What’s the real difference between day and night creams—and do I need both?

Your skincare routine can either be really simple with a few different products you use on the regular or super-intense with a #shelfie chock-full of creams, scrubs, and serums. But to get back to basics, experts typically agree that night cream and day cream can both play an important part in your regimen for sure. But it’s a little more complicated than that.

As someone whose skincare routine only consists of a face wash, moisturizer, and sunscreen, I’ve always figured companies that sell both day cream and night cream were just trying to get you to buy essentially the same product in different packaging in order to make an extra buck. According to Boston-based dermatopathologist Gretchen Frieling, MD, that’s not the case at all. Each serves a unique purpose and contains different ingredients that work best during certain times of the day.

A day cream frequently contains SPF and is lighter than a night cream, making it easy to apply before makeup, says Dr. Frieling. “Day cream also typically excludes active ingredients like retinol, glycolic acid, or alpha hydroxy acids that could cause photosensitivity during the day,” she says. Night cream on the other hand includes ingredients that do their best work while you’re fast asleep away from the sun’s harmful rays.

“Sleep is when the skin does the heavy lifting, so nighttime products help maintain healthy skin and reduce signs of aging overnight. It’s when your skin works to restore and repair, which is why night cream focuses on moisture and recovery,” she says. “Because of that, they’re heavier than day cream and tends to have a larger concentration of ingredients such as peptides and stronger actives like Retinol that are best used at night because they can increase the skin’s sensitivity to the sun.”

Because of the difference in their purposes, Dr. Frieling doesn’t recommend using one or the other in isolation. “If you use a night cream in the day, your skin will feel greasier and won’t be protected from the sun. While if you use a day cream in the night, your skin will feel moisturized and nourished, but won’t get a full range of anti-aging and moisturizing ingredients,” she says. For night creams, dermatologist Keira L. Barr, MD, recommends the Drunk Elephant A-Passioni Retinol Anti-Wrinkle Cream ($74), and for day creams, try the top-rated Lancôme Rénergie Lift Multi-Action Day Cream with SPF 15 ($99).

But if you’re really keen on keeping things simple (I feel you!), there’s another solution: an all-purpose cream that will give you some benefits of both options in one product, letting you reap the anti-aging components, stay moisturized, keep your skin protected from the sun, and more.
3 all-purpose day-and-night creams to simplify your skincare routine

1. Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gel Cream, $16
Drugstore products FTW. Aside from the great price tag, this product is “infused with hyaluronic acid, which acts like a sponge to hydrate the skin’s outer layer,” says Dr. Frieling.

2. CeraVe Ultra-Light Moisturizing Lotion SPF 30, $14
According to Dr. Frieling, this product from CeraVe is especially great for anyone who has oily skin, or anyone who’s looking for a moisturizer that wears well under makeup.

3. Shiseido Benefiance WrinkleResist24 Day Cream, $63
You get the best of both words with this cream. Even though it’s used during the day, it harnesses the powers of both day and night creams. “It’s extra-rich and helps protect your skin from factors that cause aging,” says Dr. Frieling. Plus, you can’t beat that added SPF.

Ever think about going on a #skincarediet? Here’s what it’s all about. Then find out why using too much eye cream can be counterproductive… because oops.
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