Does sleeping "wrong" really give you wrinkles?
Don't sleep on good skincare.
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The internet is full of skincare advice. One bit that’s made the rounds: You should sleep on your back to prevent so-called “sleep wrinkles” from forming on your face and chest.
We got to wondering: Is it OK to squish your face into a bed pillow every night? Are certain positions better than others for wrinkle prevention? And if so, is it worth trying to change your sleep position?
Smushing your face against a pillow can cause sleep wrinkles
Unfortunately, there’s truth to the theory that sleeping on your stomach and side causes wrinkles.
These “sleep wrinkles” can form from repeated pressure as the weight of your head pushes your face into your pillow or mattress, says Dr. Farah Moustafa, a dermatologist and director of Laser and Cosmetics at Tufts Medical Center. The facial contact with the pillow can push your skin into a wrinkled position.
Sleep wrinkles differ from expression lines, which are caused by muscle reflexes. Doctors can distinguish between the two because of their positions, Moustafa says. For example, vertical wrinkles on a person’s face are more likely to be sleep lines, while horizontal wrinkles on a person’s forehead might be formed when someone makes movements like raising their eyebrows.
When you're younger, sleep wrinkles generally don’t stay after you wake up just as expression wrinkles don’t last even when you repeatedly raise your eyebrows. But as you age, wrinkles may begin to take permanent form. This is in part because skin starts to lose collagen, a protein that’s important for skin elasticity, beginning in your 20s.
“I think there is definitely some benefit from sleeping on [your] back to avoid a lot of the compression forces on the face that create lines over time,” Moustafa says.
Changing your sleep position might not be a good idea
But if you’re not a natural back sleeper, you might not want to rush to change your sleep position. For one thing, it isn’t clear that sleeping on your back is the healthiest sleep position. It might be good for your skin, but back sleeping can increase problems associated with snoring and sleep apnea.
It also isn’t easy to control one’s sleep position, as most of us move around at night. “Even if you start out sleeping on your back, it is hard to guarantee you will stay on your back,” Moustafa says.
Besides, getting a good night’s rest is crucial for keeping your skin looking fresh and glowy. “Excuse the pun, but I would not lose sleep over the issue of getting wrinkles through sleeping,” says Dr. Elma Baron, chief of dermatology at Case Western Reserve University Chief of Dermatology. “I think the greater benefit is really in having a good night's sleep.”
Poor sleep patterns have been linked to skin that has less ability to heal after sun exposure, Baron says. Adequate sleep improves the ability of the skin to seal in moisture and recover from daily stressors. Research has also tied sleep deprivation to issues with collagen production.
If you try to force yourself into an uncomfortable position on your back, you might end up sleeping poorly, and worsening the problem you’re trying to avoid. But for all the stomach and side sleepers out there, don’t fret. There are other measures you can consider if you’re concerned about preventing sleep wrinkles.
Use daily sun protection
Wrinkles form because people lose collagen and elastin with time, Moustafa says. She says the best way to slow the formation of wrinkles is to try to prevent the loss of these two key proteins.
The most important thing you can do to prevent early signs of aging—not to mention stave off skin cancer—is to protect yourself from the sun. First, you should wear sunscreen all year long. UVA rays, which break down collagen, can penetrate windows, so this advice applies even on days you stay indoors.
Baron says those with allergy-prone skin might want to use sunscreens that contain zinc oxide instead of ones with chemicals that could cause some contact or photocontact allergy. (Mineral sunscreens also shouldn’t bleach coral, which is an environmental concern tied to chemical sunscreens.)
For all-over protection, try Supergoop’s Zincscreen 100% Mineral Lotion SPF 40, which uses zinc oxide to protect your skin from the sun. Online customers say that, unlike many mineral sunscreens, this one doesn’t leave a white cast behind. If you’re looking for something more affordable, you can try another product like Thinksport SPF 50+ Mineral Sunscreen, but you should expect a slightly white finish.
Other protective measures include staying inside during peak sunlight hours and wearing a protective sun hat, Baron says.
Add a moisturizer and anti-aging products to your skincare routine
Moisturizing regularly will also help slow the aging process, Moustafa says.
Baron adds that it’s important to choose skincare products that are backed by scientific evidence, not just the latest TikTok trend. The most well-supported anti-wrinkle products are those with retinoids, she says. Some retinoids come as prescription acne medicine, but anti-aging products with retinol (a less powerful retinoid) are also available over the counter. She says there’s also data supporting vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, as an anti-aging measure. It’s important to note that moisturizer should be used before you apply your sunscreen. Products with retinol should ideally be used at night, as they can make your skin more sensitive to the sun directly after application.
But everyone’s skin is unique, so there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Consulting with a dermatologist can help you make the best decisions for your skincare routine, Baron says.
Try a silk pillowcase or a different bed pillow
There isn’t scientific evidence that silk pillowcases prevent wrinkles, Moustafa says. But she thinks the idea theoretically makes sense. Cotton has more friction than silk, which should cause more force and therefore wrinkles on your face.
Silk pillowcases also prevent bacteria compared to cotton ones. If nothing else, there’s no harm in giving them a shot if you’re sleeping on your side or back. Our beauty editor has tried several, but loves the Alaska Bear silk pillowcase. She said it felt great on her hair and skin, and comes at a lower price point than many of its ilk.
A pillow that reduces some of the pressure on your face is another possibility for combatting lines and wrinkles. Moustafa says you can try using a pillow with contours that provides gaps for your face to prevent smushing, although she notes this also lacks solid research. The possibility was suggested as a prevention measure in a 2016 paper about sleep wrinkles published in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal.
Sleep&Glow’s anti-aging pillow has 4.1 stars from 75 reviews on Amazon. One reviewer wrote: “Has the perfect little space for your face to rest as a side sleeper, I no longer have to scrunch up my pillow trying to create this myself ... and I’m waking up with no lines and creases on my face.”
Make sure you’re sleeping enough
Sleep isn’t just important for your skin, it’ll help you stay healthier in general.
“Good sleep, just like how it is beneficial to the heart, to one's blood pressure, to one's mental health, it is also beneficial to the skin so that the skin maintains its protective function,” Baron says.
In a world where people are expected to be busy all the time, it can be hard to prioritize getting seven to nine hours a night, but it’s important. You can improve your sleep habits by sticking to a bedtime routine. This includes getting off your phone during the hour before you go to sleep, as some research suggests that blue light can impede your body’s melatonin production. You can also consider taking up meditation, or relaxing with a hot bath. If ambient light and noise is disrupting your sleep, consider a sleep mask or earplugs.
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