The Difference Between Your Day and Night Moisturizer

Victoria Moorhouse
JGI/Jamie Grill / Getty Images

JGI/Jamie Grill / Getty Images

Among the long list of adjectives that moisturizers usually hold in their product title (ie. anti-aging, soothing) there is often a suggested time of application—day or night. Those who do practice moisturizing twice a day have most likely come across products stamped with a day or night tag and wondered what the difference between the two moisturizers really is. Will one wreak havoc if you apply before you hit the sheets? Will your nighttime moisturizer call it quits if it lands on your skin when the sun comes up? Not exactly.

The benefits of moisturizing when you wake up or before you go to bed change sometimes based on your preference and skin type. But while not always hugely life-changing, there can be some subtle differences in the products that have call-times.

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Day cream is going to really change depending on your skin type—if you have super oily skin, a product with tons of oils might not be your jam. You’ll find that some day creams call out oil-free formulas. That’s not to say all day creams or regular moisturizers are free of oils! Many products pull upon these to provide your skin with exceptional hydration and complexion-rescuing properties. Another big difference in day creams is the consistency. Since you’re generally applying this before you apply makeup, you’ll want something that blends in well and doesn’t leave your pores feeling suffocated. Many day creams boast a super light feel that doesn’t leave you feeling greasy and allows foundation to layer over seamlessly.

Two of the more obvious standout different elements from day to night cream is SPF and pigment. “Day” cream is taken quite literally in this sense, as you’ll need the sunscreen to protect your skin against the UV rays and even other environmental aggressors during the day. Night creams are formulated without this because you’re going to be sleeping—hence no sun—and the chemicals in SPFs can be irritating to certain skin types. When it comes to tinted moisturizers, if worn too long, the pigments could cause irritation and even clog your pores leading to breakouts and blemishes. Yes, it might be a moisturizer but color-correcting pigments are still makeup and generally, you should take that stuff off before you lay your head on a pillow.

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Day creams are also packed with vitamins and antioxidants to ward off free radicals, but you’ll probably see anti-aging benefits called out even more in a night cream. Skin cells repair themselves and work to renew when you sleep, so giving them an extra boost with nourishment or ingredients that address collagen production—that can take the time you’re catching some Zz’s to really work—makes total sense. Because oils can deeply penetrate your skin, they’ve become big players when it comes to nighttime moisturizers.