There’s a reason why your complexion looks perkier in the morning (really), and a little ropey after a long day, plus why you’re experiencing a sebum slick come lunchtime. Here’s how your circadian rhythm impacts everything from skin ageing to sunburn…
Skin: it can go haywire on us seemingly without provocation, as anyone suffering from the likes of acne , sensitive skin or inflammatory conditions such as eczema will attest. Of course skincare and diet play a key role in keeping skin healthy and high functioning, but the impact that our body clock (circadian rhythm) has on our skin, both within a 24 hour cycle and long term, and how we shape our lifestyles around the ticking of said internal clock, represents a seriously exciting area of research that we’re only just touching upon.
Three scientists were awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine for their discovery of a gene that determines the body’s daily rhythms , with implications on how we understand the development of disease, and how we can synchronise our internal body clock with our external environment and lifestyle to optimise our health and wellbeing. How this plays out for our skin isn’t yet fully understood, but this is what we do know about how the skin functions in a 24 hour period, and how you can harness the potential of time to maximise your skin gains and use the skincare that’ll benefit you most at your greatest time of need. You’ll basically be a skincare timelord after this…
Our circadian rhythm dictates that body temperature rises around dawn, and to make things a bit meta, our skin cells have their own individual body clocks, regulated by a “master” clock in our brain. So far, so sci-fi. The rise in body temperature triggers our ‘wake’ cycle’ yet at this stage of game, our sebum levels, while rising, are relatively low. Meanwhile, as neurophysiologist and This Works CEO Anna Persaud explains, chances are that once we’ve rubbed our bleary eyes, our skin looks freshest first thing:
“The epidermal (skin) stem cell creates new cells replacing the aged ones. This proliferation occurs mainly late at night – early morning, when the body is supposed to be at rest and not disturbed. Hence the importance of keeping a sleep-wake schedule.
“The skin appears more attractive in the morning – after a good night sleep, probably due in part to the proliferation of new cells at night.”
Shiny new skin cells may not be the only reason for a plump morning glow:
“There is a daily periodicity of wrinkle appearance. In the morning, after a night's sleep, the face may swell masking wrinkles. During the day, due to gravity fluid shifts to the lower part of the body reinforcing the appearance of wrinkles in the evening.”
This is more ‘physics’ than body clock related per se, but it’s part and parcel of the great continuum of space and time in which we’re living. Getting a bit Brian Cox here so let’s move on to your coffee hour...
You’re at peak face right now according to Anna:
“Skin hydration (namely water and glycerol) is necessary to maintain a protective barrier against infection and dehydration. The water content of the skin has a daily rhythm with minimum loss, through the pores of the skin, in the morning and an increased water loss during the night. The water content of the outermost layer of the skin (with cells containing keratin, a fibrous protective protein) and the oily surface on the skin are important factors in the appearance and function of the skin. High water content and a low sebum (oil) secretion are considered main features for a good skin.
“The brilliance of the complexion (skin tone, luminosity, brightness and transparency) and texture of the facial skin have been reported to exhibit a daily rhythm with a best appearance in the morning – according to a study peaking around 10 am.”
All well and good if you’re adhering to your body’s natural circadian rhythm, but if you’re one of the 50 per cent of Brits experiencing disturbed sleep , that mid-morning radiance may be evading you. While you can’t cheat your body clock (more on that later), you can boost the skin’s hydration levels and get your circulation going to fake it until you ‘wake it’. The just-launched Lumity Morning Awaken facial, designed by super facialist to Meghan Markle and Alicia Keys Nichola Joss in collaboration with Cambridge research scientist and Lumity founder Sara Palmer Hussey PhD, aims to mimic the effect of well-rested morning skin in a 60 minute window. Blood flow stimulating acupressure massage and sculpting lymphatic drainage techniques combined with the use of the natural, bioavailable (i.e, absorbable) plant based Lumity Skin Nutrients Facial Oil , £48 for 30ml, helps to temporarily lift the face and instil a glow while cushioning skin with vitamin-rich lipids and a blood supply and fibroblast synthesising centella asiatica plant extract. Speaking of fibroblasts...
Fibroblasts sounds pretty dynamic by name, which is apt considering that these particular skin cells are the body’s paramedics, responding to damage and rushing to the site a wound quickly to promote fast healing. Why is timing relevant here?
The ability of fibroblasts to work effectively seems to ebb and flow in a 24 hour cycle, and a study published last month by the UK’s MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology revealed a very intriguing connection between how fibroblasts function in line with our circadian rhythm, and how quickly our skin and body recovers from damage. A study of 118 burns patients treated within the NHS found that burns sustained at night took almost a month to heal (28 days), while burns sustained during the day healed over an average of 17 days. Further lab investigation concluded that fibroblasts were at their most powerful and efficient during the day, but far less agile and active at night. In theory, researchers estimate that this discovery could help us schedule surgery and treatment according to patient’s body clocks, optimising healing potential and possibly even saving the NHS money in the long term. Such rhythmic synchronization of body clocks and NHS services remains a pipe dream at present, but it’s certainly an idea that shows promise.
As for other less exciting noontime skin activity, if you’re experiencing a T-zone oil spill, you’re not imagining it, as Professor Badre confirms:
“There are glands on the skin producing an oily, waxy substance (sebum) which waterproofs and lubricates the skin and hair. Sebum also protects the skin against infections. Enzymes on the skin’s surface gradually decompose the sebum.
