This post may contain affiliate links.
Why Your Skin Feels Tight (It’s Not What You Think)
I used to think that after washing your face, your skin was supposed to feel tight. I thought that meant my skin was nice and clean! When your skin feels tight, that means something is wrong and your skin is not healthy. So, let’s talk about why your skin feels tight and what you can do to get rid of that tight feeling skin.
Tight skin can be caused by many different factors, and unfortunately, many of those are because of the products we are using are not good for our skin. Many, if not most, of the skincare products on the market today are actually terrible for your skin.
So, what are you supposed to do when your skin feels tight? What about when your skin feels tight after washing? Let’s find out!
Why Your Skin Feels Tight
What does it mean when your skin feels tight? First, let’s talk a little bit about your skin and why your skin gets that tight feeling. Your skin health is super important to your overall health, and tight feeling skin is a sign that your skin is not in the best shape. Healthy skin should not feel tight. So what does it mean if your face feels tight?
When skin feels tight, it’s a sign that your skin is damaged or unhealthy. Usually, when your skin feels tight and dry it’s because of a damaged or compromised moisture barrier. Or you’re simply not using the right products for your skin type.
It can also be a sign that your skin is dehydrated, which is usually when your skin feels tight but not dry. Or if your skin feels tight and shiny. So, if that’s you, it’s likely your skin is just dehydrated (which is fixable!). This is especially true if you find that your face feels tight but produces so much oil and looks oily all the time.
What is a moisture barrier?
The moisture barrier is the outermost layer of your skin that protects your skin and regulates moisture levels. It’s also known as the acid mantle, protective barrier or stratum corneum. The moisture barrier is so important because without it, your skin is more susceptible to damage. Meaning it’s more prone to acne and other microbes as well as environmental damage like pollution or UV rays.
Your skin naturally produces oils that help protect your skin from environmental stress and also to help lock in moisture. Your skin needs these oils to be healthy and to function properly. A lot of times, our skincare routines strip skin of its natural oils, which damages out moisture barrier.
When this happens, our skin feels tight, it becomes dry, sensitive and irritated. So if your skin feels tight and tingly or burns or feels itchy, chances are you’ve wrecked your moisture barrier. It can even cause your skin to look dull and be rough in texture and cause breakouts.
What Causes Skin To Feel Tight?
There is one step in your skincare routine that is likely responsible for your skin feeling tight. That step is cleansing! Why? It’s where most people go wrong because many cleansers on the market are terrible for your skin.
There’s one ingredient in particular that’s responsible for causing this and stripping your moisture barrier. And if you’ve read my other skincare blog posts I’m sure you can guess it!
Mainly Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate. Also known as SLS and SLES, respectively.
These two ingredients are responsible for making cleansers foam and also cleaning your skin. SLS is also what they put in dish soap. Yes, seriously. I point this out every time I talk about sulfates because that’s what helped me realize how bad they are.
You know, the stuff they use to clean oil off of sea animals when there’s an oil spill? Your skin is not that oily and you do not want to remove all of the protective oils on your skin!
It’s been shown that sulfates can cause irritation, trans-epidermal water loss and more. Luckily, though, once you stop using sulfates, your skin will quickly turn back to normal and stop feeling so tight, especially after washing.
Now, there are better sulfates out there on the market, that are much gentler on your skin and are OK to use. I personally try to not use any sulfates in my beauty products. Luckily, this is relatively easy to do. Sulfate free has become insanely popular and there are tons of good sulfate free options.
Of course there may be other reasons why your skin feels tight so let’s take a look at some other common causes.
You’re Using Hyaluronic Acid Wrong
Hyaluronic acid is an amazing ingredient to keep your skin plump, hydrated and youthful. But many people don’t realize that it can actually dry out your face if you aren’t using it properly. Meaning, hyaluronic acid can make your skin feel tight.
If you’ve ever applied your HA serum and thought “why does hyaluronic acid make my skin feel tight?” then chances are you’ve been using it all wrong.
