What Happens to Your Skin If You Forget to Wash Your Face Before Bed?

Dermatologists share everything you need to know.    

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After a long day, it's understandable if your beauty routine falls to the wayside as you get ready for bed. For many, this happens often—especially in regards to face cleansing. "Life happens sometimes, so going a day without washing your face will not totally ruin your skin—but making a bad habit of not doing so most days leads to a cascade of poor outcomes in your skin health," Dr. Adeline Kikam, DO, MSc, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist and the founder of Brown Skin Derm, says. But what exactly happens to your skin if you forget to wash your face before you hit your pillow? Here, dermatologists share their insight and explain how to keep your complexion smooth and clear, even if you do skip lathering up here and there.

woman touching face and looking at skin in mirror
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You could experience dryness, breakouts, or dermatitis.

As Dr. Kikam explains, a one-night break from your face wash routine won't cause too much damage, but it is important to rid your skin of dirt before dozing off. "Cleansing our face daily prevents the buildup of dirt, which can cause bacteria overgrowth—leading to inflammation and subsequent breakouts, dryness, eczema, and premature aging," she says. Dr. Tess Mauricio, a board-certified dermatologist, adds that your skin will look dull and oily, and can become more susceptible to infections.

While your genetics, lifestyle, and environment ultimately dictate the full effects of skipping this step, Dr. Kikam notes that you could start noticing some dryness within a few days of the oversight. Others may spot breakouts or rashes after a couple of weeks (especially if they have acne-prone skin). "Premature aging—such as fine lines and wrinkles—may present years down the line due to cumulative free radical damage to collagen in our skin," she adds of making this mistake a habit.

Wash up as soon as you remember.

If you can't wash your face or simply forget to do so before you fall asleep, Dr. Sandra Lee, better known as Dr. Pimple Popper, a board-certified dermatologist and the founder of SLMD Skincare, says that using an exfoliating anti-acne cleansing wipe—like her Resurfacing Acne Wipes ($35, slmdskincare.com)—can help keep your pores clear after the fact. The most important thing to do after this error is to cleanse your face as soon as you remember that you didn't, notes Dr. Kikam. Next, continue with the rest of your skincare routine—press in that hydrating serum or lotion to add moisture back into the skin, and follow that up with sun protection. Be sure to give the professionals a call if you notice anything unusual in the days that follow. "If experiencing an irritant dermatitis, a breakout, or eczema from not washing the face, then those should be addressed with your dermatologist," she says.

Make sure you're using the correct cleanser from the start.

"It's important to understand that washing your face strips it of excess oils, as well as natural oils that your skin produces—your own built-in moisturizer," Dr. Lee says. "When you wash your face or really any part of your body, especially if you're using a strong soapy cleanser, you are drying your face and skin out." To make sure you are giving it as much care as possible, she says to avoid fragranced cleansers, since those tend to dehydrate more intensely. Dr. Mauricio recommends a multitasking formula, like the No7 Radiant Results Purifying Foaming Cleanser ($8, ulta.com), so your skin will stay clean and irritation-free.

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