rinse and repeat

Is Everyone Changing Their Pillowcase More Often Than Me?

Photo: Getty Images

I’ve attempted to train myself to sleep on my back, Dracula-style, more times than I’d care to admit. I don’t do it to alleviate snoring or some other sensible health reason, but rather to thwart pimples that grow in the night when my cheeks are smashed against my pillowcase. Of course, I could also change my pillowcase more often. But how often? Right now I change it weekly, which seemed normal until I polled other Cut staffers. Some of my colleagues change their pillowcases every other day; some change once a month. Was my weekly swap somehow all wrong? Was I a neurotic pillowcase-nut for no apparent reason? Well, there are a few factors to consider:

1. Consider the dirt.
As a person of the world, your face and hair collect oil, dirt, and air pollutants as the day progresses. These particles aren’t necessarily visible to the naked eye, but trust me: They’re there. Of course they can be washed away to a certain extent with a nightly face wash and shampoo job, but remember that you’re a human with pores and sweat. And if — I don’t know — you eat in your bed or allow a furry friend to join you, your pillowcase will quickly accumulate a fair share of microscopic irritants. These range from various strains of bacteria that thrive on sweat and subsist on dead skin cells, to dust mites, to, in some cases, viruses. While your pillowcase may look clean to the eye, it is in fact a wild ecosystem of micro-bugs.

2. Consider the dryer sheet.
Dryer sheets certainly smell wonderful, but they are irrevocably flawed. You’ll notice that most are coated in a thick resin. This resin, which is typically made from animal fat, softens sheets. And yet like any animal fat, it also clogs pores. I personally haven’t used dryer sheets in six years because of this. (My sheets are not exquisitely soft, but my face is somewhat clear.)

3. Consider the hair.
There are microscopic irritants that land in your hair because of environmental elements, and then there are microscopic irritants that land in your hair because you’ve put them there. This is the residue from conditioners, oils, gels, and moisturizing creams. Though they serve a great benefit to hair, they are essentially napalm to skin. The longer you wait in between washes, the more residue accumulates — and well, you know where this is going.

4. Consider the consequences.
Suppose you never change your pillowcase. What’s the worst that could happen? The buildup of oil, sweat, and hair goo will usher in gnarly, inflamed skin. Dr. Daniel Belkin, a dermatologist at the Laser & Skin Surgery Center of New York, explains it this way: “These materials can help block follicles and lead to blackheads and whiteheads that ultimately can turn into red pimples.”

And yet there are other consequences of not washing your pillowcase. Dust mites will exacerbate eczema symptoms and allergies. If you catch a cold, the cold’s virus could spread to a sleeping partner.

5. Consider the weekly switch.
In light of all this disturbing information about the gross stuff on your pillowcase, you might feel like sterilizing it on an hourly basis. But the general consensus of the dermatological community is that once a week is actually best, even if your pillow is a bacteria juggernaut. It really all depends on your skin, though: “Those who struggle with acne may find it helpful to change their pillowcase even more often, such as nightly or every other night (you can turn the pillow over or have some back-ups on hand),” says Dr. Belkin. Still, some people will find that swapping less often is fine for their skin. In other words, I’m totally normal — and so are all my colleagues. And so, probably, are you.

Of course, how often you change your pillow is another story.

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The Luxury Silk Option

The Anti-Microbial Pillowcase

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Here’s How Often You Should Change Your Pillowcase