When you first stumble across the acne strategy of keeping your pillowcase clean and fresh, it seems like the most logical trick in the world. You spend eight hours per night with your head or face embedded in your pillow.
If you sleep on your side, then there’s no item in the world which your face is in more regular contact with. Pillows are so nondescript and common that most people miss it, only to get a burst of excitement like a bolt of lightning when they realise the opportunity.
The secret effects of pillowcases
One of the main rules in the world of acne is that diet is more important than hygiene. Consider when your acne began: as an 8 year old child, you had no acne whatsoever, but once you morphed into a 14 year old teenager, it was everywhere. Yet your hygiene remained almost exactly the same, or even improved, with chemical cleansers coming into play.
This is the clearest illustration of how acne starts inside the body, and how hygiene can never fully cure it. That said, natural hygiene strategies are still excellent to use, to push your skin to the next level. The greatness of cold showers, grapeseed oil, and honey cannot be denied.
Thus we arrive at pillowcases. Before you read any further, understand that changing your pillowcase will NOT cure your acne and never can. However, it can make a difference and here’s how.
The conventional wisdom regarding pillowcases is that existing oil, skin cells, and bacteria on your face will accumulate there and expose you to danger later. This is mostly accurate but not completely, since old skin cells are already detached from your face. The laws of physics will prevent them from re-clogging your pores, even if you slept all night on your stomach with your face embedded in the pillow.
The sebum and bacteria are another matter. The bacteria can reinfect your skin, given that it’s a living organism capable of movement. P.acnes bacteria will travel into your skin pores and begin triggering inflammation all over again.
If you have recently improved your acne substantially, or spent the last two days cleansing your skin with antibacterial topical treatments like honey, many of your efforts will be erased. There will be a pool of bacteria and a pool of acne ready and waiting for you. A pillow is a particularly excellent environment for p.acnes to multiply in, being kept warm and moist by your head for eight hours daily.
An added complexity is that different p.acnes strains are much worse for acne, particularly sub-types 1a and 1b. If you successfully rebalance your skin flora towards the beneficial p. acnes strains, you could still have a reservoir of bad strains waiting to reinfect you. The dodgy strains are extremely mobile too. What’s more, if somebody else with acne sleeps in your bed, they could “donate” their dodgy strains to you.
With oil, there’s another layer of depth that most people don’t comprehend. The oil which is accumulating night after night won’t clog your pores much, again due to the laws of physics… but it can expose you to squalene peroxide. Squalene peroxide is the component of sebum which is worst for acne, forming when sebum is attacked by free radicals. If your skin is in full pizza face mode, it will be covered in squalene peroxide, as will your pillow…
…and it’s contaminating your pillow with squalene peroxide that is the real problem. Squalene peroxide clogs pores much more effectively than intact sebum and has highly inflammatory properties. If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know this already. You could apply antioxidants to remove any squalene peroxide, only to fall asleep and have it inflame your face from your pillow. Furthermore, the addition of sebum to pillows fuels the growth of bacteria there, since p.acnes bacteria derives its energy from sebum.
Oil and bacteria accumulation are the basic problems, but with added complexity. We can conclude that never changing your pillow will have at least a moderate detrimental effect.
Interestingly, the risk is much lower if your skin is clear. Clear skin has 1) less squalene peroxide, and 2) a healthier flora of p.acnes. The worse your acne is, the greater the impact will be.
The many products available – are they necessary?
Whether your pillow has any effect depends heavily on your sleeping technique, style, and method as well. Personally, I sleep flat on my back, like a vampire in a coffin, and never turn onto my side. However, side-sleeping is the favourite position and this constant rubbing of your cheeks into the pillow is what allows the oil and bacteria to spread. People who sleep flat on their stomach with their face embedded and somehow avoid dying are in even more danger. Countless people report in that their acne is much more prevalent on the cheek which touches the pillow.
