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What really happens to your skin if you go to bed without cleansing – and whether a face wipe is better than nothing

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Okay, there will always be nights where you barely remember how you got to bed, let alone a thought about cleansing your face before you planted it in your pillows.

But making a habit of nodding off with skin still coated in the day’s grime, or even a full complement of makeup, is asking for trouble.

"What can be so bad? I hardly work in a coal mine," I hear you say. Well, let me enlighten you – and make sure nightly cleansing becomes as much of a habit as brushing your teeth.

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Staying dirty is seriously ageing

Research has long proven that skin does its repair and fresh cell-generating work mostly at night. That’s because all through the day, it’s preoccupied with its other major task: defending itself from the elements.

UV radiation in particular threatens its very DNA, causing cell death and cancer if protective armour isn’t deployed.

But air pollution (let’s count cigarettes), unhealthy foods (sugar and alcohol are particularly bad for skin), and the stress hormone cortisol are also responsible for relentless waves of free radicals: malevolent molecules looking to destroy your cells.

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The body has a plethora of genius defence mechanisms against all of these, but its resources aren’t infinite, and there’s little time for renewal and healing when it has to spend most of its time beating off the enemy.

As you sleep, at least there’s no distraction from sunlight, sugary snacks and stress, so there’s optimum scope for anti-ageing regeneration to take place.

Unfortunately for those who like to cut cleansing corners, a face still covered in grime and/or makeup counts as a major distraction.

What is that grime actually doing?

Not only will the coating of sebum, sweat, pollution particles (the nastiest of which are seriously damaging), and cosmetic pigments, oils and polymers (plasticky synthetic substances) cause blockages and spots, it will oxidise within the pores.

This will cause a nighttime surge of free-radical attack, interrupting or even stopping dead any repair activity.

And that’s before we’ve discussed how putting any skincare on a dirty face stops the products from penetrating and doing anything useful.

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In short, not cleansing your face means you’re ageing it before its time. And that’s a real shame, especially when we have access to hundreds of cleansers that make the process both a cinch and a treat.

So I suggest three ways to cleanse your skin properly of all dirt and makeup – an express, a fast, and a leisurely one. Chop and change between the three if you like, or stick to your express option if that’s what’ll make you commit.

And no – that doesn’t involve any cleansing wipes. Those only serve to move filth around on your face, and deposit a coating of surfactants (cleansing chemicals) and sometimes alcohol, fragrance and other skin irritants that should never be left on skin.

Do yourself a favour and forget about them!

The express cleanse

Double-cleansing is the gold standard for clearing your face of every type of grime: one cleanse deals with oil-soluble dirt while the next gets rid of water-soluble particles. But there are some cleansers that do it all in one go, and CeraVe Hydrating Cream-To-Foam cleanser, £12.49 here, a nourishing, foamy wash, is my favourite.

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Alternatively, use the mildest possible micellar water (I approve of Bioderma Sensibio H2O Micellar Water, £10.80 here, and a LOT of cotton pads.

You want to see no colour whatsoever on your last pad. Finally, give your face a quick rinse: you don’t want any micellar surfactant left on your skin.

The speedy shower cleanse

Get into the shower with a bottle of cleansing oil such as Typology 7-Ingredient Cleansing Oil, £14.80 here, and a bottle of sulphate-free face wash or cleansing gel like Green People Nordic Roots Cranberry Micellar Foam, £19 here.

Massage a little oil into your face before you wet it, gently working around your eyes and lashes until you feel the makeup melting under your fingers. Add a little water and massage a little more, then rinse it all off (make sure the water isn’t hot).

Follow with a dollop of water-soluble foam or gel cleanser, again gently massaging it all over your face and eyes before you rinse. Presto: your face will be pristine, but never squeaky or tight.

The leisurely cleanse

Fill your sink with warm-ish water, choose a rich cleansing balm like Starskin Orglamic Celery Juice Healthy Hybrid Cleansing Balm, £27 here, and get to massaging your face with a pound-sized scoop of it, melting it well into every nook and cranny of your face, neck and eyes.

Saturate a face or muslin cloth with water, squeeze and gently remove the balm, rinsing your cloth a few times. You may have to use a cotton pad with eye make-up remover to get rid of the panda eyes. Next, soak a cotton pad in acid toner (I like The Inkey List PHA Toner, £9.99 here) and pass it over your skin and neck (but not your eyes!) to lift lingering dead skin cells and leave your skin utterly purified and energised.

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