You Might Be Ruining Your Skin In Your Sleep

Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
We don’t have to tell you that sleep is important. We know that when we don’t get enough rest or when we snooze poorly, we wake up cranky and snarly and essentially not the best versions of ourselves. But, many people might not know that the same holds true for our skin.
“Skin suffers and goes through a lot during the daytime, so nighttime is very valuable for skin to recover from everyday damage and wear and tear,” says dermatologist Misbah Khan of M. Khan Dermatology.
And, it’s not just in the immediate — hello, puffy eyes and lackluster skin! — but in the long term as well. “Sleeping gives the skin a chance to repair itself and fight breakouts,” says Dr. Jennifer MacGregor of Union Square Dermatology. “So, poor sleep is associated with accelerated aging of the skin because it reduces the skin’s ability to repair damage.”
So, to help make your first glance in the mirror a little less Dawn of the Dead and more Pretty Woman for mornings to come, we're breaking down the steps you can take during — and slightly before — your shut-eye to get the best skin possible. Ahead, all the tips for making the most of your time spent between the sheets.
1 of 16
Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Don't Slack On Your Cleansing Routine
Let’s start with the obvious: Forgetting to wash your face before bedtime is a no-no. Our mothers have been drilling this factoid into our heads since our first preteen zit. But, why is this so important even if we’ve gone makeup-free during the day? The reasons are endless, according to Dr. MacGregor.

“Cleansing before bed removes the dirt, oil, and pollution that accumulate on the skin during the day,” she says. “So, if you don’t cleanse before bed, it can lead to clogged pores, breakouts, and an increase in free-radical damage and accelerated aging.”

MacGregor suggests using a gentle cleanser or pre-moistened towelette each night to keep skin pollutant- and makeup-free while you snooze. In addition, Dr. Khan recommends washing with “lukewarm to slightly cold water,” as the hot stuff can irritate and dry out skin.
2 of 16
Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Avoid Overzealous Cleansing
So, it’s super important to head to bed with a properly cleansed complexion. Obviously. But, don’t go overboard removing all of that dirt, pollution, and makeup from your face, says dermatologist Jeanine B. Downie.

“A lot of us tend to over-exfoliate before bed with rough loofahs or harsh, motorized brushes, which can actually irritate our skin and may not be helping at all,” she says. Instead, Dr. Downie suggests using a gentle makeup remover such as Dior’s Gentle Cleansing Milk, which won’t dry out the face.

In addition, Dr. Downie notes that scrubbing specifically around the eye area can be detrimental. “We tend to take off our makeup too aggressively and rub our eyes like we are scrubbing a pot, which can lead to broken blood vessels and an increase dark circles,” she says. Downie says it’s best to use a gentle cleansing formula that will remove product from, on, and around this delicate area without drying out or irritating skin.
3 of 16
Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Make Sure You Use the Right Products
There are creams to zap our wrinkles, serums that target spots, and peels that promise to make us look more radiant, but is it really that important to switch up our moisturizer to a night-specific product when it’s time to hit the sack? Absolutely, says dermatologist Erin Gilbert, who notes that day creams tend to focus more on day-specific concerns such as environmental protection (e.g., SPF) instead of supporting cell turnover and repair, which takes place mainly while we’re getting our ZZZs.

“Night-specific products complement the skin’s natural regenerative process to provide results while you sleep,” she says. Dr. Gilbert suggests using Restorsea Restoring Night Cream, which features natural enzymes that help turn over dead skin cells.

Other ingredients to seek out are retinol and antioxidants, found in products such as SkinCeuticals Purifying Cleanser and Colbert MD Illumino Face Oil, which are favorites of dermatologist Jessica Weiser of New York Dermatology Group. “When products are applied at bedtime, they have time overnight to penetrate and help skin turnover, so you’ll see noticeable results in the morning,” she says.

4 of 16
Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Brush Back Those Locks
While we’re focused on cleansing the right way and buying the right products, it can be easy to forget one seemingly obvious cause of overnight skin issues: unwashed hair. “Keeping your hair away from your face while you sleep will help prevent the hair’s natural oils from rubbing on your skin,” says Dr. Gilbert, who recommends pulling your mane back into a ponytail or wrapping it in a scarf before going to bed.

For those looking to kill two birds with one stone, stylist Steven LaFrance of DreamDry Salon suggests pulling hair into braids for better skin and a beachy wave come morning. “By keeping the hair away from the face, it will help prevent any dust and oils from penetrating the skin,” he says.

