Why is Your Skin Feeling Tight? What You Need to Know About Tight Skin and How to Treat It

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Have you ever washed your face or stepped out of the shower and noticed that the skin on your face feels tighter? If so, you may have wondered if this was normal and what to do about it. The truth is that while our skin should be somewhat tight or taut, there is such a thing as skin that feels too tight due to being damaged or in an unhealthy condition.

The good news is that once you understand the factors that contribute to tight skin, there are a number of things you can do to prevent excess tightness from occurring. With a little time and proper treatment, you can easily restore your skin to a healthier and more hydrated state. Read on for answers to some frequently asked questions about tight skin and how to address this common concern.

Is your skin supposed to feel tight?

Before diving into all of the external factors that can cause skin tightness, it is important to understand a bit about what goes on below the surface of the skin. Our internal health, hormones, age and genetics have a lot to do with the skin’s tone and elasticity. Young skin has a tendency to be more plump or supple but can become less so over time as our skin’s ability to produce collagen and elastin declines with age.

Studies cited by the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) estimate that a woman’s skin will lose about 30% of its collagen during the first five years of menopause and then decline more gradually over a period of twenty years. These changes are primarily due to a decline in estrogen which depletes the skin’s protective barrier, thinning the tissue and causing skin to feel tighter. Additionally, collagen loses its ability to repair sun damage and other physical changes from aging over time.

With all of this in mind, it is normal for the skin to experience fluctuations as we age. What is not normal is skin that feels uncomfortably tight or dry for prolonged periods of time. When this happens, it can be a sign that skin is damaged or unhealthy and it’s time to examine the external factors that could be contributing.

Should your skin feel tight after washing?

One of the most common times we tend to experience dryness or tightness in the skin is immediately after cleansing. This has a lot to do with the fact that most skin cleansing methods remove water and natural oils from the skin. When this happens, our skin’s natural protective barrier is temporarily disrupted and the pH of our skin can become imbalanced.

According to celebrity esthetician, Renée Rouleau, skin tightness following cleansing can be a sign that you are not using the right cleanser for your skin type or not applying hydrating products soon enough after cleansing. She recommends avoiding bar soaps, which can be too harsh for facial skin and instead choosing a liquid cleanser that is sulfate-free. Additionally, Rouleau says that hydrating products should be applied less than 60 seconds after cleansing to ensure that your skin is properly restored to healthy moisture levels.

You may also want to consider how often you are cleansing. Skin that is oily or combination can typically benefit from being cleansed twice daily, whereas skin that is dry or sensitive may react poorly to over-cleansing and feel tight. If this occurs, try washing your face just once per day, or looking for a oil-based cleanser that does not strip the skin.

What if the skin still feels tight after moisturizing?

If your cleansing routine is on point and you are applying your other products right after, you should already be able to notice a difference in the tightness of your skin. But what happens if you’ve moisturized and the skin still feels tight? In that case, it is likely that you are not using the correct product for your skin type.

In addition to collagen levels depleting with age, AAD states that skin loses its ability to retain water over time. Therefore, it is very important to choose a moisturizer that adequately hydrates the skin and apply it frequently. Twice per day is ideal for all skin types to moisturize, but if your skin is dry or tight you can also apply throughout the day to maintain optimal hydration levels.

If you use active or drying products to combat acne, aggressive ingredients (such as salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide) can dry out the skin too much and contribute to it feeling excessively tight. Acne sufferers may be tempted to skip moisturizer but it is still important to use, even with a breakout. If you struggle with acne, look for a moisturizer that is oil-free and labeled non-comedogenic to hydrate your skin without clogging pores.

On the contrary, if your skin is dry, you will want to look for a moisturizer that contains some natural oils, or supplement your facial creams with a pure oil serum. According to the International Dermal Institute (IDI) plant-based oils have been used for centuries to supplement the skin’s natural moisture levels and promote overall skin health. For dry or aging skin, IDI recommends oils such as argan, rosehip seed, carrot seed and tamanu, as well as sunflower and avocado oils for sensitive skin.

What about exfoliation?

In addition to your cleansing and moisturizing habits, it’s important to look at how often you are exfoliating or using active ingredients such as alpha-hydroxy acids and retinols. While these powerful ingredients can be very beneficial to keeping the skin looking youthful, overuse of potent products can damage or even thin the skin past the point of being able to retain moisture. Watch for signs of over-exfoliation (such as skin feeling tight, redness, flaking or reactivity) and switch to gentler products when your skin is irritated.

What are some other factors that contribute to skin feeling tight?

While you can do a lot to treat your skin and prevent it from feeling tight, there are some environmental factors that we have less control over. The climate where you live, for example, can have a daily impact on the moisture levels in your skin. The amount of sun, pollution and other toxins you are exposed can also damage the skin, deplete moisture levels and cause the skin to feel tighter. According to IDI, lifestyle factors including diet, stress and certain medications can alter our skin’s chemistry and natural ability to protect itself.

Our best defense against the elements is to take preventative measures such as wearing sun protection, which should be applied daily as part of your morning skincare routine and reapplied if you will be exposed to the sun for prolonged periods of time. Be aware that exfoliating treatments and products can make the skin more sun sensitive and limit your exposure after using them. If you live in a desert climate or at high altitude, it’s important to drink plenty of water and apply topical moisture to the skin as you are more likely to experience dehydration from lack of humidity.


What should you do if your skin is feeling tight?

To troubleshoot skin that feels tight, try switching to a skincare routine that focuses  on hydration and supports skin health holistically. Reduce or stop the use of aggressive treatments and exfoliating products and instead try to incorporate more products that soothe and nourish damaged skin. You may also want to try using fewer products and following a more minimalist routine for a few weeks while you allow your skin to rest and rejuvenate.

A few good ingredients to look for to repair tight, dry skin are: hyaluronic acid, glycerin and ceramides for preventing water loss. Vitamin C is an ingredient that helps boost skin immunity, while Vitamin B helps treat inflamed skin and Vitamin E aids in moisturizing. When shopping you can also look for product keywords like “gentle”, “soothing”, “calming” or “hydrating” to treat tight skin.

An example product routine for treatment

For the morning: 

Step One: Wash with a cream or oil-based gentle cleanser

Step Two: Apply a calming or hydrating serum

Step Three: Apply moisturizer

Step Four: Apply hydrating SPF to the entire face and neck

For the evening:

Step One: Wash with a cream or oil-based gentle cleanser

Step Two:  Tone with a hydrating alcohol-free toner

Step Three: Apply moisturizer

Step Four: Apply a natural plant-based facial oil on top of moisturizer

Because the skin takes approximately 28 days to regenerate on an average turnover cycle, you may need to follow this routine for a few weeks before your skin begins to feel less tight. Once your skin begins to feel healthier, you can begin to incorporate more serums and exfoliation in moderation. Be mindful that the process may take some patience but always consult a doctor or dermatologist if tight skin continues to be a persistent issue.

Caring for Your Skin in Menopause by The American Academy of Dermatology


Should your skin feel tight after washing? by Renée Rouleau


Face Oils for Skin Conditions by Jenifer Goldsmith, International Dermal Institute


The Great Wall: Protecting The Skin’s Barrier Function by Emma Hobson, International Dermal Institute


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