Is Your Skin Shiny? Over-Exfoliation May Be The Problem

Updated 12/1/17. For those that produce oil, shiny skin comes with the territory.  If you use the right products formulated to get your skin to produce less oil, your skin will be less shiny. However, what if your skin is shiny, yet you don’t really produce much oil? Could it be from something else?

Many people notice will notice their skin looking shiny in photos and find it to be bothersome. Applying powder to the skin may reduce shine, but it’s important to look at the possible underlying causes. In the photo above, this is a client who experiences exactly this. Shiny skin, not from oil production, can be very common in fair skin types as you’ll learn why in this post.

Are you exfoliating too much? While regular exfoliation with the use of facial scrubs and acids, along with retinol and prescription retinoids is certainly very beneficial to the skin, over-exfoliated skin removes so much of the surface skin cells that it loses the layers of the skin that give it texture. The skin then appears shiny since light reflects off the skin easily. Also, when the skin has been exfoliated too much, powder and liquid foundations may not stick very well since there is less surface cell texture to attach to making it harder to keep the shine down. Those with fair, thin skin with virtually invisible pores will experience this a lot—especially if they are using prescription retinoids for many years. The skin almost takes on a waxy look. I’ve heard some people refer to it as “barbie doll skin.”

What is the right amount of exfoliation? When it comes to acids, enzymes and scrubs, the general rule is five times a week. Read the Beginner’s Guide To Using Retinol Or Prescription Retinoids and the Beginner’s Guide To Exfoliation to learn more about how to safely use these type of active products.

A professional chemical peel should be performed every other month and an at-home professional-strength peel should be used once a week.

Of course, every skin is different so it’s important to use the right exfoliating products for your skin type. Look at these nine skin types or take the Skin Type Quiz.

How do you know if you’re over-exfoliating? Aside from the skin appearing shiny, if you’re experiencing redness, tightness, dryness and the skin gets easily irritated, these all might be signs that you’re over-doing it.

Is your skin dehydrated? When the skin cells don’t have the water they need, dehydrated cells can appear shiny. Watch this video to see how dehydrated skin gives off a shine. Note: Dehydrated skin is very, very different from dry skin and each require special treatment. Read here to learn more.

Tips to reduce shine:

  • Don’t exfoliate too much. Your skin needs those protective layers to keep moisture in. Again, read the beginners guide to using retinol or exfoliants for the proper usage.
  • Acid serums (that get left on the skin) should not be used daily. Instead, they can be used every other night or preferably three nights on, three nights off alternating with a hydrating serum.
  • Use mild, soap-free, sulfate free cleansers that don’t leave your skin feeling tight or dry. Bar soaps are an no-no. See my sulfate-free cleanser recommendations.
  • Always use moisturizer. Never skip it thinking that your skin will “breathe.” Respiration doesn’t happen in the skin. The concept of your skin breathing is false. Your skin cells always needs water and without moisturizer, the skin will instantly dehydrate which will certainly lead to more oil-induced shine.
  • Always use an alcohol-free toner after cleansing, but be sure to leave it damp before applying moisturizer to seal in the hydrating benefits it offers. See my alcohol-free toners.
  • Use a gel based mask the night before a special event to reduce shine in photos. This gives your skin cells intensive water-based hydration to prevent shiny, dehydrated skin.

Bottom line: Don’t think that shiny skin needs to be treated with products formulated for oily skin because as you now have learned, the shine doesn’t always come from oil!

Read: Are you falling for these 35 common skin care myths?

Which skin care products are best for you? See our nine skin types or take the Skin Type Quiz and get products recommended.

Need expert advice from a licensed esthetician? Schedule a virtual consultation to get customized advice in person, over the phone or online via Skype or FaceTime.

For more expert advice check out the blog. Also, sign up for our skin tip e-newsletter, follow Renée Rouleau on Twitter and Instagram and join the discussion on our Facebook page. You’ll be your own skin care expert in no time. Get the #ReneeRouleauGlow!

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  1. Avatar

    Hello. I have a skin prone to acnes. Wen I went to a dermatologist he recommended some antibiotics , benzox 5 gel and optimal 0.05%. The problem is after a week of using them. My skin feels so tight and super shinny. I hate looking in the mirror and my self esteem has gone to zero.please help

    Posted By: shamim  | 

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      It sounds like your skin is getting really dried out, which your derm may have mentioned. It’s important to compensate for any form of dryness but using a moisturizer and weekly gel masks to maintain the moisture balance.

