Last week, I shared my exhaustive (and exhausting!) step-by-step guide to my skin care routine for mornings this summer. If you stuck it through the end, a huge thank you and props for your amazing patience. (I was spent after detailing all the steps. Thank goodness actually going through the steps on a daily basis goes by a lot faster than writing it all down.)
So here I’m going to share my evening routine. Amazingly, it’s only 12 steps (as opposed to 13) because I don’t apply my usual BHA and AHA exfoliants (I use retinoids instead) nor my Skinceuticals C E Ferulic at night since once absorbed, the antioxidant protection lasts for 72 hours. (Thank you to Sarah of You Glow Gal for clarifying that for me — it’ll help the expensive bottle of vitamin C last twice as long!)
My nighttime steps in summary are:
- Remove makeup
- Facial mist
- Pre-serum or booster
- Hydrating toner
- Eye serum
- Acne treatments
- Eye cream
- Sleeping mask
Read on for details of each step.
1. remove makeup
I abide by the K-beauty must of double cleansing, which is not something I’ve always done. My makeup remover of choice is a micellar water wipe, like my all-time favorite one by Koh Gen Do, mostly because my skin care routine is so lengthy, the lazy girl in me likes to cheat where I can. These wipes take off even my most stubborn, waterproof eye makeup without ever stinging (even in the upper waterline!), and they melt makeup faster than other wipes I’ve tried. Other micellar water wipes that I find to be pretty good (though nothing compares to Koh Gen Do’s) are ones by The Estée Edit and Simple.
Next down the hierarchy are micellar waters — Bioderma and Koh Gen Do have the best ones I’ve tried.
I do use oil cleansers, which many K-beauty-philes espouse, on occasion, but I find that with an oil cleanser, I still have to do another step of getting into the little nooks and crannies of my eyelashes to remove every last bit of eye makeup. I like DHC Deep Cleansing Oil, which uses olive oil, and Koh Gen Do Cleansing Cream (jojoba seed oil is the main oil here). If I need to remove extra eye makeup, I find that Simple’s new Dual Effect Eye Make-up Remover works really well — it’s a cool bi-phase formula of oil and water, so it doesn’t feel as oily. It never stings my eyes and does an excellent job of getting every last bit of eye makeup off.
I already detailed this step in my morning routine post, so I won’t go too much into it, except to say that I’ll spend a good 30 seconds minimum massaging the cleanser, currently Murad Time Release Acne Cleanser, on my skin, and then finish with my Clinique facial brush only on my T-zone because it’s hardier, acne-prone, and needs the extra exfoliation.
3. Facial mist
Again, immediately after cleansing my face and doing a quick pat to remove excess moisture, I’ll spritz my face with a facial mist to prevent my skin from drying out for even a second. I quickly pat that in, and then while my face is still damp, I’ll move on to my next.
Another step I do both morning and night, a pre-serum or booster is common in K-beauty as a way of prepping your skin, more so than just a hydrating toner, to be more receptive for all the treatment steps to follow. As the woman at the Sulwhasoo counter in Neiman Marcus recently told me, it “directs” your treatments to all the appropriate places. Currently, I’m loving Sulwhasoo’s First Care Activating Serum (I’m on my second bottle), though also good are Shiseido Ultimune Power Infusing Concentrate and Elizabeth Arden Superstart Skin Renewal Booster. I feel like using a pre-serum almost accelerates or magnifies the effects of my serums and treatments.
5. Hydrating Toner
Immediately after the pre-serum, I pat on a splash of hydrating toner (I go into more detail about why you need a hydrating toner here). The toner I use varies depending on the season and my skin care needs, and I don’t consider the brand for this category too important. Because it’s summer and my oily T-zone is on hyperdrive, I’m using SK-II Facial Treatment Clear Lotion for its inclusion of various acids, like lactic, malic and salicylic.
The heading of this category is a little misleading. It’s not so much a step in my routine as it is a bunch of sub-steps. Because yes, I apply serum, and that’s a step, but under that “serum” category, I apply about seven serums. Why? Because I have many, many, many varying skin care needs.
First and foremost, I’m aging. I’m well into my 40s, and I’m feeling the effects, big time. Fine lines are getting deeper, pores are getting larger, my cheeks and jawline are starting to sag, and I’m in a constant battle with hyperpigmentation.
But following a consistent regimen, I’ve seen some improvement. That fine line by the left side of my mouth has all but disappeared. The crinkles that form all around my eyes when I smile now look more like laugh lines and less Pringles “crinkly.” And while my hyperpigmentation is still most definitely there (curse you, genetics and teenage obsession with a tan!), my skin overall looks brighter and glowier, and even those blasted sun spots look a little lighter.
I definitely have to attribute this change to my religious skin care regimen. I’m talking every single day, every single step, whether I’m in the comfort of my ever-expanding vanity, each bottle and jar perfectly organized and in its place, or trying to balance on a bobbing wooden gület ship in the middle of the Mediterranean, mini jars and sample packets of skin care scattered all over the bed. I’ve always been pretty good about skin care since my teens, but in the last six years or so, I’ve become uncompromising.
I go into detail about each type of serum I ensure to always have in my regimen in my morning routine post, so I’ll just list them briefly here.
Hyperpigmentation: In addition to vitamin C, I always make sure to use something with proven lightening effects like arbutin, soy, kojic acid, and/or niacinamide. While these serums work on PIH (post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation) and the occasion swath of melasma brought on by overzealous microdermabrasion or exfoliation, they don’t make a dent in my existing Asian hyperpigmentation, which is just too deep and too stubborn for mere topicals. They do, however, serve to brighten up my face overall, which makes the hyperpigmentation less noticeable.
