Is this beauty habit ruining your skin?

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Perdita Nouril
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How did you greet the mirror this morning? Fresh-faced or with tell-tale panda eyes? Stylist investigates just how bad it is to sleep in your make-up…

When it comes to beauty commandments, ‘thou shalt not drunkenly fall into bed with a face full of make-up’ is probably the one we most revere. It’s also the one that is easiest to break, especially after a big night out or long day at work. A poll of 500 women by beauty brand bareMinerals, revealed that 48% of women admitted to sleeping in their makeup, with those of us hailing from Cardiff, Dublin and Birmingham being the worst offenders – surely more to do with the cities’ stellar nightlife than our lack of self-control… 

Routinely drilled into us by our mums, magazines and beauty experts down the generations is the fear that if we dare not cleanse for a night, we’ll wake up with far more than tell-tale panda eyes, instantly cursed with an outbreak of lines and spots. Right? Well, wrong actually. In a sentence you never thought you’d read in a beauty feature, it turns out that the odd night of faceplanting your pillow isn’t the disaster we were once told it was. “Occasionally sleeping in your make-up won’t cause any long-term damage”, says Simple skin expert and dermatologist Dr Philippa Lowe. In fact, beauty aficionados, such as make-up artist Charlotte Tilbury, confess to often wearing eye make-up to bed. “There are actually many more important but surprising things that can affect your skin during the party season than sleeping in make-up, and some smart ways to offset it,” says Pamela Marshall, clinical aesthetician and co-founder of Mortar & Milk skin clinic. What really matters, according to many experts, is not what’s on your face while you’re asleep, but how long you sleep for. Skin repairs itself eight times faster when you’re asleep, so that 3am finish affects more than just your energy levels the next day. In fact, Marshall argues that when sleep hours are limited, your time is best spent getting straight into bed rather than doing a less-than-optimal drunken cleanse. “A few more hours in your make-up won’t be too detrimental to the skin,” she claims. “Sleep is the most important factor when it comes to skin repair. Our fibroblasts (key in tissue repair and collagen creation) are most active in the first two hours of sleep. Plus a haphazard or aggressive cleanse could even damage your skin.” And if your skin is normal or dry, then you’ve got even less to worry about. According to facialist Kate Kerr, “These skin types produce little sebum and have smaller pores, so they’re unlikely to be blocked and therefore less able to accumulate congestion. So even if leaving your make-up on does cause inflammation, it’s unlikely to trigger a breakout.”

The rise of mineral make-up and more sophisticated modern formulations also makes a full-faced pass-out less of a beauty no-no than it was when our mothers were younger. Facialist Debbie Thomas says, “Some make-up is good for your skin – or at least not bad for it. So on a rare occasion, forgetting to take it off won’t be skin suicide. In my safe pile would be most mineral powders – but make sure they are pure – try brands such as Exuviance and Oxygenetix.” Mineral formulations are all about what’s excluded rather than what’s included. Free from preservatives, parabens, mineral oils and alcohol, they soak up excess oil and won’t clog pores. BareMinerals, the UK’s number one mineral make-up choice, even makes a selling point out of the purity of its products, with a strapline ‘make-up so pure you can sleep in it’. Multi-tasking mineral products like Glo-Minerals Pressed Base, £39.50 (a foundation, concealer and powder in one) go one further and reduce the number of products on your skin in the first place.

Of course, just like your recovering body (green juice, fry-up, that comforting cashmere jumper), giving your skin special treatment the morning after can almost be more important than what you put it through the night before. And it starts the moment you wake up.

With your alarm blaring, head pounding and daylight streaming through the curtains, rubbing your eyes is an almost involuntary reflex. But while sleeping in your make-up won’t age the delicate eye area, rubbing kohl-clogged eyes can. In fact – squeamish alert – doing so feeds the tiny mites that live in your lashes (demodex folliculorum), causing them to flourish which in turn leads to puffiness and thinning lashes. Likewise, Marshall warns against ‘punishing’ your skin the next day: “When you do cleanse, don’t be too vigorous. This compromises barrier function and the skin will go into panic mode and overcompensate by producing more oil.”

Finally, think about the cleanliness of your sheets. “We rush to cleanse our faces after sleeping in our make-up, but we should be just as quick to strip the bed too,” says Marshall. “As well as make-up smeared on your pillowcase there’s also oil and pollution from our hair, which tends to be dirty after a big night out, all of which will transfer back onto your clean face the following night.” To really comfort skin, swap your standard cases for Slip Pillowcases, £79, which have one of the highest thread counts of silk and are less absorbent than cotton, so won’t soak up your face cream or steal precious moisture that’s been fed back into hungover skin.

