Every morning starts out in pretty much the same way. I wake up, scroll through my phone (don't judge me), and get out of bed. I walk across the room to the mirror and inspect my face. Without fail, I have "pillow face" every single time, with creases and folds from the position in which I slept the night before. And recently, those very same markings have been cropping up as real wrinkles, splayed across my face for more than just the few minutes it used to take to watch them fade away. "This may come as a surprise," celebrity aesthetician Renée Rouleau warns, "but did you know the second cause of wrinkles is sleeping?" No, I certainly did not. She continues, "After sunlight and UV exposure, squishing your face into a pillow for approximately 2500 hours per year is like ironing wrinkles into the skin." Needless to say, I am not okay with this.
To be frank, it never really occurred to me I had any say in the matter—that there were treatments and prevention tactics I could employ to keep the fine lines from becoming permanent. I didn't realize I could sleep differently or buy products to change the course the wrinkles were bound to take. But there are. And according to Rouleau, there are behavioral changes I can make starting right now. "Sleep wrinkles are creases that form on the face due to skin positioning and pressure," explains Rachel Nazarian, MD, of Schweiger Dermatology Group. "They typically form as people move around in their sleep, sleeping with their face down or pressed up against their pillows, and primarily when fabrics have higher friction forces and the skin cannot glide along the fabric."
The Common Mistakes
1. "Using pillowcases with fabrics that grip skin rather than allow skin to glide," notes Nazarian. "Ideally, you should be using a silk or satin pillowcase." This will cut down on facial creases, lines, and imprints as you sleep. The less that happens, the less likely it is that you'll wind up with permanent fine lines from your sleeping position.
2. "Sleeping face down and pushing skin into the sheets or pillowcases," says Nazarian, "causes the skin to fold and crease and eventually stay permanently over time." It is so hard to change your sleep position. That I know. But sleeping on your back allows for a fresh face come morning. Plus, I read that J.Lo sleeps on her back surrounded by pillows to prop her up, and if the way she looks is a signifier, it works.
3. "Another common mistake is sleeping with your hands pressed against your face," says Nazarian. "Much like flannel or thicker cotton sheets, our skin grips rougher surfaces and wrinkles with lateral pressure—even our hands along the facial skin. It's best for facial skin to avoid contact other surfaces during sleep, keeping your face and head elevated with a pillow and using a silky cover that minimizes the pulling and rubbing on the skin."
The Preventative Measures
1. "Nighttime masks do a good job of keeping skin in place while you sleep, so even if there is a lot of pressure, the skin does not fold on itself," says Nazarian. And, she laments, the fabric you sleep on also makes a big difference. Definitely invest in silk to decrease friction forces and avoid rubbing or folding of your skin.
2. "Try to sleep with your head elevated on a pillow and avoid sleeping with your hands under your face," Nazarian reiterates.
3. "For a side sleeper, make sure to sleep with an extra-firm pillow and strategically position your head so the lower half of your face is literally off the pillow. Therefore, the face doesn't flatten out like a pancake," Rouleau suggests.
The Treatment Tactics
1. "Stimulating more collagen can help minimize these creases," suggests Nazarian. "This can be done with micro-needling and various lasers (including Fraxel) and products."
2. "Chemical peels do a wonderful job of resurfacing skin and minimizing the appearance of wrinkles while you get into the habit of changing some of your sleep patterns," says Nazarian. "It's never too late to improve your sleeping behavior, especially if it'll benefit your skin."
3. "The best way to prevent wrinkles is wearing an SPF every day," Rouleau notes. "Hands down, daily use of sunscreen is the number one most effective way to slow down the skin aging process. A generous application each morning will dramatically reduce the formation of lines, wrinkles, and brown spots. It also, of course, prevents skin cancer. From a topical standpoint, look for an overnight serum formulated with the best ingredients your skin needs to repair while you sleep," she suggests. "Think high concentrations of microalgae, superfruits, and peptides. That way, it'll improve visible firmness while repairing the surface effects of daily pollution and environmental damage."