Night Creams vs. Night Masks: What's the Difference (If There Even Is One)?

You can sleep your way to better skin! Ew, not like that.
Publish date:
December 16, 2015
masks, Mario Badescu, amorepacific, Laneige, Glossier, sleeping masks, night creams, Belif, Night Masks

"Beauty sleep" is a pretty fabled turn of phrase that usually involves some sort of alarm clock by way of smooching from a dude born into royalty. The concept of beauty sleep is legit, though, considering your body succumbs to all sorts of wacky dysfunction when sleep-deprived, as does your skin.

Night cream won't make up for lack of sleep, but it's a good way to make your sleep more productive. They usually contain more hydrating and nourishing ingredients and feel a bit richer on your skin than daytime moisturizers. Night masks or sleeping packs, however, are a relatively new concept, at least in the Western hem. They're basically worn just like a night cream, but they do the job of night cream in exponentially more powerful ways… allegedly.

So, what’s the deal? Is there actually a big difference?

Yes, actually.

Night creams have your vitamins, your skin-soothing, hydrating, and protective ingredients. It’s the down comforter for your face. Night masks and sleeping packs are like night creams on steroids (without actual steroids). They contain all of the nourishing and uber-hydrating ingredients of a night cream but also offer serum-like abilities to repair, brighten, and anti-age, plus moisturize like crazy while sealing in all the treatments from whichever serums you layer underneath.

If you’re prone to dry skin, a night mask can do your thirsty skin wonders used once or twice weekly. If you’re on the combination/oily side, fear not — you can still use a sleeping pack, especially if your skin concerns err on the side of pigmentation-correction or pore-refining; there’s a mask for that. These masks don’t feel like Vaseline or your familiar clay mask. They’re usually a thick gel-like texture that absorbs into your skin, though some can leave a shiny layer (mind you, I’ve never actually woken up with a mask-soaked pillow case in the AM).

If you’re like, “Nah, face goop at night creeps me out,” that’s cool — stick to night cream. The reason a night cream works better than just repeating your day cream is that, a) it lacks SPF that a day cream would have, which you obviously don’t need at night and for some super-sensitive folks could be an added potential irritant, and b) night creams are heavier and thus richer in skin food than a day cream that probably just aims to keep your skin from cracking apart while barely steering clear of a midday oil-slick.

Day cream is like that friend in a horror film that’s all, “Yeah, it’s totally a good idea to explore this haunted abandoned hospital — I’ll take us because I’m the only one whose parents bought them a car for their sweet 16,” but then bounces at the first sign of impending danger/ghosts. Night cream is like the good spirit trapped in said haunted hospital that’s been looking over and protecting you the whole time.

Is this a really weird analogy for face cream? Yeah. But do you maybe understand face creams more? I maybe hope so.

Some of my favorite night creams are ones that promote skin-brightening or cell renewing/repair. My two favorites for a while have been from Mario Badescu Bee Pollen Night Cream and Seaweed Night Cream. Both have that perfect balance of heavy versus light. I tend to stick to the Bee Pollen one since my skin is normal to dry, but seaweed comes in to save the day during a break out, since it’s oil-free.

For reasons known to me only as compulsion and curiosity, I own an alarming amount of night masks, sleeping packs, whatever — night goo. The top one in rotation for me right now is Laneige Water Sleeping Mask. It has apricot and chestnut extract for brightening and re-texturizing abilities, and it looks like a translucent light blue goo but absorbs fairly quickly. After applying this one, I always wake up fully plumped with all rough patches thoroughly quenched.

Belif Brightening Overnight Mask is pretty rad—it's my go-to when I'm feeling like my skin is getting dull. It features black truffle extract as the main brightening agent and has a quickly absorbing formula that looks and feels like any face cream. It's fairly light as far as a sleeping mask goes, so subbing it in for a night cream might be an okay idea. I definitely notice that upon waking, my skin looks more even and much dewier.

Also, sleep hack: I’m not against slathering on a moisture mask (the non-sleep kind) or a super-rich moisturizer and using that as a sort of “sleeping pack.” I started doing that with AmorePacific Moisture Bound Sleeping Recovery Mask, originally because I really like the smell, but after a few days in a row of patting on a small blob nightly, my face was perma-dew status.

I tried the same tactic with the Glossier Moisturizing Moon Mask, but it's fragrance-free as far as I can tell, so while I was indeed hydrated, I was not so much lulled to sleep by a delicate floral scent. Lots of people are anti-fragrance in skincare, which I generally agree with, but I am cool with it if it's non-synthetic (and doesn't react adversely with my skin). I'll leave that fussing up to you.

  • Have any of you tried using a sleeping mask for a night cream?
  • Do any of you also chant "night beauty, night beauty!" to the tune of "Night Fever"? Oh, just me? OK then...