Forget freaks and vampires: When it comes to beauty rituals, it’s our inner princesses who come out at night. It’s then that we languidly soak in tubs of skin-nourishing oils and mind-quieting aromatics and casually delve into nine-step skin-care regimens. The mornings on the other hand? Well, in that our hour of groggy discontent, count us lucky if we can brush our teeth before getting out the door in time.
While most of us know that we should at least slap some SPF on our skin before heading out into the day, fewer of us are keyed into the idea that other airborne nanoparticles—like smog, cigarette smoke, soot, pollen, water droplets, and pollutants—contribute to aging skin. Research has shown that polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) cling to these airborne nanoparticles, where they are converted to quinones—which can age the skin in the same ways that chronic exposure to UV light can. And, those who live in cities are more exposed to PAH. It’s a lot to consider—especially before coffee.
When we talk about a.m. skin care, SPF is only half the battle. We’ve got to clean our skin and arm it with antioxidants (then UV protection) to ensure we’re really ready to face the day. To figure out how to best protect our skin from UV rays and the harmful particles suspended in the air (many of which are generated during the combustion of fossil fuels), we spoke to Debra Jaliman, M.D., a New York-based dermatologist and author of Skin Rules, about the best way to handle our morning skin-care regimens. Regardless of your complexion, Jaliman advocates for cleansing, applying a serum, and, finally, SPF. Read on for her tips on how to tinker with the morning trifecta, no matter your skin type.
Many people think, “If my skin doesn’t feel greasy, it must not be dirty.” But even those with ultra-dry skin still need to cleanse in the morning, says Jaliman. “There’s oil and bacteria that’s accumulated on the skin while you’ve been sleeping all night,” she says, “so it’s important to cleanse in the morning.”
Those with dry skin should look for a cleanser that’s creamy in consistency and stocked with hyaluronic acid, glycerin, ceramides, or other gentle moisturizers, recommends Jaliman. “The cleanser you choose is crucial in terms of not drying out your skin,” she says.
After cleansing, continue to moisturize with a serum stocked with hyaluronic acid, glycerin, or antioxidants. Since many with dry skin need a no-nonsense moisturizer to lock in the hydration, try adding an SPF booster to be super hydrating, like the instant cult classic Charlotte Tilbury Magic Cream ($116, Charlotte Tilbury).
Everyone should wash the night’s bacteria and pillow gunk from their faces in the morning. But for those with oily skin, morning cleansing is a particularly important step. Jaliman suggests cleansing with a powder or glycolic- or salicylic-acid-spiked cleanser (rather than a cream) and toning the skin as well.
She also suggests exfoliating the skin, being careful to hit the eyebrow area—a spot on the face that’s often neglected. Although those with oily skin tend to shy away from “hydrating” products, the best way for this group to get hydrated skin in the day is via a serum, since a moisturizer will just up the grease factor, says Jaliman. “If you’re very oily, you may need a little moisturizer at night but not typically during the day,” she says. “Hyaluronic acid is a good moisturizer that doesn’t break anyone out.” We found Revision Skincare’s Hydrating Serum ($29, Amazon)—which is also oil-free—to perfectly hydrate our skin, no moisturizing cream needed.
What’s more, powder sunscreen not only provides grease-less protection in the morning, but it’s the perfect tool to cover four o’clock shine.
The best way to fight fussy skin? With a big dose of simple. Look for products with short ingredient lists—like Cetaphil’s Gentle Skin Cleanser ($4, Drugstore.com)—and serums that calm and soothe.
Sunscreen is a major must for sensitive skin types, but many of them can irritate complexions further. That’s why Jaliman prefers physical sunscreens with zinc, especially for this group. “Zinc oxide is what’s used in diaper cream,” says Jaliman. “And, it’s unlikely that anyone will get a reaction to zinc oxide. If it’s good enough for a sensitive baby’s skin, it’s good enough for me.”