Do you always take off your make-up before bed? Every night? Even after a glass of wine too many? Or when you’ve fallen asleep on the sofa? Or you simply couldn’t muster the energy? You’re not alone. In a recent survey, a third of women questioned confessed to sleeping with their slap on at least twice a week. Yet those very same women did so despite believing that skipping their skincare routine before bedtime would give them spots, dry their skin and make their eyelashes brittle. They even said they thought it would age their faces by more than two days for every night that they didn’t bother. So if we think that such slovenliness is that bad for our skin, why aren’t we more assiduous about cleansing? In my case it comes down to priorities. On any given evening, my ‘to do’ list (which can be tackled only once the children, aged four and seven, are asleep at 8.30pm) includes loading and unloading the dishwasher (several times), tidying toys away and answering emails. Then there’s the washing, filling in homework diaries, sorting school uniform and coaxing our contrary cat out from behind the garage. All this means that make-up removal frequently falls off the bottom of the list. But how much harm can a bit of war paint really do? Isn’t this just another example of beauty companies scaremongering in a bid to flog us yet more skincare products we could possibly do without?
To find out, I took up the challenge of leaving my make-up on not just for a night, but for a whole month. I would give my face a cursory wash in the shower each morning but I would be allowed to use none of my usual cleansing creams, and would have to reapply new make-up over the remnants of the old each day. About face: Sleeping with her make-up on for a month left Anna’s smooth skin looking cracked and red. In order to measure any changes in my skin statistically rather than subjectively, I went to see Nick Miedzianowski-Sinclair at the 3D Cosmetic Imaging Studio, based at the Queen Anne Medical Centre just off Harley Street. Nick analysed my face using a special 3D camera which shows – in mortifying detail – my pigmentation, broken veins, enlarged pores and wrinkles. My flaws were then compared against the average woman of my age (40, since you ask) to give me a percentage score. Suspecting that make-up worn overnight for a protracted spell might prove very drying, Nick also took moisture readings across my cheeks and lower and upper forehead.
And then the experiment began. Although there was a temptation to be circumspect, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to take my make-up off, I followed my usual routine. On went the Max Factor Facefinity foundation, the Diorshow mascara and the L’Oreal eyeliner, finished off with a slick of Guerlain lipgloss. Night one, and after a hot, sticky day that included commuting back and forth across London on the Underground (always a surefire way to make skin feel filthy), I was desperate to cleanse and moisturise. But I hid my trusty Una Brennan creamy cleanser in a high cupboard and went to bed in full make-up. The following morning my pillowcase seemed to have suffered more than my skin. Other than having rather itchy eyes and some stubborn clumps of mascara hanging on to my lashes like limpets, I appeared relatively unscathed. After my morning wash, I slathered on some moisturiser, and added another layer of make-up.
By night three, however, it was a different picture. I had developed a series of tiny white cysts around my eyelashes and my skin was so dry and taut, it felt like a mask. By the weekend, a few friends had commented that I was looking tired. Close inspection of my skin in a magnifying mirror revealed the surface had become flaky and lumpy, a bit like a badly plastered wall. Moreover, the foundation that I had once loved looked dry and crepey on my skin. ‘How much harm can a bit of war paint really do?’ In a bid to rehydrate my parched face, once or twice I tried putting moisturiser over the surface of the make-up at night. But this served only to smear it in a wider arch across the pillowcase. My eyelashes, meanwhile, seemed to have stuck together into two giant mono-lashes, meaning applying further mascara was getting difficult. On several occasions I caught myself pulling eyelashes out in clumps and became genuinely concerned that they might all come out. One particularly scary morning, around ten days in, I woke up to find my left eye so swollen, I could barely open it. An optician friend assured me I’d simply caught a mascara-laden lash in it overnight and it would soon settle down. Mercifully he was right, but I did skip eye make-up for 48 hours after. I’m all for experimentation, but not if it actually blinds me.
