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AM or PM: When Should You Be Applying Your Favorite Products and Actives?

If you’re into skincare, chances are you have a vanity full of products with effective, active ingredients meant to make targeted, long-term improvements to your skin. After all, that’s what’s in all of your anti-aging serums, spot treatments, and moisturizers. But did you know that when you apply these actives is almost as important as what you’re applying?

Here, we discuss when you should apply your favorite active go-to’s and why.

Let’s dive in.

First: What Are Actives?

As the name suggests, actives are “active” multi-functional ingredients meant to make a targeted improvement to your skin. They can reduce hyperpigmentation, diminish the appearance of fine lines, fight free radical-related skin damage, or effectively address a slew of other skin concerns. And there’s data to back up that they really work.

Many of your go-to ingredients then, including vitamin C, retinol, and glycolic acid, fall under the umbrella of actives. And of course, you can find them in many of your products, including cleansers, serums, oils, and moisturizers.

AM Actives

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Many actives protect against sun or environmental stressors, so it makes sense that you would apply these right before you’re actually about to face those aggressors aka in the morning. These include:

SPF Ingredients

This one might be a no-brainer, but SPF ingredients - including zinc oxide and titanium dioxide - should definitely be applied in the morning if you expect them to do their job.

Ideally, they should also be reapplied every one to four hours, depending on how much time you’re spending outdoors or how much you’ve been sweating.

Look for a sunscreen that:

  • Provides broad-spectrum protection, meaning that it protects against UVA and UVB damage (normal sunscreen only tackles UVB)
  • Is at least SPF 30, which is proven to filter out 97% of harmful rays
  • Contains skin-safe and environmentally safe ingredients like avobenzone, oxybenzone, titanium dioxide, and zinc oxide
  • Avoids harmful ingredients like oxybenzone, avobenzone, and retinyl palmitate

You can read more about how to find a great sunscreen (and how to avoid the bad ones) here.

Vitamin C

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This one might be a surprise, but it makes sense if you really think about it. Vitamin C is a skin brightener. It also boosts collagen and provides amazing antioxidant protection to the skin, protecting against free radical damage caused by the sun, smoke, pollution, etc.

Well, when are you going to be exposed to environmental aggressors and sun damage? During the day. Which is why AM application of vitamin C - and other antioxidants - makes a lot of sense.

Now, that isn’t to say that it won’t workin the evening - and you can consider applying twice a day if you’re using a gentle, non-irritating, and hydrating formula. But you’ll get more preventative care and skin protection if you apply in the morning.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a natural component of healthy skin. While it’s often overshadowed by trendy newcomer ingredients, this powerful (yet gentle!) antioxidant can effectively defend the skin by neutralizing free radicals caused by pollution and other environmental stressors. This strengthens, tightens, and firms skin over time - oh, and it adds moisture too!

Just like with vitamin C, you’ll get a lot of bang for your buck if you apply a vitamin E-rich, organic moisturizer in the mornings.


Known as niacinamide in skincare products, vitamin B3 helps support the skin, brain, nervous system, and blood cells. As niacinamide, there’s significant evidence that this vitamin can reduce signs of aging and fade dark spots.

Niacinamide is easily absorbed by the skin, and it works by gradually lightening pigment over the course of a few months. It’s also one of the few ingredients that can reduce inflammation and sebum (oil) production, which can balance oily complexion and minimize acne.

As it’s well tolerated by most people, niacinamide can be used twice a day every day (and feel free to use it with vitamin C to get maximum benefits from both of these powerhouse ingredients).

PM Actives

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In general, AHA's work by dissolving the bonds that hold dead skin cells to the surface of your skin. That exfoliates the skin evenly, encourages cell turnover, increases skin repair, and helps nutrients reach the inner layers of the skin. This comes with lots of visible benefits, including:

  • Improved skin texture
  • Balanced skin tone
  • Increased hydration
  • Diminished lines and wrinkles
  • Reduced signs of sun damage, including wrinkles and crepey skin

The most thoroughly researched of these are glycolic and lactic acids – and glycolic acid is generally considered to be the most effective because it’s the smallest molecule of the bunch and therefore the most easily absorbed.

That said, AHAs are known to increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun, so your brightening and resurfacing serums should definitely be used in the evenings - and only two to four times a week.


BHAs, or beta-hydroxy acids, also “unglue” the bonds that hold dead skin to the face, helping to gently exfoliate over time. Like AHA's, benefits include:

  • Improved look and feel of the skin
  • Smoother texture and fewer imperfections
  • Increased hydration
  • Diminished fine lines and wrinkles

BHA's specialize in unclogging pores to maintain oil balance, prevent ingrown hairs, and fight underlying congestion.

The most commonly used BHA is salicylic acid. Its molecules are even smaller than glycolic acid.

Like AHAs, BHAs can make your skin more sun-sensitive, so if these products are in your regimen, you should definitely use them in the evening.

Overnight Moisturizers 

The time you spend sleeping doesn't just rejuvenate your mind - it's also a great time to focus on your skin and any big-deal hydration that it might need. Think about it: you have (hopefully) eight hours to let a product soak in, and you're not likely to rub it off as you would during the day.

That's why so many companies offer fantastic overnight moisturizers like Night Shift, which features powerful skin-regenerative peptides, hyaluronic acid, and organic licorice root benefits that improve tone and texture. 

So if your skin needs a little extra dose of moisture or TLC, nighttime is the perfect time to make that happen. 

Don’t Forget Everything Else

Remember, while these actives can provide a lot of skin benefits, they can also tire your skin or throw off its balance if they’re not used alongside other strengthening, anti-inflammatory, and skin-balancing ingredients.

So don’t neglect the rest of your skincare routine, and make sure that you regularly use skin-supporting helpers like:

You can find all the products you need for a comprehensive, effective skincare routine - including actives and everything else - in the All In Routine. Not ready to fully commit? Test out trial-sized versions in the Discovery Kit.