This simple but promising observation is how the great pillow washing movement kicked off in the first place. Techniques vary, with many recommending daily changes, and others changing them biweekly. Thanks to this glorious movement, countless products have sprung up as well:
SleepClean Acne Fighting Pillowcase – this invention promises to completely eliminate bacterial infestation, multiplication and accumulation. The fabric is interwoven with ionic silver – a relative of the popular alternative remedy colloidal silver. Ionic silver is highly antibacterial, destroying the cell membrane completely.
Silver itself is not a miracle remedy, since it’s a heavy metal, but the main side effects come from ingesting it. This pillow lasts for a year and requires washing every 7 to 10 days, down from the daily washes recommended by some. The material is made from cotton. Will it work? It will almost certainly keep p.acnes suppressed. AMAZON LINK.
Nufabrx Pillowcase: Clearer Skin While you Sleep – the most interesting pillow created so far is this, another antibacterial invention, this time using a mixture of natural oils. The ingredients are lavender essential oil, lemon balm oil, tea tree oil, and wintergreen oil.
According to the company, the pillow itself has been proven to reduce p.acnes bacteria by 91.5% over 24 hours, which is extremely impressive. It’s definitely possible, given that each of those ingredients has been shown to reduce p.acnes individually. The material consists of 100% bamboo, so watch out for gangs of panda bears breaking into your house. AMAZON LINK.
YourFacePillow – a product designed to herd your head in, moulding it so that you are incapable of lying on your side. There are two soft walls of pillow on the side of your face, enough to turn slightly, but enough to keep it in position.
The reasoning here is that your face needs to avoid being cramped, and needs correct air flow for acne prevention. But bacteria and sebum can still accumulate with this pillow. The pillow is made from foam, which is free from chemical flame retardants, heavy metals, phthalates and other chemicals. The best part of this product is that it will force you to adapt to sleeping on your back. AMAZON LINK.
Save My Face La Petite White Satin Pillow – another uniquely shaped pillow. As you can see from image above, when you roll to the side using this pillow your cheeks and nose will be met with nothingness. The problem with this pillow, and others like it? Your face will still be in contact with something, whether it’s the duvet or sheets underneath. AMAZON LINK.
Those are just some examples. Many of these pillows are very interesting, well thought out inventions, but the question is whether you even need such a snazzy pillow in the first place. The difference is always going to be minor at best, and despite the quality of the products, many of the reviewers noticed nothing.
Everlasting do it yourself strategies
What’s more, there are several extremely simple tricks you can use which cost nothing. Firstly, just follow the basic method: wash your pillowcase more often. Doing so will wipe out the bacterial build up, and the oil as well. If you wage war on p.acnes bacteria through diet and topical treatments, and then wash the pillow regularly, there will be no danger of your old, deposited enemy coming to visit again.
Opinions differ, but after reading tons of testimonials, washing your pillows daily is unnecessary. If your acne is extremely bad, then it might be smart. For the average acne-clearing enthusiast, with less bacteria, using the same section of a pillow no more than three days running is smart…
…and if you read that closely you’ll realise another implication: you don’t have to use the same section. Simply flipping over your pillow will eliminate all exposure to the p.acnes colony. You could use one side of a pillow for two days, and then flip it. Do you use two pillows, for neck support or comfort? Swap them around. Better yet, remove the pillowcase and turn it inside out. The bacteria won’t have soaked through, if the material is sturdy enough.
You now have a four day system. Use the pillow, flip the pillow, turn the casing inside out, and flip the pillow again. Spend two days on each setting and you have an eight day system. Be a member of the two pillow sect and you can have a 16 day system.
Instead of buying a jail cell pillow, you could train yourself to sleep on your back. Try sleeping with some large earmuffs of headphones on, making you incapable or turning and following the same adaption principle as the special pillow. You could also wrap your face up like a mummy, wrapping your head up in a towel or sheets, keeping only the main section of your face exposed.
