Catching Some Zs
What Skin Really Needs

By Linda Knittel

Originally published in ASCP's Skin Deep, June/July 2006. Copyright 2006. Associated Skin Care Professionals. All rights reserved.

Your client is desperate for an answer. She's been to the dermatologist and acupuncturist, bought the expensive cleansers and moisturizers, even cut wheat, sugar, and dairy from her diet, and still her complexion is looking less than fresh. She complains of puffy eyes in the morning, dark circles from time to time, and breakouts. You know your treatments can do a lot to help her, but there is one factor you can't control that can make a world of difference in the appearance of her skin: does she get enough sleep?

We all know after a night of good sleep we look a little fresher in the morning, but you might not realize that huge improvements in one's skin can simply be due to getting some serious shut-eye. Most often within two nights of uninterrupted slumber, a client's eyes will appear less puffy, dark circles will fade, wrinkles will become less noticeable, and, most remarkably, acne will begin to heal.

Of course it makes sense that during sleep, when the body does not have to busy itself with functions like digestion or physical exertion, it's able to focus all of its energy on regenerating cells, building energy, neutralizing free radicals, and regulating hormones--all of which can have a dramatic influence on the look and feel of skin. Specifically, snoozing allows the body to minimize the negative effects of cortisol (the so-called aging hormone) such as breaking down muscle and thinning skin. In addition, sleep is the time when the body can repair the cellular damage caused by the neurotransmitters epinephrine and norepinephrine, which are elevated thanks to daily stress. If that's not reason enough to turn in early, it's during nighttime sleep that the body releases helpful hormones. These include melatonin, which has positive effects on your skin and immune system, and growth hormone, the substance that is thought to help keep us young.

Simply put, without proper rest, important physiological functions begin to break down, and the first place it shows is on the face. Skin care treatments and products will be much more successful if your clients can incorporate adequate sleep into their lives. Educate your clients on the need for proper sleep, and your treatments--as well as their skin care goals--will have a much greater chance of success. Providing them with some home care tips will also help contribute to a healthy complexion.

Following is a look at the relationship between sleep and many of the most common skin complaints as well as client tips for dealing with them.

Puffy Eyes
Crying and not getting enough sleep are two of the biggest causes of puffy eyes, although sleeping face down in your pillow is an even bigger culprit. Let your clients know they are more likely to wake up with swollen eyes if they are menstruating, pregnant, or if they recently indulged in alcohol or salty foods. Even drinking water (or any beverage) shortly before bed can add to the problem. Essentially, the bags they see in the morning are just the result of fluid that has pooled under the eyes, so you want to help them minimize water retention.

The Fix: Educate your clients that, no matter what, they should not rub their eyes. It will only make them more swollen. To deflate, suggest they place a cold washcloth on their eyes for
several minutes to help drain the fluid. Another solution is applying cool, moist black tea bags (wrapped in tissue) over each eye. The tannins in the tea work as an astringent to pull the skin taut and reduce puffiness. You might decide to stock any of a number of products now available that contain such anti-inflammatory ingredients. To prevent future puffiness, suggest your clients avoid salt and alcohol, get more sleep, and try sleeping on two pillows to keep the head elevated at night.

Dark Circles
To some extent, your clients can thank their parents for the dark circles under their eyes, since heredity plays a significant role. However, skimping on sleep can definitely exacerbate the problem. Without enough sleep, the body can't properly regenerate and plump up skin cells, leaving the area under the eyes thinner and more transparent to the blood vessels underneath.

The Fix: In addition to easing puffiness, holding a cold washcloth on the eyes for about five minutes will help constrict blood vessels, minimizing darkness. At night, suggest your clients use a good under eye moisturizer made from nourishing ingredients such as elastin, vitamin E, and collagen to help firm skin. Guide them in choosing a concealer made with light-diffusing ingredients that will help cover circles during the day. In addition, you might suggest lightening agents and bleaching treatments that can reduce dark spots and circles more permanently.

The specific causes of one's acne can vary greatly: heredity, hormones, overactive oil glands, bacteria, and food allergies are among the list of contributors. But there is one factor that will worsen blemishes no matter what the cause: lack of sleep. Not only is the body less able to fight bacteria and heal blemishes when it's fatigued, but the longer one is awake, the more oil the body must produce to keep the skin moist, setting one up for clogged pores and the pimples that follow.

The Fix: In addition to helping your clients find the right acid-based washes, oil-free night creams, and other acne fighters to work wonders while they snooze, be sure to remind them that an hour or two of extra sleep a night will make a world of difference in healing pimples and preventing future breakouts. Remind them to change their pillowcase every other day to prevent residual dirt and oil from clogging skin while they sleep.

Wrinkles and Fine Lines
Plain and simple, skin looks dehydrated, creased, and older if
one is not sleeping well or enough. Hormones are disrupted, oil secretion is set off kilter, and one's face suffers. What's more, lines and wrinkles on the face can also worsen depending on the way you are sleeping. Of course face down is the worst, but even lying on the same side and cheek night after night can cause repetitive creases and permanent lines.

The Fix: Make sure your clients are using a moisturizer that is right for their skin types and that they are faithful sunscreen users, drinking plenty of water, and eating well. The latest antiaging facial treatments and products can make a real difference when it comes to wrinkles, so be sure to educate your clients on what's available. And, as always, make sure they're getting enough sleep--on their backs of course.


While skin care products and treatments may go a long way in addressing dull and blemished skin tones, remind your clients the treatments will go much further if they address poor sleeping habits. A restful body provides the foundation for a fresh face.

Linda Knittel is a freelance writer in Portland, Oregon. Her work has appeared in several national publications, including Yoga Journal, Natural Health, Fitness, and Gourmet.

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