Is Your Pillowcase Causing your Breakouts?

Hollie Shirley / Hair & Skincare Editor

Read our guide to find out how your pillowcase can affect your skin

In our previous blog, we talked about how a silk pillowcase can help acne sufferers, and while there is no definitive research that proves a silk pillowcase can prevent acne and breakouts occurring, there is research that shows a pillowcase can be the cause of your breakouts. 

According to Dr David. E Bank, Director and founder of the Centre for Dermatology, Cosmetic and Laser Surgery, Acne Mechanica is a type of acne that is triggered as a result of materials or objects touching your face. When your pillowcase isn’t laundered or changed regularly, the build-up of dirt, oil and sweat from your hair and skin can be absorbed by your pillowcase and transferred back onto your skin. This can clog pores, which leads to breakouts.

Cotton Pillowcases and Bacteria



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If you arent washing your pillowcases frequently, you are pretty much going to sleep on a breeding ground perfect for bacteria. Moisture from your skin and hair, plus your body warmth can all contribute to this. Any products that you put onto your hair and skin will end up being absorbed by your pillowcase, and will inevitably end up back on your skin. 

To put it simply, your pillow serves as a mirror for your skin. Everything that can be found on your face and hair can also be found on your pillowcase. While it might seem useful for your facial bacteria to rub off onto the pillow, thus detaching itself from your complexion, the problem is that you will likely use the same pillow for at least a few more nights. This means that bacteria can irritate your skin over and over again, each time you come into contact with it. When you sleep on the same pillow several nights in a row, you re-introduce these germs onto your face.


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Not only will a dirty pillowcase ensure that you keep having persistent, long-lasting acne, but it will also cancel out any skincare routines you are doing. You might be diligently cleansing your face in the evenings, successfully removing all makeup applying a great moisturiser and overnight treatment, but as soon as your face hits the pillow, all of the harmful substances will find their way right back to where they started.

Although re-introducing the same oils into your face each night may sound pretty disgusting, there is no actual harm in that. This is because it would be very difficult for your sebum to find its way back into your pores. However, when sebum comes into contact with acne-causing bacteria, you get a perfect acne-producing environment. Why? Sebum contains squalene peroxide. Squalene peroxide levels increase whenever you experience a breakout, due to the pressure of your face’s free radicals. A chain reaction occurs in which the substances that result from your acne, directly trigger even more zits. This is part of the reason why it is so difficult to get rid of ongoing acne, once you have had it once or twice.




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The same way your face re-contaminates itself with squalene peroxide, your pillowcase can do this for you tenfold. This substance has the potential to clog your pores to a higher degree than sebum, inflaming your complexion even more. Not everyone is going to break out as a result of their pillowcase, but if you’re prone to breakouts, whether it’s because of hormones, genetics or stress, they can aggravate an already delicate situation and cause micro-irritation.

How can you deal with this issue? Antioxidants can effectively counteract squalene peroxide, but if your face encounters the same pillow, with the same amounts of the substance on it, there is little use in such treatment. 

So what can you do? Here are some simple steps.


  • Switch to a silk pillowcase.

It’s a small switch that can make a big difference. The material breathes better and is softer on your skin, meaning no irritation. Thanks to its moisture-wicking properties, it will transfer less oil and keep any treatments where they need to be – on your skin. 

  • Wash your face every night.

Make sure to remove all your makeup and styling products from your hair before you sleep so it doesn’t transfer to your pillowcase and bedding. No excuses. Even if you’re exhausted, I promise it will make a huge difference. If you are pressed for time, invest in a face halo to wipe off the makeup, grime, and oil with just water and you’re done. 

  • Change your sheets often

This ensures you’re not lying on a pillowcase with several days’ worth of oil-soaked into it or pooled on the surface. This is the trustiest way to get rid of any bacteria that might be plaguing the fabric on which you sleep.  Avoid using a liquid fabric softener as they leave behind a waxy residue that is highly pore-clogging. A PH-neutral detergent will be enough, and change your pillowcase every three days or so. 

  • Invest in a good skincare regimen

No pillowcase will replace a good skin care regimen, but they will certainly be a great supplement. We are spoiled for choice with affordable products that have proven results, so take some time to figure out what works for you.  If you suffer from skin problems and don’t know where to turn,  consult a dermatologist who will be able to steer you in the right direction of the products that will work best for your skin.


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Hollie Shirley
Hair & Skincare Editor

Hollie Shirley is SILKUP’s hair and skincare editor. She’s obsessed with all things hair care and results-driven skincare, that is kind to the environment and your wallet. She has a weakness for limited edition eyeshadows and is always testing out the newest and greatest deep conditioners. Hollie has a passion for hair and is studying Trichology, working towards becoming a Member of the Association of Registered Trichologists.