A popular strategy is to remove contact with pillows entirely, by placing a fresh towel on top each night. The towel would act as an armour and become home to p.acnes instead. The problem with this is that there’s little difference to a pillowcase; you have to wash them with the same frequency, although the hassle of stripping the pillow is eliminated.
A better option is stuffing your pillow inside a t-shirt. If your environment is clean, free from air pollution and contaminants, you could sleep with the back of your previous day’s shirt in contact with your face. There’s no extra hassle since you wash your shirts daily anyway.
There’s countless other strategies, some of which include keeping bacteria suppressed. Live in a cold country? Keep your pillow in the shed during the day, to starve p.acnes of the conditions they need. Put it in the fridge if you have space.
The basic strategy, the obvious one which people miss, is the first one: rotating the pillow and turning it inside out.
Consider the nights when you fell asleep in about five minutes, had the craziest dreams imaginable, yet didn’t wake up once. Was it because the fabric of your pillowcase was slightly softer than usual? Or was it because of much more important factors: a whole day of hard exercise like skiing, leaving each tiny step feeling like the summit of Everest, in a spent and satisfied way. Eating a correct diet, with plenty of magnesium and carbohydrates in the evening. Or finally, your duvet being warm and comfortable.
The truth is that fabric softeners are completely unnecessary for pillowcases. What do they add? People use them out of habit, and they’re also a hidden source of acne.
Fabric softeners contain one of the worst cocktails of acne-causing chemicals in existence. One example is phthalates, a preservative used to preserve the attractive smell of the scent ingredients. Phthalates are highly inflammatory and induce oxidative stress, meaning that they deplete antioxidant levels in the skin. They’re also notorious for being an xenoestrogen, causing man boobs, lowering testosterone, and generally destabilising hormones. Regardless of acne, phthalates are a nightmare.
The scents are particularly reliant on artificial and unhealthy ingredients, and worse, they don’t have to be listed on the ingredients label. A single artificial scent can contain hundreds of different chemicals. A common example is limonene, an artificial citrus scent. Limonene reacts with ozone in the air to form formaldehyde, a highly toxic chemical linked to inflammation. Other toxic byproducts which can be formed include acetaldehyde, 1,4-dioxane, and methylene chloride.
One study tested numerous scented products, including laundry detergents, fabric softeners, and dryer sheets. Every product emitted 1 to 8 “toxic or hazardous” chemicals when used, including many carcinogenic ones. These byproducts will end up in the pillowcase you sleep on. Again, many have strong estrogenic properties and are behind the infertility epidemic of today, which newspapers maddeningly deem to be “unexplainable”.
You should never trust any chemical product like this where not all of the ingredients have to be listed. These chemicals are rarely considered next to bacteria and sebum in pillowcases, but they’re a big threat. They’re also much easier to eliminate.
Changing your pillowcase more often can definitely improve your acne, but it’s not the strategy of the century. The improvements will be moderate at best, and most likely minor.
If you drench your pillowcase in fabric softener routinely, then your opportunities are wider. Rotating and flipping the pillows is the bread and butter strategy, but if you’re willing to invest a special pillow, you can push your skin further. The Nufabrx pillowcase is king of the pillow market.
Also remember that these rules apply to towels too. There’s no eight hour contact, but you use a towel to dry your face, and it’s an even warmer, more humid environment than a pillow. Once p.acnes has found a home, it’s there to stay. Be sure to wash your towel just as regularly.
The final point to remember is that this is a trivial strategy overall. It makes perfect sense when you first hear about it, but there are more rewarding, juicier strategies out there. Get your system in place, and dedicate your efforts towards diet, lifestyle, and some natural topical treatments.
Then again, the goal of this website is to tell you about every strategy possible, so that you can combine hundreds and hundreds of minor improvements, like changing your pillowcase, and thus have a substantial improvement.
Thanks for reading!