Another hidden danger? Those adorable Zooey Deschanel-inspired bangs, says stylist Nathaniel Hawkins. “Be careful not to apply serums or rich styling creams to your bangs because the product will transfer to skin and can cause breakouts while you sleep,” he notes. Hawkins also says to wash your hair before you go to bed and to ensure you thoroughly wash out all conditioner, as its residue can also irritate skin.
5 of 16
Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Say Goodbye to Pillowcase Problemos
Have you been buying your sheets from the bargain bin at Bed Bath & Beyond? Probably not the best idea for the future of your skin, says Dr. Weiser. “Friction on harsher cotton fibers can accelerate the development of permanent creases,” she says. To keep those at bay, Weiser suggests sleeping on a smooth silk or satin pillowcase, which prevents trauma to skin and reduces the probability of facial skin forming lines and wrinkles overnight.

Dermatologist Dr. Neal Schultz notes that using products infused with slippery ingredients can also help. “Use a night cream with silicone, hyaluronic acid, or collagen, all of which have great slip factors and will help decrease friction while you sleep,” says Schultz.

And, don’t forget the power of keepin’ it clean, adds Dr. Gilbert. “Pillowcases can collect dirt, oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria, potentially causing skin to break out,” she says, noting that it’s ideal to wash pillowcases at least once a week — even twice. For those with extra-sensitive skin, avoid using fabric softeners or scented detergent, which can also lead to breakouts and rashes.
6 of 16
Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Switch Up Your Sleeping Position
Everyone has a favorite way to fall asleep, whether it’s on your back, vampire-style, snuggled into the crook of your S.O.’s arm, or curled up in the fetal position. But, stomach sleepers, take heed: Lying face down can add fuel to the wrinkle-forming fire.

“Sleeping in a way that presses the skin into sheets or pillowcases can eventually create more permanent lines on the skin,” says Dr. Weiser, who points out that sleeping on one’s back is “ideal” in terms of protecting skin and reducing wrinkle formation. “When you sleep on your face, your skin folds, which creates a crease and a breakdown of collagen,” explains Dr. Schultz. “Just like when you bend a paperclip back and forth a few times and it breaks, when your skin continues to fold in the same way, collagen will break down and ultimately lead to permanent lines and a loss of elasticity.”

For those who just can’t get on board with sleeping face up, Weiser suggests trying a C-shaped pillow behind the neck for stability and propping up with pillows on either side to avoid rolling over or shifting during sleep.
7 of 16
Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Drink Enough Water
We all know that staying hydrated throughout the day is important for our health in general, but drinking lots of water during the day can actually help keep your skin looking its best the morning after. “Not drinking enough water throughout the day is a huge offense when it comes to your skin,” says Adam Rosante, personal trainer and fitness expert. “Dehydration will make your skin look rough and kind of sunken, but if you properly hydrate, your skin will glow.”

Dr. Gilbert adds that drinking water during the day helps prepare our bodies for crucial nighttime restorative processes. “The body’s hydration levels rebalance while you sleep, helping skin to recover moisture,” she says. “Not getting enough hydration before you go to sleep can result in puffiness, dryness, and wrinkles the next day.” So, make sure to get in those eight glasses — your skin will thank you for it.
8 of 16
Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Ditch Pre-Bedtime Noshing
Who doesn’t love a midnight snack? Well, your ZZZs. Turns out, hitting the hay on a full stomach might also screw with your sleep, according to nutritionist Brooke Alpert. Alpert suggests finishing dinner (or your snack) “at least two hours” before snoozing. “This will give your body time to digest your food properly before lying down flat,” she says, adding that this could also “help and prevent any reflux symptoms.” In this case, what’s good for your sleep is also good for your skin.
9 of 16
Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Pass Up the Sugar
As if we needed another reason to stay away from sugar and carbs, it seems they’re also pretty bad for our REM cycle. Osteopath Vicky Vlachonis advises to stay away from certain foods altogether before calling it a night. “Eating sugar and/or carbohydrates before bed triggers insulin release, which interferes with growth-hormone release, leading to inflammation and increased pain,” she says.

Alpert agrees: “Avoid eating foods high in sugar prior to bed,” she says. “Instead, aim for foods high in protein and fiber.” For an extra-deep sleep, Alpert suggests focusing on melatonin-rich foods such as tomatoes, cherries, grapes, and walnuts. Bottom line? That tantalizing piece of cold pizza or bowl of ice cream isn’t worth the aftermath — especially when your skin is on the line.
10 of 16
Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Get in Enough ZZZs
We can buy the latest nighttime products, sleep on our backs surrounded by orthopedic pillows, and stay hydrated with the best filtered water around, but none of that will amount to much if we’re not putting in the actual hours, says Dr. Weiser.

