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The difference between sleeping masks and night cream

What’s the Difference Between a Sleeping Mask and a Night Cream?

Night creams and overnight sleeping masks may seem similar, but they actually have a different purpose and offer different results. Discover when and why to use each product below.

With just about a million different skin care categories (OK, we’re being a bit melodramatic), it’s no wonder things can get a bit confusing when it comes to your regimen. For your beauty edification, we’ve thoroughly hashed out the difference between cleaning oil and cleansing balm, a toner and an essence, and of course serums and ampoules. Today we’re unpacking the difference between night creams and K-Beauty sleeping masks (also referred to as sleeping packs).

What is a Night Cream?

Night creams have remained a steadfast part of skin care regimens for many years, and we bet you probably already have a few favorites you routinely slather on. In short, a night cream is simply a very hydrating moisturizer that you apply as either the final step in your nighttime regimen, or as the penultimate step if you prefer to do an oil last. Think of night creams as a way to seal in the other products you’ve applied and a way to double-down on hydration.
“In general, a night cream provides overall general nourishment and hydration which helps to balance the skin on a daily basis. They also help protect your skin overnight,” explains Elina Fedotova, a celebrity esthetician and owner of her own eponymous spa. “You can apply a thin or a thick layer, but if you like a thick application, then I recommend leaving it on for five minutes and then absorbing any excess product with a facial tissue. Alternatively, you can simply use a thin layer of cream all over.”

A night cream can be used daily, is left on overnight, and doesn’t need to be rinsed off in the morning. However, if you do have excess product when you wake up then you can either massage it into the skin, wipe it away, or gently rinse.

What is a Sleeping Mask (or Sleeping Pack)?

The biggest difference between a sleeping mask and a night cream is the potency of the ingredients. While a night cream is gentle enough to be used every night, think of a sleeping mask as more of a twice or thrice weekly treatment. To draw an analogy, think of night creams as your ritual cup of gentle chamomile tea, whereas sleeping masks are like the hot cocoa you may treat yourself to every once in a while.

“Generally speaking, sleeping masks are usually a more direct and intensive corrective treatment compared to a nighttime moisturizer,” says Fedotova. In that sense, they’re more congruent with the targeted treatment masks you’re probably already using, only instead of being rinsed away after 10 to 30 minutes, you leave them on overnight and rinse in the morning. (On that note, sleeping masks are specially formulated to not be goopy or messy, because your pillow deserves better than that.)

The primary goal of sleeping masks is almost always to seriously hydrate and improve your general complexion. For instance, Laneige’s Water Sleeping Mask ($23) is a gel-based formula that absorbs quickly and intensely hydrates to nix dullness, improve texture, reduce fine lines and wrinkles, and relieve dryness. Enature’s Birch Juice Hydro Sleeping Pack ($28) does the same, only it hydrates with 74% birch tree sap, soothing chamomile, and plantain seed extracts.

Bottom Line

Like treatment masks, sleeping masks aren’t a mandatory part of your skin care regimen whereas a night cream really ought to be used nightly. They certainly can be helpful, though, and the AM glow they serve can be quite addicting. On nights where you opt to apply a sleeping pack, you do not need to apply a night cream.

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