It is a crime of sorts to embark upon a night of sleep without first applying a protective coating of some moisturizer or another. Your skin is at its most receptive while you’re out like a light—with the rest of your bod at rest, it gives your largest organ a chance to regenerate. That’s why night creams tend to come packed with more potent active ingredients than your standard daytime moisturizer; you want to take advantage of those blessed hours.
This is also the thinking behind the many, many overnight treatments and “sleeping masks” you’ve probably noticed on the market. It’s a relatively new category in skin care, and it’s all about slathering on those more hardcore ingredients when your skin can make the best of them. But realistically, is there really—and I mean really, not just in theory—a marked difference between the function of a classic night cream and a newfangled overnight “mask?”
I’m one of Those People who will try anything that’s new and being marketed as the next big thing, partly because it’s my job but more so because I’m a straight-up sucker. Sad but true. So I asked dermatologist Dr. Brian Zelickson, a licensed professional who, unlike me, isn’t buying night treatments by the figurative truckload just because he likes the packaging.
Skeptics, step off: Dr. Zelickson does believe in the divide between the similar-seeming products. “I would say the major difference would be the amount of product you’re putting on your face [and how you apply it]. For a cream, you make sure to massage it into your skin, while a mask sits atop your dermis and the ingredients gradually sink in.”
Night creams tend to act more as moisturizers than as legit treatments, which Dr. Zelickson says usually have a thicker consistency that absorbs more slowly than a cream. Masks and treatments also typically contain higher concentrations of hyaluronic acid or retinoids, which are better utilized through gradual absorption.
Lest you think that leaving high-octane ingredients on for “too long” could do more harm than good, similar to the time I held an exfoliating peel pad on a breakout for hours to “dry it out” but burned off a significant portion of skin in the process, Dr. Zelickson says that isn’t so. Still, he cautions, “If you have sensitive skin, avoiding using products with alcohol and fragrance overnight. They can be irritating and harsh [on reactive complexions.” But that’s really all you have to be wary of—the rest is totally kosher. “Opting for an extra restorative boost can only benefit your skin’s reparative process,” Dr. Zelickson confirms.
Go ahead, pile on those night treatments like your quality of sleep depends on it. And if you’ve yet to give ‘em a go, try Korres Wild Rose Advanced Brightening Sleep Facial ($48) for a dose of hydrating, radiance-enhancing oils, rose water, and vitamin C, or Dr. Dennis Gross Ferulic + Retinol Wrinkle Recovery Overnight Serum ($88) for face-firming, super smoothing effects.
It’s a pretty sweet deal, considering all you really have to do is go to sleep. (If that’s easier said than done, there are ways to address that, too. You just can’t buy them at Sephora.)