Beauty Sleep 101

Beauty Sleep 101

The key to healthy, glowing skin isn’t found in a bottle.

LIZ DWYER discovers the beauty benefits of hitting the snooze button..

In a recent press trip to Paris with a group of leading European beauty editors, it struck me that almost all of these cosmetic-obsessed, hardworking women were suffering from less-than-perfect complexions. Myself included. Something was clearly amiss. After all, if anyone has access to the most effective serums and moisturisers in the world, it’s this crew.

In marketing speak, they call us Type A females. “Type As, in a given day, are in a constant race to stay on top of their careers, be a decent parent, a good partner, manage households, whip up meals and squish in some exercise,” says Dublin-based marketing expert Jennifer Duggan.

Skin specialist Dr Naomi Mackle has long noted the effects of lifestyle on her clients. “The biggest problem with Type As is that their sleep quality is usually the first to suffer,” and this leads to an onslaught of side effects, below par skin being the most obvious. Dr Mackle, who herself bolts between her clinics in Limerick and Dublin says, “I’ve patients in their thirties through to fifties whose skin looks a decade older than their mothers’ complexions would have appeared at that age. Despite all the advances in skincare we now have, this relentless 24/7 connectivity and the pressure to be superwomen is taking its toll on our looks, regardless of how much we invest at the beauty counter.”

We’ve long known that lack of slumber is bad news for our looks, but there’s been little research into the actual mechanics of it. So since 2007, Estée Lauder scientists have been on a quest to establish exactly what happens to our skin cells at night. After countless studies, they’ve proven that fine lines, uneven pigmentation, slackening of skin and reduced elasticity were twice as great in poor-quality sleepers as they were in good-quality ones (more cellular repair hormones are secreted before midnight than after).

They also discovered why – cells have a natural purification process, called catabolysis, essential to keeping skin cells in good shape, and this deep cleaning system peaks at night. When we’re not sleeping well, skin cells become cluttered and overburdened with debris and free radicals, leading to an increase of DNA damage. Damaged cells eventually die off, but they leave a tarnished blueprint behind, and the body keeps producing more damaged, ill-functioning cells, and the downward cycle continues, and the ageing process accelerated.

So what’s a Type A to do aside from trying to get to bed early? Break the constant drip feed of technology, for a start. All those flashing LED lights, and message alerts stimulate the production of cortisol – a high alert hormone – which stops us drifting peacefully off to the land of nod, thus hindering catabolysis. Plus, cortisol overload causes the breakdown of collagen and hyaluronic acid molecules, the fibres that give the skin its glow, bounce, and translucency.

And if that wasn’t enough to convince you to impose a screen ban in the bedroom and down all tech tools at least three hours before lights out, then the new trend skin specialists have coined “tech neck” may just persuade you. It refers to the premature slipping of the jowls and jaw area downwards into the neck area, and it’s a phenomenon that dermatologist Dr Gursharan Bedi is seeing lots of patients presenting with in River Medical in Dublin: “We’re spending so much time every day with our necks tilted downwards looking at tiny screens, the entire lower face is slipping south, way more prematurely than it should be.”

Meanwhile, other defences in the battle against shattered-looking skin include building up an army of robust, healthy cells from within, as topical lotions, unless prescriptive, can do very little to significantly improve the DNA road map from which all new skin cells will be built from. Lycopene, a potent antioxidant, is a powerful internal skin ally. Found naturally in tomatoes, but more abundantly in cooked tomato products like sauces, it stabilises skin cells’ DNA structure and helps repair DNA damage too.

Likewise, filling up with good fats will help bolster cellular DNA, and prevents inflammatory skin conditions: linseed oil, chia oil, oily fish and avocados are all rich sources of essential fatty acids. And as trite as it sounds, sun protection is both your first and last line of defence when trying to protect cells’ DNA, so never ever skimp on SPF. Layer up with a hyaluronic acid- based serum before bedtime to keep skin from leeking moisture, and keep cell turnover prompt with a glycolic- based face wash in the morning.

None of the above are overnight solutions, if you’ll excuse the pun, but they will have a cumulative effect on how your skin fares against the daily demands of being a modern, multitasking miracle worker. But the bottom line is: chin up and phone down – it’s time to save face with a good old-fashioned wire-free, nightly recharge, just as nature intended.

Follow Liz Dwyer on Twitter @beautybootcamp1

This article originally appeared in the February issue of IMAGE. The April issue is on shelves now.

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