As weeks progressed, my lips became dry and my skin cracked painfully at the corners of my mouth. With the end of the month approaching, I felt truly grubby and fed up. I had developed an intense aversion to mascara application and feared I may have done permanent damage to my skin. I had visibly blocked and enlarged pores all over my nose, dry skin across my lips and cheeks and red eyelids. The white cysts had given way to some nasty-looking eyelash dandruff. For an objective assessment, I went back to Nick Miedzianowski-Sinclair’s 3D camera and asked dermatologist Dr Stefanie Williams, medical director of the European Dermatology London clinic, to explain the results.
The camera showed that the surface texture of my skin was around ten per cent worse (i.e. more uneven) on my forehead and on the right hand side. On the left hand side, it was around 20 per cent worse, which Nick explained was probably down to the fact that I sleep on my left side. This meant that even less oxygen would get to the skin here, which would magnify any problems that the lingering make-up might have caused. According to Dr Williams, the decline in texture was almost certainly down to me skipping my twice-daily moisturising routine. This resulted in seriously parched skin, a fact proven by Nick’s other tests, which showed a five per cent drop in moisture levels. ‘Not only is the top layer of skin dry,’ said Dr Williams, ‘but a layer of make-up will also prevent normal skin shedding, slowing down the usual renewal process, resulting in uneven and dull textured skin.’
ALL LINED UP
Although the wrinkles on my forehead hadn’t worsened significantly, they had become deeper on both the right and left hand sides of my face. Dr Williams said that it’s no coincidence these were also the driest parts of my face. ‘When skin is dry, it’s less elastic so wrinkles are more prominent,’ she told me. She also believes that this dryness would have been compounded by environmental pollutants sticking to the make-up, causing what is known as oxidative stress, where skin is attacked by harmful free radicals. ‘These molecule-sized compounds cause damage to various cellular structures in the skin and can actually decrease production of collagen – the substance that gives skin its plumpness – compounding the wrinkle issue,’ she explained.
My skin is sensitive and prone to redness anyway. This meant that even before the experiment, I scored in the bottom six per cent of women my age. A month in, and it had become two percentage points worse. Any more of a downward slide and I would be an off-the-scale mass of angry, dilated facial capillaries. Dr Williams told me this redness was a sign of irritation in the skin. ‘Sleeping in make-up,’ she warned, ‘has an occlusive effect (it forms a barrier over the surface of the skin). ‘This means any irritants are locked in, exacerbating any allergic reactions, and moisturisers are locked out.’
MY POOR PORES
Deep cleanse: Long-term avoidance of washing while continuing to wear make-up is detrimental to skin in the long run. The pictures showed that my pores were about five per cent larger than they had been at the start. Dr Williams said this was partly due to physical clogging. ‘Dirt in pores not only makes them more noticeable and thus appear larger but, over time, we think it can actually stretch them.’ However, she also believed that it was a sign that my skin had aged over the month. ‘Older people naturally have larger pores because, with age, elasticity decreases so the structures that support the skin, and keep pores tight, become slacker.’
The experts estimated that my skin was biologically approximately a decade older than before I began my no-cleansing experiment. This proved what my mirror reflected: my face genuinely has aged by as much as ten years in a month, and all because I didn’t take my make-up off. I’m terrified that the damage might be permanent. Have I ruined my skin – and my looks – for ever? Fortunately, Harley Street cosmetic dermatologist Dr Sam Bunting reassured me. ‘You won’t have done any meaningful damage in four weeks,’ she said. ‘But long-term avoidance of cleansing while continuing to wear make-up could be detrimental to your skin in the long-run. ‘The biggest issue is the accumulation of environmental pollutants, which drive the generation of free radicals. ‘These contribute to the breakdown of collagen and elastin, the structures that underpin youthful skin. While these structures deteriorate with age, you don’t want to do anything to speed up that process,’ she adds I don’t need telling twice. From now on, however busy I am before bed, cleansing will be number one on my to-do list.
Originally featured on DailyMail.com/uk