We’ve all done it.

You stumble home at 4am after a night out rocking it with the crowd, your hands sticky with cocktail spillovers, tired out from an evening of dancing and carousing. You kick off your six-inch stilettos, peel away that little black skirt, and off you finally go to the land of Nod. Taking your make up off is the last thing on your mind. Then, you wake up at two in the afternoon, squinting against the bright sunlight coming in from the window, feeling as though your head’s about to split open from an enormous hangover, and you suddenly realise that there’s black and red goo smeared all over your bed linen. Off you go to the bathroom mirror, where you blearily take in your terribly bloodshot panda eyes, cracked foundation and the streaky remnants of your lipstick. The Joker from The Dark Knight is staring back at you.

Not a pleasant picture, is it? Especially if you also suddenly remember that you actually didn’t come home alone last night, and that someone else will be seeing quite a different version of yourself from the night club – one which is not so attractive.

All of that aside, sleeping with your make up on can be harmful for more serious reasons, as well. Forgetting to remove eye make up can not only cause dryness, but also irritation and infection. Residues of mascara and eyeliner rubbed by your pillow could end up in your eyes, leading to significant eye irritation, or even creating the risk of corneal abrasion due to particles which could irritate the surface of the eye and inflame the delicate tissues of skin around it. Not to mention the fact that left-on mascara causes eyelashes to become brittle, break easily and even shed faster.

Smeared lipstick could spread on your face, clogging up pores and creating blackheads. Oil-based foundations are a particular threat, as apart from clogging pores (thereby leading to the formation of pimples and acne) their left-over residue can inhibit the absorption of skincare products by creating a barrier which prevents their penetration, meaning that moisturiser put on later won’t be able to nourish your skin. This exposure to free radicals could, over time, lead to collagen breakdown, and a faster ageing of the skin.



Dr Erin Gilbert and Dr Eric Schweiger, two New York-based dermatologists, maintain that, “During the day, you accumulate a lot of oxidative stress. When you sleep in your make up, you’re not giving your skin a chance to recover from those insults, which can lead to premature ageing.” They also note that “free radicals from the environment (often in the form of pollution) remain on the skin when you don’t clean your face properly at night. Free radicals cause collagen breakdown over time, which results in the development of fine lines and prematurely aged skin.” Definitely not something to look forward to!

The bottom line seems to be that during sleep, the skin takes the opportunity to regenerate itself, and leaving make up on it makes this harder. I’d hardly think this would lead to permanent damage should you do it once or twice, but making a habit out of it would not be a good idea. So, better safe than sorry. If you’re really tired or in a hurry, and taking off your make up seems like a chore, simply leave some facial cleansing wipes on your bedside table and take a quick swipe at your face before you fall asleep. This may not remove every single make up particle, but it would certainly be better than nothing.