“Sleep is the time when your skin heals and recovers from trauma and damage acquired during the day,” she says, adding that both the amount and quality of sleep we get on any given night will contribute to how our skin looks in the light of day. “Ample, quality sleep will leave your skin looking smoother, more even, and radiant, while inadequate sleep can leave skin with more fine lines and accelerated loss of elasticity.”

Dermatologist Amy Wechsler agrees. “Above all, it’s most important to get enough sleep, at least seven and a half to eight hours,” she says.
11 of 16
Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Think Before You Drink
No one’s trying to be a party pooper here, but let’s be honest: Late nights out at the bar can lead to complexion regret in the morning. And — surprise — even that tiny glass of wine that helps you unwind after a long day can wreak havoc on your ability to sleep well, ultimately resulting in less-than-glowy skin.

“While you may think booze helps you sleep better, alcohol actually disrupts REM sleep, which is the time our bodies are doing the most recovery,” says Alpert. “Drinking alcohol before going to bed interrupts our body’s ability to rejuvenate our skin and muscles.”

Vlachonis adds that one too many martinis can also lead to a host of additional problems. “Drinking triggers cortisol release, which leads to collagen loss and extra oils and also wakes us up in the middle of the night,” she says. So, what to do if you find yourself over-served and want to look fresh as a daisy come morning? “Sleep with an extra pillow to help drainage and ward off unwanted puffiness,” says Dr. Gilbert.
12 of 16
Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot
Ever have one of those nights when you curl up comfortably and doze off, only to wake up a few hours later sweating through your nightie and sticking to your sheets or — worse — waking up with desert-dry skin and a parched mouth? Turning up the heat can feel nice and cozy at first, but it will make for an unfulfilling night’s rest and an even uglier morning.

“A warm bedroom may feel comfortable when you’re falling asleep, but hot, dry air can deplete skin of its moisture,” says Dr. Gilbert, while Vlachonis notes that wearing too many clothes can lead to interrupted sleep: “Being too hot while you sleep will wake you up prematurely,” she says. “Sleep naked, and use a down comforter — it helps your body regulate its own heat.” In addition, Dr. Gilbert suggests investing in a humidifier to help keep skin hydrated and supple overnight.
13 of 16
Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
No Overstimulated Technology Brain
We’ve all been guilty of watching TV in bed. Or, scrolling through Instagram as we doze off. Or, working so late we literally stumble into bed. But, all of these things can lead to a bad night’s sleep, which ultimately affects the way we look in the morning.

“If you don’t relax or wind down before bed, your mind stays wound up and leads to restless sleep, and you never get to the restorative phase three of sleep,” says Vlachonis, who suggests writing in a journal or taking time to pray or meditate before bed to get into the right frame of mind.

Alpert recommends turning off all technology, including cell phones, tablets, computers, and TV, at least 30 minutes before going to sleep. “Read a book or try listening to mellow music to give your mind a chance to wind down,” she says.
14 of 16
Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
See The Light — Or Don't
Any source of light, be it the good ol’ sun or a bit of blue traveling across the room from a late-night text message, can interfere with your sleep and leave skin looking tired and puffy in the morning.

“Sleeping in the dark is important for our circadian rhythm and for the REM sleep, which in turn will allow enough time for the skin to recuperate from the daily wear and tear,” says Dr. Khan. She suggests investing in blackout shades, which not only help contribute to a solid night’s sleep but also help protect skin from the harmful affects of bright sunlight.

Vlachonis adds that staring at a phone, computer, or TV right before bed tricks the mind into thinking it’s still daylight, because the blue light of these electronics is similar to that which we experience during the day. This, though, keeps sleep shallow and can lead to insomnia — not good for our complexion.
15 of 16
Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Keep Calm and Carry On
Falling asleep stressed, strung out, and worrying about the next day is pretty much par for the course for most of us. And, it’s affecting the way we look, according to Rosante, who suggests just 10 minutes of meditation before bed to help clear the mind and prepare the body for a more restful night’s sleep.

“Just a few minutes can help you sleep like a baby, and that inner calm always radiates through your outer layer,” he says. For those of us who are puzzled by even the thought of sitting still for longer than a few seconds, it’s not as complicated as one might think. “Meditation is really just a state of deep, focused awareness,” says Rosante. “You can do it anytime and anywhere.”

Rosante recommends finding a quiet spot, padding your rear with a blanket, closing your eyes, and setting a timer. “Focus your attention on the tip of your nose, and simply watch your breath go out and come back in for 10 breaths,” he says. “With a little time, you'll notice its impact on your appearance — meditation is more potent than the highest priced serum on the shelf at Barneys."
16 of 16
Like this post? There's more. Get tons of beauty tips, tutorials, and news on the Refinery29 Beauty Facebook page. Like us on Facebook — we'll see you there!

More from Skin Care


R29 Original Series