Antioxidants: There are many different sources of free radicals , so it’s best to use as many different types of antioxidants as possible, since each works on free radicals in different ways. Again, vitamins C and E are potent antioxidants (see why I love C E Ferulic so much?), but I also will use serums flush with resveratrol, niacinamide, green tea, and various botanical extracts.
Hyaluronic Acid: I started adding a serum dedicated specifically to hyaluronic acid after the dryness level in my cheeks skyrocketed a couple winters ago. As I’ve gotten older, my typically “normal” cheeks have gotten drier (but not my T-zone — go figure), so I’ve had to take some drastic measures in recent years.
Tea Tree Oil: This is a fairly new addition into my regimen. I started the LJH Tea Tree 90 Essence this summer to try to change the course of my adult acne, and I have to say, I’ve been impressed. The high concentration of tea tree oil (90%!), known for its anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties, has really worked to calm down flare-ups, decreasing the severity and length of my blemishes and sometimes outright stopping painful cystic acne in its tracks (which NEVER happens).
Peptides & Growth Factors: Dermatologists recommend that women over 40 start incorporating peptide or growth factors into their regimen. While I’m not as diligent about this category as I should be, I do get my peptides in other serums like the Niod Multi-Molecular Hyaluronic Complex. And DNA EGF DNA Regeneration Serum, created by dermatologist Dr. Ronald Moy (whose office is where I got my most recent round of laser treatments), has clinical studies to show that its barley-derived growth factors reduces the effects of photo-damage.
Lifting and Firming: Ever since I started doing Clarins’ Manual Auto Lifting Method massage with Clarins Shaping Facial Lift Total V Contouring Serum in the mornings, I’ve been hooked. It’s a series of pressing motions that helps lymphatic drainage and reduce puffiness and fluids. I love how it makes my face feel tighter and less puffy in the mornings, and it also gives me a minute to just stop what I’m doing and take a moment to breathe and relax.
*Note: I’ll also extend whatever extra serum I have on my fingers, or a serum I maybe don’t like for my face, onto my jawline and neck, since I’m at an age where my neck is now just as important as my face.
7. Eye serum
I always pay special attention to the area around my eyes, now that my fine lines have graduated into bona fide wrinkles. I always incorporate one or two, alternating serums for different regions of the face, so that each serum has some time to absorb. I pat it in using my ring finger, and I apply eye serums all around my eye, going as close to the lashes as I can and extending out to the brow bone and even temples.
Using a retinoid, in my case, prescription tretinoin, is vital at my age, and even when you’re as young as your 20s, according to many dermatologists. But retinol is tricky because you have to be careful how you apply it (when your face is completely, absolutely dry to reduce irritation), how much you apply (never, ever more than a pea-sized amount), what you apply it with (benzoyl peroxide and retinoids deactivate each other, while chemical exfoliants like AHAs and BHAs can increase irritation), when you apply it (at night only), and where you apply it (away from the corners of your mouth or your nostrils). But a retinoid is non-negotiable because it’s been proven to increase collagen, speed cell turnover, fight acne, and lighten discoloration. It’s pretty much the gold standard for anti-aging right now. Learn more about retinoids here.
9. Acne treatments
To ensure I don’t mix my retinoid with my benzoyl peroxide, I’ll spot treat active blemishes with BP only. Which works out generally because I only apply tretinoin on my cheeks and the periphery of my face, avoiding my nose and mouth (mucous membrances are most susceptible to irritating dryness and flaking side effects).
I’m not that picky about moisturizers, especially during the summer, when my skin is less dry. (Winter’s another story.) But I’ll always use a cream moisturizer (lotions just don’t cut it for my cheeks anymore) on my cheeks and a light gel or lotion moisturizer for my T-zone. (Yes, even oily skin needs moisturizer.)
11. Eye cream
I prefer a thicker eye cream for night, when I don’t have to worry about eye makeup migrating into my contacts. Le Metier de Beaute Revive Eye Concentrate is a nice, thick cream with peptides and vitamin E. I actually have an eye cream graveyard in my bathroom — half-used tubs that just didn’t seem to do anything for my wrinkles, everything from Laneige and Mizon to belif and SK-II (I know — I was surprised that I just wasn’t a fan of SK-II’s eye cream). I need hardcore eye creams, so I gravitate towards ones by La Mer, Estée Lauder and Sulwhasoo. In fact, I just got a tub of Sulwhasoo Timetreasure Renovating Eye Cream EX that I’m super excited to use.
12. Sleeping mask
After my nighttime skin care routine, I’ll read in bed for an hour or so, letting everything absorb into my skin. Then, right before I turn off the lights, I’ll quickly swipe on a sleeping mask to seal everything in, just for good measure. Since a sleeping mask mainly has to work as an occlusive, preventing evaporation and holding in moisture, I’m not too picky about specialized ingredients, like an extract of a botanical from the Sahara that rejuvenates itself after 30 years of hibernation. Right now I’m using Lioele Water Sleeping Pack, and DHC PQQ Up Gel, both of which I like for their super lightweight gel texture. (I’ve already layered all sorts of emollients on my face, now super shiny, so I want my last step to be light and refreshing.)
13. OPTIONAL: Sheet Mask
OK, I know I said I only have 12 steps in my nighttime routine, but that’s because I don’t always do a sheet mask. At most, it’s usually like twice a month, not because I don’t want to use them more, but because I just forget, and they’re hard to fit into my schedule — I actually have to plan ahead to fit in a sheet mask at night. But I should sheet mask more because not only does it give me a shortcut in my routine, replacing several steps in one, but I definitely see a marked glow every time I do sheet mask, especially when I use this trick afterwards.