Worst Case Scenario: Sleeping With Makeup On

Find out what happens if you neglect to wash your face.

Medically reviewed in February 2022

At the end of a long day, it’s all too easy to skip a step in your nighttime routine and go to sleep without washing your face. But you may be doing more harm to your skin than you think by sleeping with makeup on. “Makeup and oil buildup can cause breakouts, infections, rashes, enlarged pores, wrinkles and a dull complexion,” says James Ralston, MD, dermatologist and founding president of the Dermatology Center of McKinney and dermatologist at Medical City McKinney. Here’s why that 30 seconds of cleansing is worth it.

Worst-case scenario #1: You could breakout, big-time.
Not washing off makeup, like foundation and concealer, can bring on the pimples. “When makeup clogs the pores, the bacteria involved with acne formation can get trapped in those pores and cause breakouts,” says Dr. Ralston.

Lip-gloss and lipstick, which often contain pore-clogging waxes, are zit culprits, too. “If you sleep with lipstick on, you can get blackheads or acne right around your lip area,” says Ralston.

Worst-case scenario #2: You could get an eye infection.
Leaving your mascara or eyeliner on overnight can lead to clogged eyelid pores and a nasty stye. Plus, “rubbing your eyes on the pillowcase while you’re sleeping can get makeup in your eye, and can cause inflammation or an infection,” explains Ralston.

Worst-case scenario #3: You could add years to your skin.
A clean face gives your skin room to breathe and repair itself overnight. While you’re sleeping, melatonin in your skin fights the development of fine lines and hormones help collagen-producing cells improve elasticity and tightness. “Pollution and free radicals collect on your skin throughout the day and—if skin isn’t cleansed properly at night—stay on your skin, breaking down collagen. This causes wrinkling and gives you a dull complexion,” says Ralston.

Oops, you did it again. What now?
Reverse repeat-offender damage by getting back on a regular cleansing routine. Keep your face-washing regime simple so you’ll stick to it. “In general, wash your face for 30 seconds at night with warm water and a gentle cleanser,” advises Ralston. He recommends mild cleansers that are fragrance-free and have a neutral pH to avoid irritation and dryness. Keeping makeup-removing wipes on your bedside table can also help you remember to cleanse your face before bed. See your dermatologist to discuss a skin care routine that’s right for you.

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