You probably know that quality sleep is essential for feeling revitalized and alert, for maintaining a healthy immune system, and even for reducing the risk of chronic ailments like diabetes. But can this basic human need benefit your skin, too? And can a lack of shut eye be detrimental to your skin? It turns out the answer to both of those questions is a resounding yes.
“A lack of sleep is a burden not just to the body, but it definitely affects your skin,” says Dr. Debra Jaliman, a New York City-based dermatologist and author of Skin Rules. So, yes, “beauty sleep” is a real thing. This is because the body repairs itself when it sleeps, which leads to a laundry list of beauty benefits, like increased absorption of skincare products and fewer wrinkles, especially if you get the minimum of seven hours recommended for adults each night. Keep scrolling to learn all about how sleep (or a lack of it) can affect your skin.
What happens to your skin when you sleep?
Depending on the time of day, your skin prioritizes different functions. For example, your skin works hard to protect itself from elements such as the sun and pollution during the daylight hours. (Of course, you can support your skin’s efforts by wearing SPF and antioxidant-rich skincare, like products containing vitamin C.) Jaliman also notes that our skin produces more oil during the day versus at night (which explains your midday powder touch-ups). This production of oil could be stress-induced, weather-related, or a side effect of dry or dehydrated skin, as your skin compensates for a lack of oil by producing it in excess.
At night, however, your skin completely shifts into repair mode, working to fix the day’s damage, boost collagen production, and regenerate new, fresh skin cells, says Jaliman. She also points out that you’ll be able to get more mileage out of your skincare products when you sleep. Because skin isn’t in “protection mode” at night, your skincare products penetrate more efficiently. Therefore, it’s important to choose your nighttime products in a way that strategically optimizes your skin’s repair mode, especially if you’re looking to target a specific skin care concern, like fading dark spots, reducing fine lines and wrinkles, or treating acne.
What can you do to optimize your nighttime skincare routine?
As mentioned, skin is better able to absorb topical treatments and creams at night when your body is at rest. After removing your makeup and cleansing, Jaliman recommends loading up on peptide-rich lotions and serums before going to bed, as these topical proteins minimize wrinkles, trigger collagen production, and give your skin a well-rested appearance come morning. For a product that fills the bill, try The Ordinary’s “Buffet” Peptide Serum. It contains a “peptide complex” that claims to hydrate the skin and minimize wrinkles over time, and it boasts an average rating of 4.1 stars from nearly 1,000 Sephora reviewers.
Jaliman is also a fan of using retinoids at night. These vitamin A derivatives facilitate the exfoliation of dead cells from the skin’s outer layer to make room for new skin cells—in other words, they encourage the repair process that already happens overnight. Retinoids should also be used pre-bedtime, rather than in the morning, as they increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun. We’re fans of L’Oreal’s Revitalist Derm Intensives Night Serum—it’s non-comedogenic (meaning, it won’t clog your pores) and uses a moderate concentration of 0.3% retinol, for optimal benefits with a lower risk of irritation.
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Finally, that decreased sebum (skin oil) production at night means using moisturizing products is key as you catch some zzz’s. Look for products that contain hyaluronic acid, a naturally-occurring molecule that attracts water for plumper, more hydrated skin. For a wallet-friendly pick, try CeraVe’s Skin Renewing Night Cream. Nearly 12,000 Amazon reviewers gave it five stars for its ability to refresh tired-looking skin.
How does a lack of sleep affect your skin?
Everyone has been on the receiving end of a “you look tired” comment, which is typically code for under-eye bags and puffiness, a dull complexion, and more obvious wrinkles. And it’s true: “Sleep deprivation increases the retention of fluid in the area surrounding the eye, which can cause puffiness and ‘bags’ underneath the eyes,” says Jaliman.
But beyond these short-term consequences of sleep deprivation, not getting enough rest can affect your skin in the long run. “Because the body produces collagen while you’re sleeping, you may notice excessive wrinkling if you have a lack of sleep over time.” What’s more, not getting enough sleep slows down wound healing and can lead to inflammation in the form of eczema, psoriasis, and acne, according to Jaliman. (As if you needed another reason to catch your zzz’s.)
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