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How to tune into your skin's body clock

If you want to optimise your skincare, the key is to get in sync with your natural skin rhythms

Have you noticed how your skin seems to look and feel different throughout the day?  No, it’s not your imagination.

“Almost every bodily function is governed by 24-hour biological cycles called circadian rhythms,” says EV Expert and Holistic Skin and Wellbeing Expert Gemma Clare. “Your skin also has its own circadian rhythms which affect your skin in different ways throughout the day. Understanding the physiological changes and phases your skin goes through within 24 hours can help you to maximise your skincare routine.”

Dr. Satchin Panda, Professor at Salk Institute, San Diego, US, and author of The Circadian Code, explains that circadian rhythms are controlled by circadian clocks which are present in almost every organ and cell.

"These set the timing for bodily processes including the sleep-wake cycle, digestion, absorption, detoxification, metabolism, body temperature, hormone production, immune, muscle and brain function," he says. "Every hormone, brain chemical and enzyme is pre-programmed to peak at optimal times of the day.”

These internal biological clocks are controlled by a master clock in the brain made up of around 20,000 neurons, called the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus (SCN). The SCN receives information (through the eyes) about light and darkness that it communicates with the rest of body.

Gemma Clare explains that as well as becoming more aware of the different phases your skin goes through, you also need to be mindful of your body’s circadian rhythms overall, as the two are inextricably interlinked.

“Youthful looking, healthy skin is dependant on keeping other systems such as your immunity and digestion strong. Bad habits like skipping meals and working late disrupt natural biological cycles. A disturbed sleep-wake cycle, for example, can lower immunity and increase inflammation which not only affects your skin but also makes you susceptible to other health conditions.”

So, what can you do to keep your biological clocks running smoothly? “Circadian rhythms respond to light and dark, so make sure you get a daily dose of natural light. The best time to reset your circadian rhythms is by getting outside first thing in the morning – even if you go for a short walk or sit in the garden for 20 minutes. Many make the mistake of wearing sunglasses all the time, but you need some exposure to light through the eyes (during the day) to keep your body’s circadian rhythms in balance. Making sure you get enough sleep is crucial too, ideally at the same time every day.”

The 24 Hour Skin Cycle


“In the day, skin circadian rhythms are activated by light and skin goes into protect and defence mode,” says Gemma Clare. “Exposure to natural light causes the skin’s protective mechanisms to kick in.”  

  • The skin’s surface temperature is lowest in the morning. If you wake up feeling hot and flushed, this could be a sign that your hormones or adrenals are out of balance.
  • Sebum levels increase. The skin naturally produces more sebum during the day to form a protective barrier. This peaks around midday. Sebum production also goes up when you’re stressed due to increased cortisol levels. So, keeping an eye on stress levels is important. If you’re prone to acne or oily skin, choose skincare that helps keep sebum levels under control. 
  • Natural moisture levels are highest which means your skin is better at holding onto moisture during the day.
  • Skin is thicker and cells reproduce more slowly. It goes into ‘protective’ mode as it’s more exposed to sunlight and environmental factors.  
  • Antioxidant ingredients and protective SPF skincare products work best and are most effective.
  • Skin becomes more permeable from around 4pm. Hydrating, moisturising products are more easily absorbed. 

Products to try

  • ZO Skin Health 10% Vitamin C Self-Activating Serum combines a potent mix of antioxidants, including vitamin C and Coenzyme Q10. Use to protect and brighten your complexion.
  • Paula’s Choice Defense Essential Glow Moisturiser SPF 30 contains an exclusive anti-pollution blend formulated with vitamin and plant-based antioxidants, including kiwi, resveratrol and licorice root extract. Mineral filters provide UV protection. 
  • La Roche-Posay Anthelios AOX Daily Antioxidant Face Serum SPF 50 combines sun protection with a potent antioxidant complex–vitamins C and E, and scutellaria baicalensis root extract (derived from a flowering plant used in Chinese medicine). 
  • Dr Levy pollution Shield 5PF is the world’s only full spectrum pollution shield. Apply over your regular moisturiser and sunscreen to create an invisible shield to repel and prevent penetration from different types of pollution, including blue light. Also contains highly concentrated antioxidants vitamin C, E and Coenzyme Q10.  
  • Murad Essential-C Firming Day Cream contains vitamin C, plant based ceramides and pineapple extract and bacillus ferment, a probiotic peptide to protect, brighten and firm the complexion.


“There’s a reason we call it beauty sleep,” says Gemma. “During the night is the time for skin to repair and regenerate. Melatonin is the hormone the body produces in response to darkness. But, if you’re up all hours looking at your laptop or smartphone, the blue light exposure blocks melatonin production and interferes with the skin’s ability to shut down and heal.”  

  • DNA repair and renewal of skin cells is highest at night.
  • Skin regenerates and repairs more quickly.
  • Skin is warmer and less hydrated. Circadian rhythm changes, regulated by skin cell clocks, contribute to trans epidermal water loss. This makes skin more susceptible to inflammation, rashes and itching. Skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis are more likely to flare up. 
  • Skin is more permeable which makes it more receptive to hydrating products.
  • Retinols, hyaluronic acid, peptides and exfoliating acids work best.

Products to try

  • Skin Bureaux Rest & Reset Night Cream is formulated to repair and detox the skin, improve elasticity and enhance elastin and collagen synthesis. Contains CBG, the plant precursor to CBD, which has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, niacinimide, resveratrol, liposomal retinol, milk thistle and lavender.
  • Medik8 Advanced Night Restore features a skin firming multi-ceramide complex formulated to rejuvenate and plump the skin, and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. 
  • Avene Hyaluron Active B3 Multi-Intensive Night Cream this restorative cream contains retinaldehyde to reduce wrinkles and regenerate cells, hyaluronic acid and niacinamide to hydrate, plump and smooth, and youth-enhancing haritaki fruit extract.
  • Ole Henriksen Dewtopia 20% Acid Night Treatment is a serum formulated with 10% AHA's, including glycolic and lactic acids, 10% polyhydroxy acids, aloe juice, Nordic birch sap and cotton water to renew and boost elasticity.   
  • ZO Skin Health Radical Night Repair is formulated with 1% retinol to improve skin texture, even skin tone and minimise the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

Gemma Clare, Holistic Health Skin & Wellbeing Expert

I am a Holistic Health Skin and Wellbeing expert with 20 years experience working in exclusive settings. My qualifications...

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