Pillows and Toilets Have a Lot in Common and It's Sabotaging Your Skin

Clear skin goes beyond the products you use. You can slather on everything you’re supposed to, but if you’re not careful, sneaky sources of pore-clogging dirt and bacteria could be undoing all of your best efforts. The good news is all of those clean freak tendencies you have that drive your roommate nuts (but you know she secretly loves) will help you out here. If your need for clean isn’t particularly strong, it’s time to hop on board because it could save your skin.

Your Pillowcase and Towels

Studies show that lab samples of toilet seats and pillowcases are nearly identical. Yep, your pillow is as much a breeding ground for bacteria as your toilet. Add to that dirt, oil, dust, and dead skin, and you can see why your pillowcase could be sabotaging your clear skin efforts. Sleeping on your back can help a bit, but to really avoid exposing your skin to a cocktail of pore-cloggers, sleep on freshly laundered pillowcases as often as possible. Because microbes multiply so rapidly, aim to wash your pillowcases every two or three nights. And skip the fabric softener and fragranced laundry detergents, which only irritate skin.

Your towels may not be as much of a danger zone as your pillowcase, but the same principles apply. Between the fact that towels spend much of their time damp (bacteria multiplies fastest in wet environments) and in the bathroom (where bursts of microscopic germs are spread with each flush of the toilet), it’s no surprise that they could be causing problems for your skin. To keep the skin risks low, dry your face with a fresh towel every day. And remember, hair towels, body towels, hand towels, and face towels are all to be kept separate. If your last rinse in the shower didn’t take care of the last bit of conditioner, that’s okay. But you don’t want it clogging your just cleaned pores later.

Not Washing Your Face in the A.M.

For years, you’ve been warned against the dangers of getting your skin too squeaky-clean. True, you can overdo it, but we’re not suggesting you wash your face four times a day. No, just the regular two will do. And sure, some skin types can get away without the A.M. wash, but after what you just found out about your pillowcase do you really want to? Overnight, your skin sheds dead skin cells and sweats. Your morning cleanse is the time to remove that buildup and prep your skin for the products ahead. When you apply skincare treatments to skin that’s still covered in a layer of last night’s product, you’re not only diluting the effectiveness of the product but also clogging your pores.

The solution is simple: for clear skin, cleanse morning and night. If dry skin is your reason for skipping the A.M. wash, just switch to a gentle, non-drying cleanser like Philosophy’s Purity Made Simple ($24) or Neutrogena’s Ultra Gentle Daily Cleanser ($11).

Your Glasses, Phone, and Makeup Brushes

We won’t lecture you with the importance of cleaning your makeup brushes regularly because you already know that unwashed makeup brushes are an invitation for bacteria, dirt, and dust. But did you know that the bacteria count on makeup brushes left unclean for a month reaches a figure that has been deemed too high to measure? Yikes (and yuck)! And your makeup brushes aren’t the only items coming in contact with you skin to watch out for. Like many accessories, your glasses collect oil and bacteria, and wearing glasses makes it easier for all of that oil and bacteria, plus sweat and dead skin cells to get trapped in the skin. Oh, and that little device you press against your cheek umpteen times a day called a cell phone—it’s also collecting dirt, oil, and bacteria.

To combat the downsides of these necessary, everyday items, clean them regularly. Use anti-bacterial wipes on your glasses (that includes sunglasses!) and cell phone, and when using your cell, switch to earbuds or speakerphone whenever possible to minimize contact with the skin. And don’t forget to make bi-monthly makeup brush cleaning part of your routine.

Not Washing Your Hands Before Applying Skincare

People have been telling you to wash your hands since your preschool days. Now we’re here to reiterate that directive and add to it. First of all, you should always wash your hands before cleansing your face—what’s the point of pushing around cleanser with dirty fingers? Washing your hands before you apply skincare products is less obvious, but just as necessary.

Let’s say your morning skincare routine consists of two products, serum and moisturizer. In order for your skin to properly soak up all of the benefits of the serum, you need to wait at least 3-5 minutes for the product to sink in. Five minutes in the morning is precious time, not to be wasted, so chances are you find other things to do to occupy those five minutes. Perhaps you check your email, pack a lunch, get dressed—whatever it is, your hands did not stay pristinely clean. Wash them before you apply your next layer of skincare to avoid transferring the germs from your keyboard (or kitchen, or closet) to your face. The same applies to makeup—any time your hands have to touch your face, make sure they’re clean hands.

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