Of course, if you’re sleeping in your make-up every night you’re going to do some damage. Marshall says, “Once or twice a year won’t have much effect, but if you have a skin problem, acne or rosacea, for example, then you need to be more careful.” But otherwise, waking up with panda eyes really isn’t the sin it once was, as long as you show it some TLC the next morning. 

Check out our step-by-step skin redemption plan, which promises to leave you looking bright and perky – however fragile you’re feeling.


We’re going to ease you in gently. Hit the snooze button but instead of going back to sleep, take the worst of your party face off with a couple of cleansing wipes (you can even do it horizontally while recovering from the shock of your alarm). While the innumerable preservatives in face wipes usually make them verboten in hardcore beauty circles, Simple Kind to Skin Micellar Cleansing Wipes, £4.10, are very different. Harnessing micellar technology, with tiny oil particles suspended in water, they draw make-up from the skin without the need for harsh chemicals. A godsend for skin sensitised by booze. 


Time to drag yourself up and head to the kitchen. Eyes will need depuffing so reach for Anne Semonin Express Radiance Ice Cubes, £45. By lowering your skin’s temperature you’ll force blood vessels to constrict, which accelerates the drainage of puff-inducing toxins. Next add The Beauty Chef Glow Inner Beauty Powder, from £10 for five sachets, to a glass of water. Its probiotic blend of 23 superfoods promotes gut health, which leads to a luminous complexion. Remove traces of old lipstick with Dior Lip Sugar Scrub, £25, then put the moisture back with Rodial Dragon’s Blood Lip Mask, £39. We’ll allow you five minutes laying on the sofa while all of this works.


For a cleansing deep-dive, it’s time to double up. When cells are repairing, they are also lubricating hair follicles. When your skin is clean, the oil at the base of the follicles flows to the surface smoothly, but leftover make-up can cause a blockage at the top of the opening, which over time could lead to breakouts. A double cleanse when you wake up (once with oil to break down make-up, followed by a water-based cleanser to do the cleaning now the make-up’s out of the way) will wash away oil build-up, stop spots in their tracks and remove traces of make-up the wipes didn’t reach. Try Pixi + Caroline Hirons Double Cleanse Solid Cleansing Oil + Cleansing Cream, £24.


Your double cleanse was necessary to wash away the sins of sleeping in your make-up, but it may also have removed the top layer of good bacteria from your skin. This can take around four hours to reform, so give your face a helping hand with Lancôme Advanced Genifique Hydrogel Melting Mask, £16.50. Infused with a bifidus probiotic that feeds the good bacteria on your skin, it helps it reform and flourish quicker. Made with a heat-sensitive hydrogel that melts into a fluid when it comes into contact with the warmth of your skin, the heat releases the active probiotics, meaning they don’t lose their potency. Leave on for 20 minutes and then massage in any excess product.


A late night means your skin doesn’t have as much time to repair itself compared with going to bed at 10pm, squeaky clean with a hot cocoa. Make amends for this with a vitamin boost. Antioxidants like vitamin C ensure the skin’s own repair mechanisms work optimally. The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2%, £4.90, boasts one of the highest concentrations on the market and the super stable formula doesn’t oxidize once opened, so it works brilliantly at brightening skin from first use to last. Follow with Avène Hydrance Intense Serum, £18. Approved by Stylist’s Beauty Council, it stops water evaporating from the surface of the skin by strengthening your skin barrier and forces your skin cells to reorganise themselves and plump fine lines.


As tempting as a full face of coverage might be, avoid heavy make-up in order to give your skin a breather. Start with Illamasqua Beyond Veil Primer, £34 – this lightweight gel contains light-reflecting particles to rev up skin radiance, while added hyaluronates ensure skin stays hydrated so it won’t drink the moisturiser in your foundation. So when it comes to make-up, think clever camouflage rather than blanket colour. Follow with Stila Aqua Glow Serum, £15.20. Instead of using heavy, opaque pigments to hide blemishes, it harnesses refractive and multi-reflective pigments that deflect light. Or try Glossier Perfecting Skin Tint, £20, instead. Diamond powder blurs pores while brightening pigments offer a lightweight, second-skin coverage that is health-faking and hangover-hiding. Just what we need.

Images: Instagram / Pexels