Anti-aging & Cosmeceutical Corner

Night Creams: A Dream Come True or Nightmare?

By Navin M. Geria, SpaDermaceuticals | March 31, 2009

We have all read the bold claims for night creams; they moisturize skin during sleep, neutralize free radicals, improve texture, tone skin, firm up sagginess and fade brown spots. Are night creams really helpful in fighting aging? Do they really provide anti-aging benefits or are they worthless and a waste of money?

On these questions, consumers fall into two camps: the true lovers of nature, open air, healthy food and clean skin who insist skin should be allowed to “breathe” as one sleeps and should never be occluded with night cream that can clog pores and create a nightmare of skin rashes and other problems. In contrast, others love their night creams and can’t live without them!

This column examines the opinions ofdermatologists who agree and disagree about the benefits of night creams and the controversies that surround them. It also provides a brief discussion on efficacy enhancing ingredients and the cost.

Consumers’ enthusiasm for smooth, soft skin, with minimal age spots and wrinkles has helped drive sales of facial anti-aging products 45.7% to $437 million from 2003 to 2007, according to Mintel. At the same time, facial moisturizer sales reached $268 million. Night creams fall into both categories.

Meanwhile, Euromonitor predicts that sales of anti-aging products will grow 21% in constant value between 2007 and 2012 to $2.7 billion.

The Dermatologists’ View

According to Dr. P.K. Farris, a Louisiana dermatologist, many night creams contain ingredients of dubious usefulness. While millions of dollars worth of product are sold every year, many dermatologists insist that some products are not worth it.

According to Dr. Leslie Baumann, professor of dermatology at the University of Miami, night cream makers exaggerate the benefits that most women see after using a nighttime moisturizer.

“These companies make outrageous statements, claiming that the skin undergoes all sorts of strange processes at night that it does not during the day. This is patently wrong and without proof,” she insisted.

However all dermatologists concur that some ingredients have proven anti-aging effects. Retinol, vitamin C and certain peptides (proteins) have been proven anti-aging compounds.

Night moisturizers should contain retinol because sunlight renders retinol inactive, according to Dr. Baumann. Retinol is highly effective and is a gold standard for reducing fine lines and wrinkles and is available without prescription. Most people experience a transient stinging sensation on applying retinol creams. Also when using retinol, skin may become photosensitive, so retinol-based creams are best used at nights.

Dermatologists unanimously agree that a good night cream should contain peptides and vitamin C, because they boost collagen production. Doing so reduces wrinkles and helps increase skin firmness. Other effective actives include idebenone, vitamin E, co-enzyme Q-10 and green tea, according to Dr. Baumann.

Seattle-based dermatologist Dr. Sandy Read noted that in order to be effective, night creams must contain the right ingredients in the proper concentrations, and be given time to work—a minimum of five hours a night for eight weeks. If the creams are used only sporadically, the desired results will not be obtained.

“It is sort of like when you need a blood transfusion and instead of putting in an IV, you just splash the blood on your skin,” she noted.

Similarly a moisturizer won’t do any good unless it penetrates, and to do so, it must have time to work. Some dermatologists advocate moisturizing and treating the skin at night. Night creams hydrate and condition the skin during night when normal tissue repair is taking place all over the body including the skin. Skin should be thoroughly cleansed before the night cream is applied. Night creams must be optimized with efficacy-enhancing ingredients to help make them deliver the desired anti-aging benefits.

Consumers should not fall prey to advertisements that promise much and fail to deliver the right ingredients in the right proportion. A quality night cream goes a long way in fighting the effects of aging, soothing skin and boosting collagen production.

Reinforcing the Barrier

Reinforcement of the barrier function requires ingredients such as ceramides, fatty acids, cholesterol, sphingolipids and phospholipids. Soothing ingredients include aloe vera, chamomile, feverfew and allantoin. Hydrating ingredients include sodium PCA, a natural moisturizing factor (NMF) and glycerin. Both hydrate the skin without adding excess emollients that would clog pores. Other suitable ingredients are sodium hyaluronate and butylene glycol. Emollients protect against excess water loss, preventing dehydration. Popular emollients include caprylic/ capric triglycerides, dimethicone, jojoba oil, squalane and cyclomethicone. Effective humectants include urea, propylene glycol, sorbitol and glycerin.

A recent study has found that the skin’s temperature increases during sleep and that warmer skin absorbs more of a product’s active ingredients. It is therefore better to select a treatment cream that is packed with vitamins and proven anti-aging actives to gain the benefits while you sleep.

Solid Support

According to Dr. Baumann, inexpensive brands backed by multinational brands, such as Neutrogena, L’Oréal, Revlon, Olay, Dove, Pond’s and Aveeno, often have the resources to perform scientific studies to identify effective formula and prove that they work. In these tough economic times, it is very important to remember this advice.

Some women feel so overwhelmed by myriad ingredient and formulation choices that they abandon night creams altogether, choosing instead to sleep bare-faced. However, it is important to note that the night cream category’s staying power is most probably due to satisfied consumers.

Benefits are perceived because night creams work with the body’s natural healing cycle that takes place during sleep. Everything from melanin production to stimulation of growth hormone, which promotes fibroblast health and allows more production of collagen and elastin to keep skin tout and firm to cellular repair, is associated with this cycle.

About the Author
Navin M. Geria is vice president of research and development for SpaDermaceuticals, Martinsville, NJ. He has more than 30 years of experience in the personal care industry and was previously with Pfizer, Warner-Lambert, Schick, Bristol-Myers and, most recently, LeDerma Consumer Products Laboratories. He has earned over 15 U.S. patents, has been published in cosmetic trade magazines and has been both a speaker and moderator at cosmetic industry events. E-mail: