skincare ingredients + products to use at night only

Why do some people use vitamin C in the morning and others at night?

Why do some exfoliants state you can use them both in the AM and PM and others recommend you stick to night-time use only?

And what about essential oils? Where the heck do they fit into your skincare routine?

It’s enough to make your head spin.

Truth bomb: time matters. Using the right skincare products at the wrong time of day makes you age faster, not slower!

Some of the best skincare ingredients do wonders for your skin at night, but use them during the day and they turn against you.

Who are these fickle divas? Here are the skincare ingredients and products you should use at night only:

medik8 retinol 6 TR 01

1. Vitamin A

Vitamin A is a skincare superhero. During the day, it sleeps. But, as soon as the sun sets, it puts its mask on and out it goes to fight wrinkles, dark spots and acne.

Its weapons?

  1. Accelerated cellular turnover (it helps skin exfoliate faster)
  2. Collagen booster (it keeps your skin firm)
  3. Free radical fighter (it destroys them before they can leave wrinkles and dark spots on your skin)

Vitamin A hides its true identity under many names:

  • Hydroxypinacolone retinoate
  • Retinaldehyde
  • Retinol
  • Retinyl Palmitate
  • Retinyl Retinoate
  • Tretinoin (retinoic acid – prescription only)

(If there’s a “retin” somewhere in the name, it’s likely a form of vitamin A).


Vitamin A is great at fighting sun damage. At night.

During the day, it has the opposite effect: it makes your skin more susceptible to sun damage! Use it at night and slather that sunscreen on in the morning, ladies!

Best Picks:

Related: Which Strength Of Retinol Should You Use?

Struggling to put together a skincare routine that minimises wrinkles, prevents premature aging, and gives your complexion a youthful glow? Download your FREE “Best Anti-Aging Skincare Routine” to get started (it features product recommendations + right application order):

sunday riley good genes glycolic acid treatment

2. AHAs + BHA

Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) and Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA) are exfoliants.

They remove dead skin cells in the same way: by dissolving the glue that holds them together. Once those are off your face, your skin looks smoother. Brighter. Softer. Wrinkles and dark spots have slightly faded, too.

The difference? AHAs also hydrate skin and boost collagen production while BHA rids your skin of blemishes and breakouts.


Anything that removes dead skin cells also makes skin more susceptible to sun damage.

Here’s how it works: dead cells are there, on top of your skin, for a reason: to protect the newer cells that aren’t ready to come to the surface, yet. When you remove an entire layer, you’re thinning skin.

When UV rays hit your face, your skin is less protected. Cue irritations, redness and wrinkles. Ugh. Avoid the drama and use it at night.

P.S. You still need sunscreen in the morning.

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Related: AHAs vs BHA: Which One Should You Choose?

cerave moisturizing lotion

3. Rich Moisturizers + Facial Oils

Balms, oils, intense moisturizers… anything with a rich texture that’s super moisturizing.

Oily skin hates them. Dry skin laps them up. They make it smoother and softer again. When my skin’s going dry and needs that little bit of extra TLC, I turn to these heroes to give it all the moisture it needs to stay soft and supple.


Did you know your skin has an in-built clock (it’s called circadian rhythm)? It’s like an alarm that tells it to do a certain thing at a certain time.

For example, this inner clock tells your skin to produce more sebum (your skin’s natural moisturizer) in the morning, amp up its production a notch or two around midday and slow it way down at night.

It makes sense to use these super moisturizing concotions at the time of day when your skin’s sebum production is at its lowest. (Plus, lightweight lotions make a better base for makeup ;)).

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Related: The Complete Guide To Facial Oil In Skincare: Should You Use One?

medik8 glow oil

4. (Some) Essential Oils

Can I tell you a secret? I’m not a big fan of essential oils.

There, I said it.

I get why lots of you are looking for more natural alternatives, but natural doesn’t always mean better.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that an essential oil is only one ingredient. But, any essential oil is made of lots of different compounds.

Some of these compounds are good. They’re what gives these oils their moisturizing, soothing and anti-aging properties.

Others are not so good. They’re there to protect the plant against aggressors (plants don’t like to be eaten, so they have their own in-built defenses, too) that could cause irritations.

Of course, you can never generalise. Every essential oil is different. Some are more nourishing (me loves some rosehip oil for example) while others are more irritating. And some are best used at night.


Two of the most problematic compounds in essential oils are 5-methoxypsolaren and bergaptene. They act like a magnifying glass, increasing the effects of UV rays on your skin.

Translation? They make your skin more prone to sun damage.

Not all essential oils do this, though. So, what are the main cuprits?

  • Bergamot
  • Bitter orange
  • Grapefruit
  • Lemon
  • Lime

If you really must use them (they smell heavenly, don’t they?), do it at night only.

P.S. Rosehip oil is a natural source of retinol. Use that at night only, too.

Related: Why Rosehip Oil Is My Go-To For Every Skin Woe

drunk elephant c-firma day serum

Should You Use Vitamin C During The Day Or At Night?

You’ve probably heard you should use vitamin C at night, too. That’s not wrong. But, it’s not right, either. It all depends on what side of the debate you’re on.

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant. It keeps skin young and healthy in three different ways:

  1. It destroys the free radicals that cause premature wrinkles
  2. It boosts collagen production, keeping skin firm
  3. It has a slight exfoliating effect that brightens skin and fades dark spots

Like its cousin vitamin A, vitamin C comes in many forms:

  • Ascorbic acid polypeptide
  • Ascorbyl glucosamine
  • Ascorbyl glucoside
  • Ascorbyl palmitate
  • Ester-C
  • Ethyl ascorbic acid
  • L-ascorbic acid (pure form)
  • Magnesium ascorbyl phosphate
  • Sodium ascorbyl palmitate
  • Sodium ascorbyl phosphate
  • Tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate

(If it has “ascorb” somewhere in the name, it’s a form of vitamin C.)


Remember when I said anything that exfoliates the skin thins it, making it more prone to sun damage? That.

A lot of women don’t like to take any risks, so they relegate vitamin C to their night-time skincare routine, when the sun isn’t around to wreak any damage.


Well, if I were to use vitamin C alone, I’d use it at night, too.

But, I prefer to get my dose of vitamin C from serums that let it play with its BFFs, vitamin E and ferulic acid. Together, these antioxidants have been shown to boost one another’s effective AND the protection of your sunscreen.

In other words, if you apply CEF under sunscreen, it’ll give you better sun protection.

But, there’s a catch. You need to apply the right amount of sunscreen needed to reach the SPF level on the bottle. And, you need to reapply it often.

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Related: Vitamin C In Skincare: What Does It Do?

The Bottom Line

The most powerful skincare ingredients rarely get along with the sun. If you’re not 100% religious with sunscreen application (and reapplication), it’s best to err on the safe side and use them at night, only.