One derm’s secret weapon to fighting acne? Sleep with your hair up


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Photo: Stocksy/Douglas Robichaud

Not too long ago, the euphoria I felt letting my lengths splay across my pillowcase before bed was *almost* akin to the feeling of taking my bra off after work. After an acne-ridden stretch (ugh), I exasperatedly asked my friend what I should do to calm my temperamental skin. “Well, are you sleeping with your hair down?” she asked me.

It was one of those “no, duh” moments for me, and I immediately started twisting my hair into a top knot before calling it a night. But there was one thing I still couldn’t piece together: Was my hair really that much dirtier than my sheets?

According to New York City dermatologist Dendy Engelman, MD, the simple answer is: Yes. Your hair is filthy. “Hair acts like a magnet for dirt and pollution,” she tells me. And this might provide interesting insight into why we break out on places like our cheeks. While we know that the chin and jawline frequently see hormonal breakouts, those that sprout up other places are more mysterious—or at least, until now. “When you sleep, your hair can rub on your face and bedding making you more susceptible to breakouts,” she adds.

“Hair acts like a magnet for dirt and pollution. When you sleep, it can rub on your face and bedding making you more susceptible to breakouts.” -Dendy Engelman, MD

What’s more? Your scalp produces sebum (yep, the same stuff in pimples) and depending on how long it’s been since your last wash, the sebum can make its way down the hair strand. If you sleep with your hair down, your face will quite literally be pressed against oily strands all night, which could bring on breakouts. Case in point: Many a forehead pimple was caused by scalp oil finding its way down south.

So if you’re not yet in the shower-before-bed-camp, you just might consider altering your patterns. Not in the mood for a rinse before bed? Totally fine. Dr. Engelman says that, while freshly showered strands are golden for your skin, securing your hair away from your face is a close second. “Before going to sleep, I recommend pulling hair into a loose braid or ponytail,” she advises. “Secure that with a Slip Silk scrunchie, which are my favorite because they are gentle on the hair.” And that’s a wrap on bad skin days (and probably bad hair days too).

Besides your hair, your towels and your loofah could also be causing skin issues. 

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