Dear Dermatologist: I fell asleep in my makeup. Now what should I do?


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This weekend, I broke the cardinal rule of beauty. I fell asleep in my makeup.

After a Saturday night out with girlfriends, I zonked out on the couch with a full face of foundation, eyeshadow, and mascara—the works. When I woke up the next morning, my eyes were not only glued shut, but my face felt greasy, gross, and dirty AF. As someone who spends upwards of 30 minutes a day taking care of her skin, this was more than enough to make me cringe. I immediately launched into panic mode, knowing that there was only a matter of time before a massive breakout showed up all over my face.

Was there anything I could do, I wondered, to prevent the (seemingly inevitable) fallout? “The best initial step after waking up is to remove the makeup with micellar water, and then gently exfoliate,” says Dr. Ted Lain, a dermatologist based in Austin, Texas. “Do not scrub your face vigorously; this will over-exfoliate and worsen any underlying inflammation, as well as increase the risk for acne.” Dr. Jennifer David of Schweiger Dermatology Group in Northfield, New Jersey, confirms this method of triage, noting that micellar water will act as a mild surfactant to get rid of excess dirt and oil. She also recommends following up with a second gentle cleansing step before exfoliating. Basically, micellar water, gentle cleanser, and light exfoliation = good; hardcore scrubbing = bad.

Since this seems like a fairly quick and easy fix, it got me wondering about how bad it really is to sleep in your makeup. And turns out, it’s pretty bad. “Even if you’re wearing oil-free makeup, sleeping with your liquid or powder foundation on will clog your pores. This will put you at risk for either causing or worsening acne,” says Dr. David, noting that will also prevent skin cells from shedding properly, which makes your skin look dull the next day. “Sleeping in eye makeup is especially bad because the skin on our eyelids is the thinnest and most sensitive area on our body. Overnight eye makeup can make you prone irritation, inflammation and every infections. Leaving mascara on too long can also clog the [meibomian] glands attached to your eyelashes and lead to development of a stye.”

Yeah, so a big-time “whoops” was the appropriate initial reaction to waking up with full-face glam. According to Dr. David, making such a makeup mistake once in a blue moon isn’t really that big of a deal. “Don’t panic if it’s a one time mistake,” she says. “The chances of developing chronic acne, infections and inflammation definitely increase if sleeping in makeup becomes a habit.” Duly noted, from me, my skin, and my eyelashes, which haven’t seen makeup since they slept in it, and seem to be doing just fine.

Meet pastel makeup, a spring trend that’s worth trying (during your waking hours, that is). And here’s how to tell when you should use makeup remover versus cleanser to get it all off before bed.

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