It happened to me again just this past weekend, despite my vow not to repeat the past. I had plenty of justifications at the time: It was late! I was tired! Someone was already in the bathroom! But none of them mattered the next day, when I woke up with ruddy skin, a smudged pillowcase, and the start of a pimple as my punishment. Yes, I went to sleep with makeup on, and yes, I felt gross and regretful afterward.
There’s some comfort in thinking that every woman’s probably made the same mistake once or twice. But what’s less reassuring is knowing just how bad it is for our skin and even for our overall health. If you need to be scared out of bad behavior (like I do), learning the worst consequences of sleeping in makeup will ensure a nightly date with face wash, regardless of the hour.
A Porous Problem Grows Overnight
Most skin-conscientious women start the day on a good, clean note—at the very least, with a quick facial rinse followed by careful application of moisturizer. Some incorporate makeup into the routine, evening skin tones with foundation and accenting eyes with liner and shadow. On the one hand, these makeup layers provide an extra barrier between vulnerable skin and damaging free radicals like air pollution and sunlight. On the other hand, they keep our pores clogged and unable to breathe for hours on end.
Pores provide our skin with an important substance called sebum. Sebum’s a thick, sticky lubricant, secreted by sebaceous glands through the pores, that helps make skin soft and clean. It clears out all the junk—dead skin cells, dirt, and bacteria—that accumulates in our pore openings throughout the day. That’s why it’s so important to wash your face when you arrive home at night, whether you wear makeup or not. Pores must be cleared of that grime to function properly and keep skin glowing and clear. But if the openings are constantly clogged—for example, if you wear makeup for hours on end—the sebum supply has no chance of release. And if you sleep with the side of your face on the pillow, that friction’s only pushing the bad stuff deeper into your pores. (Not to mention dirtying up a defenseless pillowcase.)
Instead, sebum and its skin debris build up inside pores, and one of two things happens. Either the pore opening widens and the exposure of oxygen to the debris causes a blackhead to form, or the opening closes completely and the area becomes inflamed and irritated. Eventually, an angry-looking pimple arises and becomes the bane of one’s existence for the next few days. Clearly, neither situation is all that desirable.
Laziness Leads to Wrinkles and Infection
It’s said that a person’s skin ages seven years after she dozes with a full face of makeup on. While a few instances here and there aren’t causes for alarm, habitually sleeping without washing your face beforehand can contribute to older-looking skin. Our bodies rely on nighttime for recovery and rejuvenation. There’s evidence that cells activate more at night, when they can focus solely on processing—or, in a skin cell’s case, repairing from the day’s environmental damage. Free radicals work against cells, damaging them irrevocably to pave the way for wrinkles and other telltale signs of aged skin. Cleansing your face at night and applying a rejuvenating moisturizer afterward on a regular basis gives cells something to fight back with. Sleeping with cakey makeup on a regular basis leaves them with few defenses and you with poor, splotchy skin.
Aside from causing acne- and wrinkle-plagued skin, makeup worn for too long, especially numerous times over a short period, increases the risk of eye irritation and infection. The eyes are delicate and discriminate against foreign bodies, especially when said outsiders bring bacteria with them. After a night of sleeping in makeup, they might be itchy and slightly bloodshot—or, worse, they might be painful and crusty from pinkeye or some other nasty eye infection. If spending a few extra minutes in the bathroom before bedtime’s the difference between pinkeye and being infection-free, it doesn’t seem like nearly as much of a chore.
Break Out the Cotton Balls
Women wear makeup to enhance their features, so it stands to reason that they want to keep those features bright and beautiful for as long as possible. In order for that to happen, skin needs a break from the air toxins and makeup residue it encounters on a daily basis. It needs a night to breathe and recover under the best, cleanest circumstances. That process starts with diligently removing makeup at night.
And despite what advertisements would have you believe, mineral makeup is not the exception to that rule. It may be derived from natural sources and free of chemicals and dyes, but it can still clog pores and serve as a landing strip for harmful bacteria and free radicals. Use a cotton ball and makeup remover to get everything off, and finish up with a gentle cleanser and a night cream suited to your skin type. At the end of the day, nothing should cover your face except a light layer of moisturizer that helps, not hinders, rejuvenation.
Updated January 10, 2011