin — which makes us think it’s a truly versatile (and affordable) night cream that would work for a lot of skin types.
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Certain sensitive-skin types might prefer a more natural option, and for them, Gonzalez recommends Burt’s Bees Intense Hydration Night Cream. “It’s great for those with sensitive skin, and the product doesn’t test on animals or use animal ingredients.”
Aesthetician Joanna Czech likes this fancy night cream from MBR for sensitive skin types, which uses a combination of ceramides, butters, and hyaluronic acid to deliver intense moisture to the skin. “It intensively moisturizes the skin while stimulating collagen synthesis,” she says, which gives the skin a plumping effect that can help smooth wrinkles and fine lines. It also contains real gold-leaf flakes (which sort of justifies the price tag) that literally bend the light to make your skin look luminous and glowy after use.
Best night cream for ultra-sensitive, compromised skin
If you’ve found yourself overexfoliating with acids or physical scrubs and compromised your moisture barrier or recently underwent chemical or laser treatments, celebrity facialist Candace Marino recommends this night cream from Senté. “It hits heavy with moisture, without the weight you feel with most creams,” she says. Its biggest draw is its use of heparan sulfate, a sugar molecule that occurs naturally in the skin and is important for maintaining its health. “It promotes deep hydration, decreases inflammation, and stimulates collagen and elastin production,” she says, adding that it’s also noncomedogenic (meaning it won’t clog your pores).
Best night creams for acne-prone skin
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Green told us this cream from Cetaphil is a safe bet for acne-prone skin — and it also came up when we talked to dermatologists about their recommendations for moisturizers for mature skin. Dr. Francesca Fusco, a dermatologist at Mount Sinai, told us that Cetaphil can “hydrate skin without clogging pores,” which would also make it a great pick for those struggling with breakouts.
Kim Zimmerman, of Rescue Spa in Philadelphia, suggests Biologique Recherche Creme Dermopurifante for those with acne-prone skin. “It allows your natural oil production to flow in and out of the pores, so that the skin stays moisturized sans breakouts,” she says.
Alternatively, Marino recommends Creme Placenta from Biologique Recherche, especially if you have post-acne inflammation. “It’s purifying, calming, and soothing, making it suitable for even the most compromised and irritated skin,” she says.
“Tammy Fender’s Intensive Repair Balm is a good choice for problematic and acne-prone skin,” says Larissa Thomson, co-founder of ONDA Beauty. “It has Helichrysum which is prized for its healing and medicinal actions. This cream provides intense moisture while also calming inflamed skin and speeding up the healing process.”
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And if you’re specifically looking for an oil-free cream, Green suggests trying Mario Badescu Oil Free Moisturizer, which she says is “loaded with green tea extracts and antioxidants.”
Best night creams for dry skin
Zimmerman recommends Augustinus Bader’s The Cream, which comes in two formulas — one for normal to oily skin, and one for dry skin — for “the laziest nights when you don’t have time to slather on a million serums, but you still want all the anti-aging benefits.” It’s quite the science-y product with equally high-tech claims: “It taps into epigenetics, which activates the body’s own stem cells to regenerate and repair the skin while you sleep,” says Zimmerman. Czech is also a fan, calling it “super repairing,” and noting that it “stimulates skin’s natural process of rejuvenation.” The price tag is high, but as Rio once pointed out, it’s a very coveted cream, and Kathleen Hou at the Cut wrote that when she tried the cream it made her skin look “healthier, sort of like there was a good bra holding things up under it.”
If your skin is looking a little dull, dermatologist Annie Chiu, who is the founder of The Derm Institute in Manhattan Beach, suggests this cream from SkinCeuticals, which “mimics the skin’s natural lipid concentrations, with cholesterol, ceramides, and fatty acids.” Chiu says that this strengthens the skin barrier, and leaves your skin less better moisturized and less likely to lose water. The cream is packed with plenty of glow-enhancing ingredients, as well: “Vitamin E, for one, gives the skin a dewy, plumping texture without making it feel too oily,” she says.
For something at a much lower price point, Jaliman recommends this one from No7 for replenishing moisture: “This night cream has shea butter, glycerin, and ceramides, which are perfect ingredients for someone in need of a highly hydrating moisturizer.”
Best night cream for normal/combination skin
Here’s another in the drugstore range. Gonzalez and New York City–based dermatologist Hadley King — a clinical instructor of dermatology at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University — suggested this one for its hydrating elements. “It has antioxidants, green-tea extract, and a peptide-B3 complex, which helps hydrate and exfoliate skin,” says Gonzalez.
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King also alerted us to the fact that DHC (the same Japanese company that produces the culty cleansing oil) has a great night cream. “With olive oil and squalene, the emollient properties of this night cream are powerful, providing deep hydration and sealing in moisture.”
If you have combination skin, Gonzalez says this SkinCeuticals cream is a solid choice for exfoliating and moisturizing. “With alpha hydroxy acids, glycolic and lactic acid, aloe vera, and essential oils, it soothes dry skin, boosts skin radiance, and reduces the appearance of lines.”
Formulated with royal jelly, which can help with inflammation and wound healing, this night cream is a favorite of dermatologist Jessie Cheung. “It’s lightweight but delivers hydration and repair with amino acids and anti-inflammatories,” she says. It also contains vitamin E, which helps with the skin’s overall firmness and elasticity.
