Can a pillow fight signs of aging? Experts say it might

We speak to a dermatologist who can tell which side you sleep on by looking at your face...
(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

To sleep perchance to rid unsightly wrinkles from your face. That's not the quote as Shakespeare intended it, but the thought of sleeping away signs of aging is certainly dreamy.  

Believe it or not, there are pillows out there claiming to do just that: fight wrinkles and signs of aging as you snooze. The creators say the ergonomically-designed pillows can help reduce wrinkles by helping promote back-sleeping, or, if you sleep on your side, minimize face-to-pillow contact and decrease pressure on the face.

Celebrities the likes of Mandy Moore are sleeping with them, and some dermatologists even use them. They're pricey, retailing for upwards of $94.

But do they work? Dermatologists say there's a lack of scientific evidence backing their makers' claims, but they're worth a try.

"Full disclosure, I have one," said Dr. Julia Carroll, a dermatologist with Compass Dermatology in Toronto. "I'm a believer. Is there any evidence? From doctor perspective, it's a little bit more anecdotal."

Carroll said while there's little to no scientific evidence that a pillow can fight wrinkles, it makes sense that a pillow that encourages you to sleep on your back, or at least reduces face-to-pillow pressure, could reduce wrinkles caused while we sleep. Sleep wrinkles can appear where your skin is regularly squished together while you sleep, similar to how crow's feet form beside the eyes after years of smiling and squinting, she said.

"When I do an initial consult on one of my patients…probably nine times out of ten I can tell them which side they sleep on," Carroll said. "You can see it in their face."

And they become more apparent over time.

"Side sleeping and belly sleeping are worse for the aging face," said said Dr. Shannon Humphrey, a dermatologist with Carruthers & Humphrey Cosmetic Dermatology in Vancouver. She said women with large breasts may also see creases develop in their chest area where the breasts push together.

Wrinkles themselves are caused by both intrinsic and extrinsic factors, she said. Intrinsic factors can include muscle movements, aging and volume loss, and extrinsic factors can include sun exposure, smoking as well as sleep position, she said.

Humphrey personally uses a specialized pillow as well as two wedge pillows at her sides to help her sleep on her back.

"I have to say from a personal perspective, it was kind of a commitment to train myself to sleep on my back," she said. "But now it's second nature."

If you're ready to go all-in on the fight against sleep wrinkles, what are the options?

The dermatologists we spoke with declined to recommend any specific pillow, but the better-known ones include the EnVy Pillow, an anti-aging and neck-support pillow which claims to help reduce sleep lines and provide neck support, retailing for between $99 and $199 CAD; the Beauty Bear Age Delay Pillow by Nurse Jamie Healthy Skin Solutions, an anti-aging pillow which claims to improve quality of sleep and help minimize sleep lines, retailing for around $94 CAD; and the JuveRest The Sleep Wrinkle Pillow, which claims to minimize facial wrinkles caused by compression and pillow contact, retailing for around $217 CAD.

Still, some dermatologists are skeptical.

"A pillow is not a treatment," said Dr. Lisa Kellett, a dermatologist with DLK on Avenue cosmetic dermatology and laser clinic in Toronto.

Kellett said effective wrinkle treatments backed up by science include topical application of retinol, a type of vitamin A helps increase the production of cells that make collagen, and resurfacing laser treatments, which can increase collagen production. To prevent wrinkles, people should stay out of the sun, wear sunscreen and not smoke, she said.

Still, there's no harm in trying a specialized pillow, especially if it helps you sleep better.

"If you get a better night's sleep, then you probably look better in the morning," she said. "I'll give (the pillow makers) that."

Katrina Clarke is a Vancouver- and Toronto-based journalist who writes about relationships, health, technology and social trends. You can find her on Twitter at @KatrinaAClarke.