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How to Look Less Tired, According to a Dermatologist

An expert explains how your appearance changes with a lack of sleep.

tired computer programmer rubbing eyes while sitting in office
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"You look tired." We've all heard it before, whether it was said to us or a friend. But what does it really mean? Your hair is a little unkempt? There are dark circles under your eyes? Maybe your skin's a little dull? No matter what they might've meant, it's hard to hear the comment without acknowledging its negative connotations.

But is there any truth to "looking tired?" Is that even a thing? According to dermatologist Dr. Loretta Ciraldo MD FAAD, yes it is — and studies have shown those who get less sleep are ultimately seen as less attractive.

Can You Really 'Look' Tired?

"A 2013 study published in the journal Sleep found that people who had been sleep-deprived were seen as having more wrinkles, more dark circles under eyes, puffier and sagging upper eyelids, duller skin and more downward turn of the corners of their mouths," Dr. Ciraldo says. "Another study from Sweden showed photos of the same people, either after a good night's sleep or after 5 hours of sleep. When the very same people had less sleep the observers rated them as less attractive and less healthy in appearance. This is probably because when we sleep our skin and other organs undergo cellular DNA repair. When we miss the full cycle of this nightly repair mechanism we actually look worse the next day."

A-ha! So I guess folks's backhanded concerns were warranted all along. We really do look different when we get less sleep. But Dr. Ciraldo says there are a few easy ways to halt these changes before they even happen.

How to Look Less Tired

First, she says you should "start to sleep at least seven, preferably eight hours every night." Easy enough. She argues there's nothing that will help reduce the prevalence of tired eyes or bags like getting longer, better night's sleep. But she says you could also "change your pillowcase often since our pillow case collects dust mites that can get rubbed into skin and worsen appearance of eye skin and wrinkles; use a satin or silk pillowcase; sleep on a couple of pillows if you are prone to puffy eyes since gravity will lessen morning puffiness; [and] massage and/or apply ice to facial or eye puffiness if you have this in the morning."

Sure, these steps might make your bed look a little weird or add a few extra steps to your morning routine, but they're well worth it when you consider what you could look like completely refreshed. As it is with most things, though, skincare isn't just about, well, skincare. It's about the products you do or do not apply, yes, but it's clearly about the kind of sleep you get, what you're eating and drinking and doing during the day, too.

"For most of us, alcohol will worsen or sometimes even create dark circles in the AM," Dr. Ciraldo adds. Late nights and drinking typically go hand in hand, and that's a hellish combination for your skin. But there's a surprising drink Dr. Ciraldo says is proven to make less of an impact. "If you are prone to these, try to drink white wine spritzers instead of straight alcohol or red wine."

Cutting alcohol, she says, helps — not only now but in the long run, too.

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