In the movies, the heroine always wakes up looking perfectly refreshed and gorgeous. Sure, she may have Hollywood magic on her side, but the rest of us have a potent beauty weapon too: sleep!
It turns out, there really is such a thing as beauty sleep. "Sleep allows the body to go into several stages of non-REM and REM cycles for restoration of body functions," says Dr. Vermén M. Verallo-Rowell, a research dermatologist.
Further, the emerging science of chronobiology -- the study of the impact of biological rhythms and their effects on the body -- has uncovered subtle differences in skin behavior at night. The skin is more permeable; it expends fewer defenses against the daytime's free radicals, pollution and sun damage; and oil production is lower. All these changes help active ingredients absorb more effectively at 2 a.m. than at 2 p.m.
Here's a guide to the types of treatments and products that work their magic in the dark.
Sometimes called "deep conditioners" or "reparative masks," these temporary leave-on hair products can work even better when they're allowed hours, not minutes, to absorb deeply into the hair shaft. Before bedtime, massage the mask along the ends and mid-shaft of dry hair and comb through. Rinse and style as usual in the morning.
Quick-absorbing, lightweight hydrators with built-in sunscreen are perfect for protecting the skin during the day and providing a satiny base for your makeup. Nighttime is when you'll want to slather on the thicker, richer, more emollient moisturizers that may look greasy but provide more reparative moisture benefits. This deeply penetrating moisture can have a carryover benefit into the daytime.
Dermatologists suggest that patients use over-the-counter and stronger prescription retinoids (tretinoin, tazarotene, adapalene) only at night because these topical forms of vitamin A can degrade in light and make the skin more vulnerable to sun damage and more likely to burn. "They have become the gold standard of what dermatologists recommend to help exfoliate, lighten brown spots, stimulate collagen production and clean out pores," says Dr. D'Anne Kleinsmith, a Michigan cosmetic dermatologist.
Active Treatment Products
Many treatment products work best when they're not competing with layers of cosmetics and sunscreen, says Dr. Patricia Farris, a Louisiana dermatologist. What's more, active ingredients such as salicylic acid, which exfoliates dead skin cells, as well as peptides -- tiny proteins that stimulate collagen to help reduce the signs of aging -- are most effective when they're not being diluted by perspiration or fending off daytime environmental stressors like pollution and sunlight. The increased blood flow to skin at night, along with nocturnal water loss, may help these ingredients better penetrate the skin's barrier layers.
Products made to soften rough skin on the feet or hands are likely to get the best results if they're applied at bedtime. Many include alpha hydroxy acids (lactic, glycolic and citric acids) that penetrate the outermost layer of skin to promote exfoliation. Or, try this softening treatment suggested by Dr. C. Ralph Daniel III, clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Mississippi Medical Center: Soak hands and feet in room-temperature water for up to five minutes. Apply an extra-thick moisturizer, such as shea butter or petroleum jelly. For the best overnight penetration, pull on a pair of light cotton gloves or socks.
Some extra-strength antiperspirants are specially formulated for nighttime use, but a regular formula can also be more potent during the night's optimum conditions. "For people who have problems with excessive perspiration, it makes a lot of sense to apply an antiperspirant before you go to bed," says Kleinsmith. "When you're not already perspiring, you can block the sweat glands more easily and let the medication work more effectively."
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