This is what happens to your skin when you fall asleep in your make-up

Written by Morgan Fargo

What’s going on with your skin when you fall asleep with a full face on. 

It’s officially that time of year. The John Lewis Christmas advert is out, Gail’s is selling spiced breakfast buns and advent calendars have begun to litter our hallways. With the festive cheer, though, comes a busier social calendar and decidedly more moments to celebrate. Quite often this means our sleep becomes truncated, encroached upon by glasses of wine and Baileys on ice in chilly pub gardens. 

So, when we do make it to bed, is it awful to fall asleep with our make-up still on? How much damage is it doing to our skin and should we sacrifice some Zs to make sure we go to bed with a clean face? 

To answer this age-old festive question, we asked three skin experts for their advice. Read on. 

How bad is it to sleep in your make-up really? 

Put simply, it’s not great. 

“Not only are you clogging your pores. which essentially leads to blackheads and breakouts, but you’re also allowing the day’s dirt and bacteria to sit and penetrate into the skin. This combination will not just lead to spots but also lacklustre and congested-looking skin,” explains says Ross Perry, medical director of Cosmedics skin clinics.

“It’s a known fact that make-up traps pollutants inside the skin and this type of environmental stress can result in increased free radicals that cause skin inflammation, redness and irritation and leads to premature ageing.”

Is it worse to sleep in your make-up if you have acne-prone or oily skin?

While it’s not ideal to sleep in your make-up regardless of your skin type, is it worse if you frequently experience skin flare-ups or breakouts? Consultant dermatologist Dr Derrick Phillips explains more.

“If you’re prone to acne, wearing make-up every day can potentially trigger flare-ups as it can stop the skin from breathing, block pores and cause breakouts. Unlike skincare products, which are absorbed into the skin, make-up sits on top, preventing the skin from breathing. It can also stimulate increased sebum production, which exacerbates oily skin.”

Why is sleeping in make-up so damaging for your eyes? 

“When it comes to the eyes, the under-eye area is extremely delicate and sleeping in your make-up may increase the chance that the products drip into the eye itself or sits on the lid for too long and causes irritation,” explains Dr Elizabeth Hawkes, a consultant oculoplastic surgeon.

“It may also increase your chances of seeing milia, which are small white bumps that appear when keratin, a protein that your body produces naturally, gets trapped beneath the skin’s surface.” 

“Milia is absolutely more common with people not effectively cleansing their make-up off in the evening or using a heavy product around the eye area.”

While micellar water may appear to remove the remnants of mascara and eyeliner left at the end of the day, it shouldn’t be your last step. Instead, take a cleanser designed to thoroughly cleanse (not strip) the skin, that won’t irritate your eyes either. My go-to for years has been the Medik8 Lipid Balance Cleansing Oil, £29 – it lifts away dirt without irritating my dry, easily sensitised skin.

“Eyelids are a common location for contact dermatitis, which, in turn, can result in dry eyelids because the skin in this area is delicate, so it’s very important to keep the area clean. Bacteria and particles from your make-up can seep into your eyes, which can lead to irritation, discomfort and potential eye infections. These infections can cause itchiness and redness and they should be treated right away,” says Dr Hawkes.

However, bear in mind that this won’t necessarily happen the one night you fall asleep in a full face. But, if you are consistently not cleansing your make-up away, especially around your eyes, there’s a chance you’ll run into bacteria-based trouble in the long run.

“Your chances of getting blepharitis (inflammation of the eyelid) can also be increased by wearing your make-up to bed. This starts with a build-up of debris and bacteria around the base of the lashes. The eyelids are unique and, in between our eyelashes, we have tiny glands called meibomian – tiny oil glands that line the margin of the eyelids. Over time, these can get clogged up and lead to lash loss. A sty can also occur when the eyelid gland becomes clogged.”

Should sleep or cleansing take priority after a night out? 

When you fall asleep in your make-up, there’s probably a split-second decision where you decide to either get up and get it off or just succumb to snoozing. While both are important, there is an expert answer to the question of which one you should prioritise. 

“Both are equally important and both work together to repair your skin and improve its health and condition,” says Dr Phillips. “Not getting enough sleep and sleeping in your make-up can both cause dull-looking skin and acne flare-ups. And, while you don’t need a 16-step skincare routine, I would prioritise a good cleanser to clean the skin, a targeted serum and a moisturiser to help keep skin health at its optimal.”

What to do the next morning morning

After you’ve woken up and rubbed your groggy eyes, only to realise they’re still coated in make-up, there are a few things the experts suggest doing. Firstly, have a glass of water. Secondly, start to think about cleansing, moisturising and refreshing your skin. 

“The next day, a deep cleanse is required. In actual fact, I always recommend a double cleanse to get rid of make-up, dirt and pollutants and to open up the pores, but it might also be worthwhile to add an exfoliator into the mix,” says Dr Perry. 

“Then, pat the skin dry before applying a moisturiser. Ideally, a thicker one should be used during the winter months when we need more of a barrier against the elements.

“After that, I’d recommend popping on some vitamin C cream to give the skin an extra boost, before applying an SPF – yes, even in winter we’re susceptible to UV damage. Allow the products to sink in and try to give your skin a make-up-free day where possible. Also, drink plenty of water to aid hydration.”

Main image: Getty

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