“The glands secreting sebum have a day rhythm in terms of oil excretion; many scientific authors have demonstrated an excretion peak around midday (12pm-3pm) with the lowest levels in the late evening. Increase in skin temperature may cause an increase in sebum excretion- skin temperature is affected by several external and internal factors (blood pressure and blood flow may peak at this time) as well as hormone levels causing seasonal and daily variations.”
Circadia Daytime Control Lotion ( see here for stockists ) was developed with just this sebum spike in mind, with phytosterols to inhibit sebum production, antimicrobial peptides to reinforce the skin’s natural defense mechanism and help to keep breakouts at bay, alongside anti-inflammatory plant extracts and vitamin E to both increase skin hydration and aid in the fight against skin cell degrading free-radicals. Speaking of which...
Come afternoon, your skin has likely weathered the greatest onslaught from environmental factors such as pollution, external temperature, air conditioning and central heating and UV radiation, all of which can throw skin cells’ natural ‘clocks’ into a spin. Protecting yourself by way of SPF and possibly dabbling in some anti-pollution skincare options could help to ward off damage, and extra defences are always a good idea in terms of preserving the skin barrier pre-evening, when natural skin defences are at their weakest.
That said, according to Anna, skin cell’s DNA repair capabilities are strong in the afternoon, with cell synthesis taking place most commonly in the afternoon and evening. You’re actually the most likely to sustain sunburn induced cell death after early morning UV exposure compared to an afternoon sunbathing session according to the skin’s circadian rhythms, however, this is of course dependent on the level of exposure and whether you’ve protected your skin by way of SPF in the first place (Baz said it first- “everybody’s free to wear sunscreen.” Please do).
Your skin’s barrier is becoming more permeable, which is bad news in terms of irritants and pollutants, but good news as far as product penetration is concerned. The concept of a night cream, it seems, isn’t total beauty brand bull, and it’s while you’re winging your way into evening that your skin is most likely to reap the rewards of any reparative molecules you’re feeding it, as Circadia founder Dr Peter Pugliese attests that skin cell proliferation (the creation of new cells) is 20 to 30 per cent higher in the evening and at night than during the day. Now would be a good time to apply your most potent rejuvenating lotions and potions. Elemis Peptide⁴ Night Recovery Cream Oil , £49 for 30ml, was tweaked with skin cell ‘clock’ synthesis in mind, delivering a tetra-peptide to support the skin’s natural repair processes, alongside an omega fatty acid and antioxidant blend for barrier strengthening and hydration when your skin needs it most, as water loss is at its highest at nighttime. Moving onto the witching hour...
Itchy and scratchy? Apparently this is the most common time to experience skin irritation and inflammation, and the reasons are often twofold according to Anna:
“If you experience itchy skin, it is likely to be exacerbated at night, and this can be related to the circadian rhythm and changes in skin physiology and its barrier function which is more permeable in the evening compared to the morning. It has been suggested that water loss and increased skin blood flow may contribute to the increased itching experienced at night by eczema sufferers .
“Controlling external temperature can help, as heat is known to aggravate itching. Nocturnal itching may also have a psychological component, exacerbation due to lack of external stimuli and boredom.”
So if you’re tossing and turning due to itching, there could be a vicious cycle underway. Applying any prescribed medicated or soothing creams pre-bedtime will not only help to keep itching to a minimum, but also be better absorbed last thing in the day, which alongside a cool bedroom environment could help to exterminate the itch. Opt for richer creams if you’re prone to dryness in general too- This Works No Wrinkles Midnight Moisture , £46 for 48ml, combines skin cell revving retinol with moisture-binding hyaluronic acid and nourishing plant butters and extracts to conserve moisture as the repair process gets underway.
To end the ‘a day in the life of your skin’ adventure, as long as you’re not experiencing a nocturnal flare-up, the wee hours offer the greatest opportunity for skin repair and recovery, if you’re getting enough rest yourself that is. Playing god with our own body clocks will catch up on us in the end, as Sara Palmer Hussey point out:
“If we can respect and support our circadian rhythm, by not pushing its boundaries with poor sleep patterns and shift work, our health, including our skin health will thank us for it. The disruption of our circadian rhythm results in increased oxidative stress and accelerated ageing. It also disrupts the secretion of melatonin , an endogenous antioxidant and sleep hormone, that plays a vital role in the repair cycle of sleep. Another vital hormone disrupted is Human Growth Hormone, considered by many as a fountain of youth for its crucial role in repairing and renewing all tissues in the body, including the skin.”
Easier said than done if you work nights, are a new parent or suffer from regular bouts of insomnia , but the likes of regular exercise, exposing yourself to light and dark at the right times of the day and establishing a wake-up and wind-down routine can help. The importance of decompressing in the evening was also the inspiration behind the Lumity Night Facial, similar in concept to the morning facial and using the same oil blend, but with a focus on smaller circular movements to melt away muscular tension and stress and pressure point stimulation to foster calm and encourage a good night’s sleep. I’ve tried it, and the most impressive takeaway for me was that Nichola evicted a crop of spots from my chin, but I did sleep more than my usual six hours that night and didn’t experience the usually constant whirring of work emails in the back of my brain, so that’s something. In short, skincare can be genius, but there’s ‘sleep in a bottle’ substitute. With that, I’m logging off.