Is It Just Me or Is My Pillow Causing Me Acne Breakouts?

Editorial Team
January 12, 2021
3 Mins


You’ve got your 7-step nighttime skincare routine locked down, been getting restful sleep and eating a balanced diet. And yet when you wake up in the morning, you still find yourself inexplicably breaking out. 

You look down at the pillow that you’ve been sleeping on for the past 8 hours and you begin to wonder if there’s something about these pillows that's been wreaking havoc on your face. 

You’re not imagining it as there is evidence that your pillowcase could be the cause of your acne breakouts. 

According to a study published by the Archives of Dermatology, acne mechanica is a form of acne that can be developed when either an object or material is in constant contact with your face. If you haven’t changed or washed your pillowcase in a few days, it can develop a build-up of oil and dirt gathered from your skin, your hair, and even the surrounding environment. The dirt and oil then gets transferred back to your skin, leading to clogged pores, acne breakouts and blemishes. 

How to Prevent Getting Acne From Your Pillowcase

While not everyone will experience an acne breakout from a pillowcase, should your skin be prone to breakouts due to various factors such as stress, genetics or hormones, pillowcases can potentially aggravate your already-sensitive skin and cause irritation. 

Here are some ways to avoid getting acne mechanica from your pillow case: 

1. Wash Your Face Before Going To Bed

This might seem like an obvious first step but it is important that you remove all make-up, along with all the build-up of sweat, oil and dirt you may have accumulated over the day. If this is not cleaned off, it could gather and collect on your pillowcase and then be re-transferred back to your skin, ultimately causing clogged pores and a host of other skin conditions.  

It is recommended that you use a gentle face cleanser so as to not further aggravate and irritate your skin. 

2. Wash or Replace Your Pillow Cases Every 2-3 Days

While the material of your pillowcase could have a hand in causing breakouts (which we will get to shortly), the best and most important way to prevent acne mechanica is to regularly change or wash your pillowcase - preferably every 2 or 3 days. Even more so if you use thick leave-in products in your hair while you sleep, as the oils from both the hair product and your hair will collect on your pillowcase and be transferred to your face. 

It is also important to note what you wash your pillowcases with, as dryer sheets and fabric softeners could potentially leave a waxy residue behind that could clog your pores and lead to breakouts. Therefore, it is best to avoid any sort of fabric softener or heavily-fragranced detergent when laundering your pillowcases. 

3. Consider Swapping Out Your Cotton Pillowcase

If you see an uptick in acne breakouts, it is worth taking a closer look at the material that your pillowcases are made out of. 

Friction caused by rough cotton pillowcases can cause acne mechanica, aggravating sensitive skin and increasing the likelihood of acne breakouts. Cotton can also potentially make your pillowcase to be a petri dish of sorts and cause breakouts, as cotton absorbs oil, dirt and bacteria from your hair and face more readily than other materials like silk and copper. 

You might want to consider swapping your cotton pillowcase for one that is made out of silk. In a clinical trial run by Wake Forest University, researchers found that people who slept on pillowcases with “silk-like” qualities experienced a reduction of acne breakouts compared to people who slept on cotton pillowcases. 

These results could be attributed to silk providing a smoother and gentler surface for your face to lie on. By reducing the amount of friction that your skin experiences, it can also prevent your skin from being irritated. Silk can also absorb significantly less dirt and moisture as compared to cotton. This will help reduce the amount of oil and dirt that gets transferred to your face and lead to a reduction of clogged pores. 

Another material worth looking into is copper. Copper pillowcases are made out of materials like nylon and polyester that have copper oxide particles embedded in them. In a study published by Current Chemical Biology, research found that copper pillowcases were effective in helping healing and preventing acne breakouts, while also potentially reducing wrinkles and crow’s feet. 

These results were attributed to the fact that copper is naturally antimicrobial. By keeping the amount of bacteria present low, copper pillowcases also minimized the transfer of bacteria back onto the face, thus preventing further acne breakouts. Similar to pillow cases made out of silk, copper pillowcases also create less friction for your face and absorb less oil and dirt compared to cotton pillowcases.

The Takeaway

If you find that these methods aren’t working for you and your acne breakouts are getting more severe, it is advisable that you consult a doctor. Here at Zoey, our doctors are best equipped with the knowledge to help ascertain the root cause of your acne breakouts. They will be able to advise you on the best treatment suited for you, and can also prescribe you the right medication should you need it. 


Efficacy of silk-like bedding fabric pillow case in the treatment of acne vulgaris. (2018). (Link

Gadi Borkow, “Using Copper to Improve the Well-Being of the Skin”, Current Chemical Biology (2014) 8: 89. (Link)

Articles featured on Zoey are for informational purposes only and should not be constituted as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. If you're looking for a healthcare provider, click here.