Make sure you are applying an HA serum on a damp face. And the most important part? Applying a moisturizer on top of your hyaluronic acid serum.
Without sealing that moisture into your skin, all the water can evaporate your skin leaving it tight and dry. Make sure you seal in all that hydration with a good moisturizer. And you’ll be guaranteed to wake up with plump, glowing skin. And not tight feeling skin.
Additionally, if you live in very dry climates, Hyaluronic acid may not be the best ingredient for your skin. Why? Because if you use hyaluronic acid and there’s no moisture in the air where you live, it will actually draw moisture out from your skin, which causes even more dryness and tight feeling skin.
Cold Or Dry Weather
During the winter time, it’s common for skin to become dry and dehydrated. The cold weather, wind, lack of humidity and drying air from heaters can wreak havoc on the skin barrier, leading to tight feeling skin.
Using Water That’s Too Hot
Hot water will instantly strip skin of its natural moisture and leave skin susceptible to dehydration and dryness.
Drying Skincare Products
There are many products and ingredients on the market that can cause skin to feel tight and dry. Ingredients like sulfates, alcohols and exfoliants can all leave skin feeling tight after use.
Not Moisturizing Enough
You should moisturize skin 2x daily no matter what skin type you have. Skipping moisturizer can cause skin to feel tight, dry and dehydrated.
How To Get Rid Of Tight Feeling Skin
Wondering, “what should I do if my skin feels tight?” Typically, if your skin feels tight, it only takes a couple tweaks to get rid of that. Tight skin can be easily treated and you’ll notice a difference immediately.
Switch To A Non-Foaming Cleanser
This is the biggest change you need to make if your skin is feeling tight. Since sulfates are what causes your cleanser to foam, I recommend looking for sulfate free cleansers and something that doesn’t foam. Look for cleansing gels, oils, balms and creams instead.
Additionally, if your skin is feeling tight, I would look for the words “hydrating” or “gentle.” Neutrogena Ultra Gentle Hydrating and La Roche Posay Toleraine Hydrating are my go-to gentle cleansers. And if you’re looking for more gentle products, check out The Best Products from La Roche Posay.
Before I switched cleansers, I was using harsh, drying and irritating cleansers and my skin felt tight every time I washed my face. It was uncomfortably tight. No wonder my skin was having so many issues back then.
Don’t Use Hot Water
When washing your face, it’s best to use lukewarm water. Hot water can strip and dry out your skin, which causes it to feel tight. I love to take hot showers, and I still do, so I wash my face in the sink so that I can wash my face with lukewarm water without freezing in the shower.
Tight feeling skin can also be caused if you’re washing your face too much. I only wash my face once a day (at night) and recommend most people do this as well. Of course, depending on your lifestyle and other factors, you may need to wash it more than once. But, for the most part a simple splash with water in the morning and a good cleanse at night is sufficient for most people.
Growing up I washed my face twice a day because I thought that my acne was because my face wasn’t clean. It turns out that I was overwashing my skin, leading to more oil production and acne.
Once I stopped washing my face in the morning, my face instantly became less oily, most of my breakouts cleared up and my skin didn’t feel tight anymore.
Avoid Harsh Exfoliation
When your skin feels tight, it’s best to treat it gently for a while until you get your moisture barrier back. If you use chemical exfoliators like retinoids, AHA or BHA, decrease how often you use them for a few weeks. If you use physical exfoliation, switch to a more gentle microfiber wash cloth.
Although chemical exfoliants can make your face feel tight (in a good way!) they can also make your skin feel tight in a bad way.
If the tight feeling in your skin is combined with flakiness, irritation and breakouts, then chances are you are exfoliating your skin too much. Try to cut back on how often you exfoliate. And be careful with physical exfoliation, too. Make sure what you are using is gentle.
When my skin feels tight, chances are I have overdone it with exfoliation. So I try to cut back and focus on adding hydration and moisture back to my skin. In just a couple days, my skin no longer feels tight.