Best retinol night creams
Retinol is a pretty well-known anti-aging product, and Green told us that it’s also useful for those with oily skin. “Look for products that contain retinol to facilitate cell turnover to unclog your pores,” she says. “In addition, retinol helps reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Retinol also tightens the pores, which makes oily skin look less shiny.” If you want to try a night cream with retinol, we heard good things about Skinbetter Science Intensive AlphaRet Overnight Cream from Karp, who says, “I love this because it is a nonirritating retinol … that has glycolic and lactic acid in it, which help lighten dark spots and exfoliate the skin. You can apply a thin layer over your whole face at night.” We also heard about Skinbetter’s night cream from Mattioli, who says the cream has “an amazing combo of retinol and glycolic acid in a mix of moisturizing antioxidants, and it’s hydrating enough for almost any skin type … perfect for mature skin to firm and soften wrinkles.” Dermatologist Jeremy Brauer is a fan as well: “Retinol is key to evening moisturizing,” he says, mentioning that the AlphaRet Overnight Cream works especially well. Marino also likes AlphaRet and says it is as effective as tretinoin, without the side effects.
Cheung likes this retinol-infused night cream, which she says is gentle and fast absorbing. Like the one from Augustinus Bader, this night cream from Biopelle works by stimulating skin’s stem cells. “It uses snail-eggs extract, which plumps up the skin and improves overall hydration levels,” she says. Board-certified dermatologist Flora Kim is also a fan.
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For a less-expensive option, Karp recommends Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Cream, which she often suggests to her patients. “It contains retinol which will help increase skin cell turnover and prevent wrinkles by stimulating collagen formation,” she says. If you’re concerned about the potentially drying effects of retinol, Karp told us that the Neutrogena cream has a built-in defense: “It contains hyaluronic acid which attracts a thousand times its weight in water and will help trap moisture in the skin. This means, basically, it acts as an antidote to the drying effects of the retinol.” Karp suggests using the cream every other day “until your skin gets used to it.”
CeraVe’s Skin Renewing Cream Serum is another recommendation that comes from Karp, and, as its name suggests, is a hybrid product that’s both serum and cream. “It also contains hydrating ingredients like ceramides and niacinamide,” Karp says. “Niacinamide also helps with redness and is well tolerated by most skin types. With this, you would also apply a thin layer over your whole face at night.” She also notes that those with extra sensitive skin will want to avoid this one.
Jessica Richards, owner of Shen Beauty, named this night cream from Lernberger Staffsing as one to try. “It contains hyaluronic acid, evening primrose, and retinol,” she says, calling it a “game changer” for “helping to reduce fine lines and wrinkles and leaves your skin incredibly supple when you wake up.”
For the person who’s going all-in on night creams, Gonzalez adds that this pricey, yet results-oriented, SkinMedica Age Defense Retinol Complex has a little bit of everything: “Retinol for anti-aging, niacinamide (which has been shown to be anti-inflammatory in clinical trials and to enhance the skin’s barrier function), essential oils, and antioxidants to help smooth skin and give it a more rejuvenated look.”
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Gonzalez and Jaliman like this RoC night cream. A big perk is that this one’s formulated in a tube versus a jar, so it has a longer shelf life, but also retinol and glycolic acid for smoothing skin. Jaliman considers it a dupe for the much more expensive Strivectin Advanced Retinol Intensive Moisturizer: “Similar ingredients, very different price points.”
Best exfoliating night cream
“It goes beyond your normal hydration cream,” says Marino of this Jan Marini Transformation Face Cream, which uses amino acids to repair skin damage, boost collagen, and slow skin aging, along with AHAs that do some light exfoliating. It also contains aloe vera and antioxidants to help soothe any existing inflammation.
Best natural and organic night creams
Both Richards and Thomson sung high praise for Goop’s night cream. Thompson notes that the cream has botanical and mineral benefits that exceed those which you would find in a drugstore moisturizer. “Plus, you’re getting all the healing and nutritional benefits from the plant ingredients,” Thompson says. “Think of it as eating right for your skin. But topically.” Richards suggests layering it over Goop’s face oil for added hydration. “You will notice, plump, brighter and more hydrated skin,” she says.
For a slightly different spin on what we might traditionally think of as a night cream, Melanie Herring loves Moon River Hydrating Balm. The balm, which Herring calls “truly magic in a jar” and her “go-to,” packs frankincense resin to increase cell turnover and calm inflammation, as well as shea, sal, and cupuacu butters for sealing in moisture. And the list of powerful natural ingredients doesn’t end there: “Camellia and meadowfoam are beautiful for protecting the skin from free radical damage, infusing the skin with powerful antioxidants,” says Herring. “Rose stimulates collagen, moisturizes and is a powerful anti-inflammatory ally. Elemi, which is derived from a tree, is a powerful cell regenerator, toning and firming skin.”
If you’re on the hunt for something that is equal parts soothing and restorative, Cheung recommends this night cream from Alpyn Beauty, which uses natural ingredients like bakuchiol (often referred to as nature’s retinol) and melatonin, which, when applied topically, calms and assists the skin’s natural repair process.