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Are Your Sheets Making You Break Out?

If you’re prone to acne, then you know that keeping your skin free of breakouts is a daily battle. Washing your face twice a day, avoiding overly greasy skin care products, and eating a healthy, balanced diet are all essential steps in the fight against zits—but sometimes that’s not enough to keep your complexion clear.

If you don’t wash your sheets regularly, your bedding could actually be the culprit behind those pesky pimples. Here’s what you need to know about the connection between acne and your sheets.

Are your sheets responsible for your acne?

Here’s the deal: We shed millions of bacteria per hour onto our sheets, says Jason Tetro, microbiologist in Canada and author of The Germ Files. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology reveals that the highest amounts of bacterial contamination on bed sheets are typically found in the areas of the head, groin, and legs.

Can all this buildup of oil, dirt, and bacteria lead to clogged pores and breakouts on your face and body?

According to board-certified dermatologist Jennifer Haley, MD, the answer is a definite yes. Anytime your skin is pressed up against your sheets, pillow, or another object like a tight hat or even your phone against your cheek, it can’t breathe—and that means acne can form in those areas.

“I’ll often see more acne on the side of the face where someone holds their phone or if they sleep on one side of their face, especially if they sweat, have dirty sheets, and don’t wash their face before bed,” says Haley.

The bottom line is, all your good intentions during the day will go down the drain if you spend eight hours per night in contact with dirty sheets.

Related: The best bedding for sensitive skin

How do you prevent your sheets from making you break out?

There are a few simple steps you can take to ensure your sheets won’t make you break out any longer.

Wash your sheets frequently

A survey done by Mattress Advisor of more than 1,000 people revealed the average person changes their sheets every 24 days. While that might not have any negative consequences for those blessed with naturally clear skin, people who are prone to acne will want to wash their sheets a whole lot more often.

“Wash your sheets weekly—and if you keep having a tough time with acne, throw your pillow into the dryer for 15 minutes every few days so the heat kills any bacteria that may be contributing,” says Haley. She adds that you’ll want to wash your sheets even more frequently than once per week if you tend to sweat at night.

To kill bacteria living on your sheets, hot water is your best bet. That said, most sheets come with instructions to launder them in cold water to preserve the fabric. If you decide to wash your sheets in cold water, make sure to toss them in the dryer afterward to kill bacteria that survived the wash. When it comes to what product to wash your sheets with, choose a dye- and fragrance-free detergent, as dyes and fragrances can both make your acne worse.

Choose the right sheet materials

Some sheet materials are better for acne-prone skin than others. Always go with natural material that’s breathable, light, and smooth.

Haley recommends using silk pillowcases, which she says are good at preventing not only breakouts but also wrinkles. Silk is an 100% natural fabric made from the secretions of a silkworm. It’s smooth, lightweight, and hypoallergenic. Although silk doesn’t absorb moisture as well as cotton does, it still does a good job at repelling dust mites, mold, and bacteria due to its natural protein structure.

If you’re not a silk person—or if you’re a sweaty sleeper and need something more absorbent—choose sheets made from cotton or bamboo.

Cotton offers great airflow and moisture-wicking properties. Organic cotton is even better. It yields longer staple fibers resulting in a more breathable fabric. It’s also grown without harmful chemicals that could irritate your skin.

Bamboo is both hypoallergenic and highly breathable. It can take in three times more water than its weight, which means that it’s extremely effective at wicking moisture away from your body. By absorbing moisture, it discourages bacteria growth and reduces the chances of acne breakouts.

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Stick to a nightly face-washing routine

If you’re bringing all the dirt you’ve accumulated on the surface of your skin during the day into your bed, you’re pretty much guaranteed to wake up with a pimple. So make sure to cleanse your face each night before hitting the hay. And while you’re at it, take a nightly bath too—not only will it relax you for sleep, it will also help keep body breakouts at bay.

Whether you’re dealing with acne, sensitive skin, or allergies, it’s important to pick sheets that won’t cause further skin irritation. Here’s how to choose the best sheets for your biggest skin concerns.