Re-Hydrate Your Skin
Add some moisture back into your skin with a hyaluronic acid serum, a cream with conditioning lipids or a face oil. Or, better yet, all three! These will help repair your moisture barrier and keep your skin hydrated and healthy.
Hyaluronic acid is especially important for when your skin feels tight because it can add back in all the hydration your skin is missing. Hyaluronic acid can hold up to 1000x its weight in water, which means once you apply it, it will instantly plump your skin and continue to attract water, keeping your skin hydrated for hours.
Occlusives, like Vaseline, Aquaphor or CeraVe Healing Ointment are designed to create a barrier on the skin which not only locks in moisture but can also keep irritants out. They are specifically designed to prevent transepidermal water loss, which is usually what causes the skin to feel tight.
Using an occlusive on top of your moisturizer will help to lock in the hydration and keep it from escaping. I know using something like Vaseline sounds gross, but once you try it, you’ll be amazed. You’ll wake up with softer, smoother skin that doesn’t feel tight at all! Plus your skin will be glowing!
Use Other Humectants
Hyaluronic acid isn’t the only humectant that’s beneficial for the skin! There are tons of other ingredients that work just like hyaluronic acid and help to draw moisture into the skin and increase the skin’s hydration. Here are some other great humectants to use if your skin is feeling tight and irritated.
- Sodium PCA
- Butylene glycol
- Propylene glycol
Is It Bad If Your Face Feels Tight?
Short answer, yes, it’s very bad if your face feels tight. After washing your skin, your face should feel clean, hydrated, comfortable and not stripped or tight. If it does, check out the tips below.
If your face feels tight even after your moisturizing routine, it can be a sign that you need a heavier moisturizer.
When your skin feels tight, it is not a good sign, and you should do something about it pronto! Unfortunately, if you don’t you can cause severe damage to your moisture barrier, which can cause things like acne and severely irritated skin.
With these tips, you’ll be able to cure your tight feeling skin in no time. And once you add some moisture back into your skin, your skin will glow like it never has before! And who doesn’t want healthy, glowing skin?
If Your Skin Feels Tight But Not Dry…
When your skin feels tight but not dry, it’s likely because it’s lacking hydration. In other words, your skin is dehydrated.
Skin needs hydration (water) just like your body does. Without water, it cannot properly function! Dehydrated skin will often feel tight and look shiny. It can also feel rough and bumpy in texture. If severe enough, dehydrated skin can cause acne and other texture issues.
To fix this, you’ll need to focus on using lots of hydrating ingredients like:
- Hyaluronic Acid
- Alpha Hydroxy Acids
These ingredients will help to attract moisture into the skin and hold it in which keeps skin from getting dehydrated.
And whenever you’re using humectants, you must use a moisturize or occlusive on top to keep all that hydration from escaping. Any moisturizer will do here, or you can slug with something like CeraVe Healing Ointment or Aquaphor.
If Your Skin Feels Tight And Burning…
Burning, along with tight feeling skin likely means your skin is really irritated. This usually happens when using chemical exfoliants or acne fighting ingredients like benzoyl peroxide, sulfur, retinol, aha or bha.
These ingredients can dry out the skin and cause irritation, redness and inflammation. It’s especially common when using retinol or retin-a.
Related post: Is Toner Supposed To Burn Your Skin?
If Your Skin Feels Tight After Washing…
This is the number one cause of tight and dehydrated skin. The culprit? Your cleanser! So many cleansers contain drying and irritating ingredients that end up stripping your skin of all its moisture.
If your skin feels tight after washing or cleansing, switch your cleansers! Stick with a gentle, sulfate-free face wash and your skin will seriously thank you.
My skin used to always feel tight after washing because I was using foaming cleansers that were stripping my skin and making my skin dehydrated.
It wasn’t until I started getting serious about skincare that I started to wonder “why does my skin feel tight after washing?” And after some research, I realized it was because of the cleanser I was using.
