Experts Love This Prototype Evening Skincare Routine for All Ages and Skin Types

Is there a perfect evening skincare routine? In short, there's one that can definitely work for you, but no two skincare routines are the same. If the evening skincare products that once worked for you haven't been giving what they should be giving lately, there's a good chance it's because they need an update. Your skin, like all organs, is subject to change and needs specific support.

Luckily, finding the right product lineup for your evenings can transform your skin and, with some expert guidance, isn't nearly as hard as you may suspect. I tapped two board-certified dermatologists and an aesthetician for their advice on how to completely transform the way you think of your evening skincare routine. Keep reading to discover the steps you should be taking and the holy-grail products to consider using pre–beauty sleep.


(Image credit: @emmahoreau)

What Should Be in an Evening Skincare Routine?

"An evening skincare routine should always begin with cleansing the skin of oil, dirt, makeup, and other pollutants that may have accumulated on the face during the course of the day," board-certified dermatologist Julia Schwartz MD, FAAD, explains. This step is vital to make sure your skin is fresh, healthy, and ready for the active ingredients to follow. Next, Schwartz recommends applying a toner and serum, focusing on using your skincare products from thinnest to thickest for them to be most effective.

If appropriate for your skin type, follow up with retinol (or a retinol alternative) to renew the skin and promote epidermal cellular turnover. Finish off your evening skincare with an ultra-nourishing moisturizer, and gently dab on an eye cream to help combat fine lines, wrinkles, and dark circles. "Moisturizing is a crucial step in the skincare routine especially if you have dry skin or are using active ingredients that can irritate the skin barrier," Schwartz says. Is your skin craving extra moisture? It might be time to add a sleeping mask or overnight treatment. 

Tailoring the Routine to Your Skincare Needs

Celebrity aesthetician Ian Michael Crumm encourages tailoring your routine to your skin's specific needs, as everyone's skin is unique. "If you have specific skin concerns, consult with a dermatologist or aesthetician for personalized guidance," he suggests. If you have aging skin, for example, Crumm recommends opting for products with retinol, peptides, and antioxidants. In that same vein, your skin type (combination, dry, oily, or normal) should be taken into consideration while piecing together an effective evening skincare routine. Even a change in weather pattern or season can influence the behavior of your skin! Your age can also majorly influence what products should be a part of your nightly skincare routine.

Up until a couple years ago, my skin type was normal, but within a month or so of my 24th birthday, I noticed it was feeling a lot drier, which called for transitioning products in and out of my skincare routine. For dry skin types, board-certified dermatologist Teresa Song, MD, FAAD, of Marmur Medical recommends using a non-foaming, hydrating cleanser followed by moisturizer, retinol, and then a second application of moisturizer, also known as the sandwich method, to offset potential retinoid irritation. "If still feeling dry, one can even add in a hydrating serum prior to moisturizer application," says Song.

Alternatively, oily and acne-prone skin can benefit the most from foaming or non-foaming cleansers alternated with a sulfur-based face wash twice a week. According to Song, if cream-based moisturizers feel too heavy, but your skin tolerates retinol well, consider moisturizers with water-gel textures. If you fall into this category, prescription retinoid usage may also be effective. Unsure of where to start? There's a fast and easy way to determine which products to try without breaking the bank or putting your skin's health at risk.

Revamping the Evening Product Lineup

Song suggests simplifying your routine by using up the products you have and then adding one new product at a time, identifying repeated ingredients. "To ensure products are helpful, look for the key essential ingredients that will benefit your routine," Song explains. "If budgeting, I would recommend spending less on the face wash and more on the retinoid and moisturizer. I also recommend patients to potentially try a travel size or obtain samples before making a full purchase, or seek advice from a board-certified dermatologist to go over your routine."

Schwartz agrees and says using redundant active ingredients is one of the biggest faux pas in a skincare routine. "An acne face wash, spot treatment, and cream that all have the same ingredient, salicylic acid. I love salicylic acid for acne, but it is probably overkill to use it in three steps of your routine," she says. At its heart, a simple evening skincare routine should have a cleanser, a treatment, and a moisturizer. Schwartz also recommends adding a retinoid (aka, the holy grail of all anti-aging products). She cites retinoids as playing a vital role in skin rejuvenation and decreasing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles paired with a skin-barrier-supporting moisturizer.

Don't be afraid to ask your dermatologist for guidance—that's what they're there for. If you have any doubts about the products you should be using, need help determining your skin type, or have general questions about the steps in a skincare routine, they're the best source. To find out how to create the "perfect" evening skincare routine with the help of dermatologists and an aesthetician, however, you're in the right place. Below are the steps and products you should consider using nightly before you hit the sheets.

The Prep: Makeup Removal

Step 1: Cleanse the Skin

Step 2: Use an Exfoliant


(Image credit: @itsmayalala)

Step 3: Refresh With Toner

Step 4: Lock in Moisture

Optional: Apply Eye Cream

Optional: Reverse Time With Retinol

Maya Thomas
Assistant Beauty Editor
Maya Thomas is Who What Wear's assistant beauty editor based just outside of Seattle, Washington. Her strong love for all things beauty and fashion stems from a strong childhood interest in the fine arts. During a gap year spent in Paris studying the history of French fashion, she shifted her focus to English literature and journalism as a student at Loyola Marymount University with the goal of one day pursuing a career in fashion. After graduating in May 2021, Maya began freelancing for as a contributing commerce writer while also building a following on her lifestyle blog, When she's not writing, Maya spends her free time catching up on reading, perusing art galleries, and enjoying a night out at the ballet every now and then.