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How Sleep Affects Your Hormones & Skin, From A Dermatologist 

someone getting ready for bed / sleeping
Image by OHLAMOUR STUDIO / Stocksy
May 26, 2021

Want this dermatologist's most coveted skin-saving secret? Well, there's a very good chance you're already doing it. The problem, however, is you're probably not doing it enough or getting good quality. What is this precious recommendation? Move over retinol, vitamin C, or lactic acid. The most important thing this dermatologist says you can do for your skin is to improve your sleep hygiene.

In a recent episode of Clean Beauty School, hormone expert and board-certified dermatologist Keira Barr, M.D., spoke at length about the importance of sleep and skin. Here, we break down why she believes it's the best thing you can do for your skin—no creams required.   

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A dermatologist explains the importance of sleep. 

The importance of sleep on your hormones and skin is twofold: melatonin and cortisol. The former is our sleep hormone, and the latter is what's called our stress hormone. Melatonin is only released at night, during rest, and cortisol is released when we feel stressed, upset, and overwhelmed. Understanding how these two hormones affect our skin is vital for understanding why sleep is so important. 

"Melatonin is critically important for your skin and plays a significant role in skin repair from environmental exposure, UV light, stressors, pollution, and so on," says Barr. "If you're not resting, you're not generating that melatonin, and your skin isn't repairing itself."

Cortisol, on the other hand, breaks down our skin. "Cortisol plays a significant role in our collagen and elastin. So those supportive tissues in the skin really give us that supple youthful appearance," she says. "Well, cortisol breaks those tissues down, so you'll see accelerated fine lines and wrinkling. But the other thing is that it also impairs repair." 

So by skipping out on sleep—deep, restful sleep—not only are you limiting your body's ability to release a hormone that can repair and heal your skin, but your body is more likely to increase cortisol levels (lack of sleep makes us stressed), and this will actively break down skin. 

"If I can even just appeal to your vanity: If you don't respect your body's natural rhythm with cortisol and melatonin, they will wreak havoc," says Barr.

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How you can improve your beauty sleep.

Here are a few derm-approved tips to help improve your sleep quality. (For more, check out our guides to beauty sleep and improving sleep quality overall.) 

  1. Track your rest. "Some of the biggest things that I do for my skin is really like right now I'm wearing a sleep tracker," says Barr. "I wear an Oura Ring to help me monitor my sleep because I know how important sleep is for my overall health and well-being for my stress levels but also for my skin."
  2. Create a nighttime routine. "How are you truly nourishing your sleep hygiene? I think as working professional women or stay-at-home moms—you are juggling so many different things and you're probably going, go, go, go, go, and may get to the point where you just collapse into bed. If you want healthy skin, you need to look at your nighttime ritual," says Barr. "You know, are you giving yourself time to wind down? Because beauty sleep is real." Barr recommends turning off blue-light devices and settling in a dark room prior to your intended bedtime. 
  3. Find a stress-reduction practice at night. Cortisol inhibits melatonin production. So make sure you have a stress-reduction practice prior to bed so your body is able to produce melatonin while you are sleeping. We recommend meditation, breathwork, or journaling. 
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The takeaway. 

Here at mindbodygreen, we believe that no product can replace the simple act of taking care of yourself. You can apply the fanciest night cream and slather on retinol in the evening—but if you are not getting quality sleep regularly, your skin will show for it. 

If you're looking for more engaging beauty conversations, listen to our new beauty podcast, Clean Beauty School. Subscribe at iTunes, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

Alexandra Engler
Alexandra Engler
mbg Beauty Director

Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and In her current role, she covers all the latest trends in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as lifestyle topics, such as travel. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.