As soon as I switched to a better cleanser, my face immediately felt better!
If Your Skin Feels Tight After Moisturizing
Sometimes your moisturizer just doesn’t cut it and it can leave your skin feeling tight, as if you never even moisturized! If your skin is still feeling dry, dehydrated or tight after moisturizing, you need to switch to a heavier moisturizer or add other products to your routine.
A hyaluronic acid serum or other hydrating serum/essence can help add hydration back into your skin. While a moisturizer will help repair and moisturize your skin. After moisturizing, if your skin is still feeling tight, then look for a basic moisturizer with ceramides and fatty acids.
A moisturizer should leave your skin feeling comfortable, not tight, dry or greasy. If you’re looking for a good recommendation, check out my review for Krave Beauty Oat So Simple.
If Your Face Feels Tight After Exfoliating
Exfoliants can make your skin feel tight, even right after you use them. I find that gel formulas leave my face feeling tight once they dry down. It’s usually not a big deal because it’s just the nature of using chemical exfoliants, but just be sure to keep an eye on your skin and make sure it’s not getting over exfoliated or dehydrated.
You may also need to reduce how often you use the exfoliants to keep your skin from getting tight and dry.
If Your Face Feels Tight In The Morning
When your face feels tight in the morning it could be because your moisturizer isn’t heavy enough or the product is rubbing off on your pillow.
My face used to always feel tight in the morning because I would apply my skincare and go right to bed. This doesn’t allow your skin to absorb the product as well because it will get absorbed into your pillow.
You can also try switching to silk pillowcases because they are less absorbent. Plus, they are great for your hair!
Skin Feels Tight FAQ’s
Is It Good If Your Skin Feels Tight?
Tight feeling skin is not ideal. While it’s a common misconception that tight feeling skin is a good thing, it’s actually not. Skin that feels tight is a sign that your skin barrier is damaged and your skin is not healthy. Tight feeling skin means that your skin is dehydrated, dry or your skin barrier is weak.
Is It Normal For Your Skin To Feel Tight After Washing?
No, it is not normal for your skin to feel tight after washing. Your skin should feel comfortable after cleansing. If you feel any tightness or dryness, it means that you need a different cleanser.
Why Does My Skin Feel Tight After A Shower?
If your skin feels tight after showering, chances are your showers are too hot and too long. The hot water can strip our skin, leaving it dehydrated and tight feeling.
There’s nothing I love more than a hot shower or bath, but my skin feels tight always after a super hot shower. To compensate, I always moisturize right after a shower to get rid of the tight feeling and replenish that moisture that was lost.
How Do You Treat Tight Skin?
Luckily, tight feeling skin is a pretty easy fix. Here are a few tips to help get your skin back on track when your face feels tight and dry.
- Use a sulfate free cleanser
- Use a hyaluronic acid serum
- Use a good moisturizer
- Use hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid, glycerin, honey and urea
- Use thick occlusives like aquaphor, cerave healing ointment or cetaphil
- Use a humidifier to add moisture into the air
- Use ingredients like oils, ceramides and fatty acids to lock in hydration
If you’re wondering why does my face feel tight, it likely comes down to your skincare. Your cleanser, serums and moisturizers can have a huge impact and if you aren’t using the correct products your skin might be left feeling tight, dry, burning or even hurting.
When my face feels tight and dry during the winter, it’s usually a sign that I need a better moisturizer. Sometimes my skin gets so dry during the winter that my skin feels tight even after moisturizing.
Now that I’ve gotten my routine down, my skin rarely ever feels tight. And if my skin feels tight again, then I know exactly what to do to treat it and get my skin back on track. Sometimes my skin will feel tight but not dry, but that is a good thing because it means you can rehydrate your skin before any real damage is done to your moisture barrier.
What are you favorite ways to treat tight feeling skin?
Bottom line, if your face is feeling tight and dry, take a look at your cleanser. You’ll probably be surprised at the ingredients in it that are causing your skin to be tight dry and even hurt.