And do I need both?

By Patricia Shannon
October 16, 2019
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Generic Moisturizer Bottle
Credit: Jose A. Bernat Bacete/Getty Images

Let's start with the facts: Yes, you can use your day cream at night or your night cream during the day—if you must. There are several reasons why certain creams are labeled for AM or PM use and it centers on a few things such as active ingredients with potential photosensitivity side effects, SPF, and viscosity of the formula. Let's get down to the nitty gritty on day cream vs. night cream.

Day creams are typically formulated with SPF, making your daily sun protection a no-brainer. Day creams are also developed to play nice with makeup. A good daytime moisturizer won't clump or peel under makeup, instead it should make a smooth, perfectly hydrated canvas that's primed and ready for foundation, concealer, blush, and whatever other tricks your makeup bag holds. In the market for a new day cream? Try Aveeno Absolutely Ageless Daily Facial Moisturizer with Broad Spectrum SPF 30, ($18.77).

When it comes to night creams, they often feel a bit more luxurious upon application, like Kiehl's Ultra Facial Overnight Hydrating Mask ($35). They're designed to work on rejuvenating, moisturizing, and/or smoothing your skin all night long. The formula is typically thicker than your standard day cream and also doesn't include SPF. A night cream also tends to come equipped with anti-aging ingredients (such as retinol and glycolic acid) that can make your skin more sensitive to light sources. So rather than avoiding lights all day, which could get kind of tricky, they're utilized in products designed to work their magic overnight. That being said, you still need to pay particular attention to applying SPF during the day even after you've removed your night cream. These potent players keep working after you wash your face in the morning, which means there's still an increased chance of skin sensitivity up to a week or more after the last use.

WATCH: What Should You Put On First: Sunscreen or Moisturizer?

All of this to say, you don't necessarily need to invest in separate AM and PM skincare routines as long as you're not using the most powerful active ingredients that can also cause photosensitivity. Using a moisturizer with SPF at night won't hurt but going out in the sun with a layer of retinol or glycolic acid isn't advisable—even when paired with a layer of SPF.