Dear Daniela: Is Sleeping In Your Makeup Really That Big A Deal?

Dear Daniela,
I never ever wash my makeup off before bed – is that really such a big deal? The way people go on you'd swear it was punishable by death. Is it actually some kind of cardinal sin or is it okay?
Katy, 37
Well, let me start by saying you’re not alone, as legendary makeup artist and doyenne of Hollywood glamour, Charlotte Tilbury sleeps in her makeup. Of course, being Charlotte Tilbury, she doesn’t just clamber into bed with a day’s worth of makeup on. Oh no, she fully cleanses, moisturises – the whole nine yards – then reapplies what she calls "a bedroom eye" of liner and mascara. She also told a former boss of mine that she gave birth wearing Agent Provocateur, and while I have no proof whatsoever that it’s true, it’s somehow the most plausible thing I’ve ever heard.
The short answer is yes, you probably should take off your makeup before bed (I’ll get into the particulars in a moment), but I’m more curious as to why you don’t currently. Do you find it impossible to remember, and only have that lightbulb moment once you’re already tucked up in bed? If so, a solution (though still not ideal) could be to keep some makeup wipes or a pile of cotton pads and micellar water on your bedside table. You don’t really need a mirror for this, so you can just remove everything from the comfort of your bed, and chuck the pads in the bin after. Or is it a case of finding the process a bit defeating, because you still seem to wake up with errant clumps of mascara clinging on, or smeared foundation? If that’s the case, you need a stronger, more efficient makeup remover to streamline the process for you. I love waterproof mascara but even the most stubborn, long-wear makeup melts away when combined with Clinique Take The Day Off Makeup Remover or NARS Eye Makeup Remover. I promise you that using one of these will make the process a lot quicker and therefore more palatable when you’re already halfway asleep, and result in less pulling and stinging.
I don’t know how much makeup you wear – if you mainly wear eye makeup, it’s less of a big deal (apart from for your pillowcases) as the eye area doesn’t really have any sebaceous glands or large pores to get clogged, though your eyes might feel a little tight and itchy. I guess the other possibility is that you’ve been doing this for a while and have yet to feel any adverse effects, so you don’t really see why you should bother. The issue here is twofold: Firstly, your skin does its most important regenerative process at night, shedding dead skin cells and lining up juicy new ones, and makeup impedes that process, that natural exfoliation. The second is that if you’re not taking off your makeup, I presume you don’t have a nightly skincare routine (unless you apply it over the remnants of your makeup), which, depending on your skin type and concerns, might become problematic.
I asked Teresa Tarmey, an A-list facialist who’s painfully discreet about her all-star client roster (though if you take a look at the talent who showed up for her launch party, you'll get an idea of the calibre I’m talking), her thoughts. "I guess the worst part would be the skin not getting cleaned after a day of grime and pollution, aside from just the makeup. The makeup and dirt would clog the pores, potentially leading to a breakout. Especially if there’s any kinds of silicones or oils in your makeup – those aren’t great on the skin at the best of times, let alone to sleep in. The skin works its magic at night, and it will really absorb any products left on the skin." Teresa conceded that wipes were better than nothing but still not ideal, admitting: "I can’t say I’ve never done it, but it’s not a great idea."
I think part of the reason people, and skincare professionals and beauty editors in particular, get so evangelical about cleansing is that once you understand the skin’s fundamental needs, it’s hard to ignore the damage that it could do. In fact, a dermatologist I interviewed earlier this year told me he would consider cleansing and exfoliating to be more important than moisturising, which should give you an idea of the magnitude. Your skin needs to slough off dead skin cells even if you’re not wearing makeup, so sleeping in your makeup impedes that process – meaning you’re going to have a lot of congestion on the skin, even if you can’t see it. This renewal process is also how your skin makes new collagen and elastin, which keeps your skin fresh and bouncy.
The other thing, which Teresa touched upon, is pollution. Our UK cities are unbelievably polluted, and we’re only just starting to understand how damaging that pollution can be to the skin. Some think it may even be as damaging as UV rays, and we already know that there’s a higher incidence of acne in high air pollution areas, and that pollution seems to be able to interfere with the skin’s barrier function. Someone told me last week that you should wash your face as soon as you get in the house to get all the dirt and pollution out – which maybe you would find easier than remembering to do before bed? Whatever works for you.
Look, we've all slept in our makeup. It happens! It’s always good to be informed and understand why advice is being given, especially because there is a staggering amount of pseudoscience and utterly egregious claims in beauty. Personally, I think this one is sound. If you don’t buy it, you don’t buy it – but do give your face a very thorough wash in the morning.
Good luck!
Read these next...
Got a question for our resident beauty columnist Daniela Morosini? No problem, qualm or dilemma is too big, small or niche. Email, including your name and age for a chance to have your question answered. All letters to ‘Dear Daniela’ become the property of Refinery29 and will be edited for length, clarity, and grammatical correctness.

More from Beauty

R29 Original Series