      Posted By: Renée Rouleau  | 

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  2. Avatar

    I’ve always had oily skin. I don’t breakout often, but when i do it’s cystic acne and it’s just a few. They last a little over 1 week, to 2 weeks. I have large pores, which i don’t really try to control. My main problem is the shine. I first noticed the shine when i switched up my skin care products. I used a daily exfoliating scrub and since then my facial skin has been shiny. I’ve stopped using it since, and I’ve been using a gentle mild gel cleanser. Since i wasn’t seeing any improvements, i stopped using it every morning and night. I now use it probably 3 or 4 times a week. I don’t use a toner anymore, when I did, I used Witch Hazel. I’ve been using a kojic acid soap, and although my skin has never looked better, it’s super shiny now. I stopped using the soap on my face everyday, I do not use any cleansers or toners. Before bed, when I have my bath, after I’ve finished applying skin cream, I pass the remainder of the cream from my hands on my face. I use Cetaphil skin cream, the one in the tub. My skin is still a little oily but not as bad as before, it’s just super shiny now. I’ve spent countless dollars trying to find the right product, until i decided, I’m just not gonna use anything and see if that helps. I need help, I’ve been doing research and gathering information, but nothing i have learned seems to help. Can you help me?

    Posted By: Whits  | 

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      It sounds like maybe (and again, this is a maybe without seeing your skin up close) that due to previously using strong products and exfoliants that your moisture barrier got damaged and it’s still trying to repair itself. Exfolation is really helpful but if the NEW cells that are being exposed aren’t be property nourished and hydrated, then that’s when damage occurs. I suggest you get on a skincare routine that’s exclusively for your skin type. Take my Skin Type Quiz.

      Posted By: Renée Rouleau  | 

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  3. Avatar

    Hi Renee, Recently i’ve been using a face wash, a witch hazel blemish stick and aloe vera gel on my forehead to get rid of a couple of acne scars. I use the products every day and I realised that my forehead has become really shiny (glittery even) the skin around has become wrinkled. Do you know the cause of this and any prevention techniques? Thanks x

    – Chilease

    Posted By: Chilease  | 

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      I know EXACTLY what you’re talking about. That glittery, crinkly, wrinkly look is caused from severe dehydration. Something you are using is too drying so if you stop drying out your skin, that should improve that. But secondly, if you are applying aloe vera gel, due to the viscosity of a gel, once it’s dried on the skin, it can give that look, too. If your goal is to get rid of acne scars, drying out the skin is not the answer at all. Read this post for my tips.

      Posted By: Renée Rouleau  | 

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  4. Avatar

    Hi I’m 42 I have dry / sensitive / mild rosacea my pores are small I do flush and blush off and on. My skin care regime is H&H science dermal resconstructing therapy that is a low vitamin c with peptides and green tea and I also use H&H science antioxident cream for dry skin it has green tea as well at night I use avene retrinal 0.05% and cerave over that and was doing really well. In January of this year I had bought clarisonic mia 2 and I was using the delicate head brush I started off slow and gradually got to where I only used it once a day at night only 5 days a wk. during the use of it my skin was looking good no break out my metro cream seemed to work better but through the 9 months of using it I started feeling just a slight tingle on my right cheek but my face never got red or when I used my retrinal and cerave it never burdened. Well I decided to up my avene retrinal to 1% and I figured since my skin was used to the 0.05 that I used for 3 yrs every night that I could just used the 1% every night during the use of the 1% I used it 4 to 5 days then I started getting pink a little when I put on cerave it slightly burned well I stopped called a dermatogist and her nurse told me to stop the 1% for 3 wks which I did never used it again but I asked the nurse if it was ok to just go back to the lower strength I used after I give my skin a rest for 4 days she said it was fine well I started back my clarisonic and low strength retrinal for about 4 days my left side of my cheek was fine but my right side of my cheek didn’t look red but when I touched it it felt burning sensation and had what look like little sand paper bumps it felt sorta rough so I went to see derm and she put me on a mixture of vaseline/cloderm/ epiceram well it seemed to make it worse idk what to make of this she evidently didn’t know what she was doing but I’m asking u what u think I could’ve done to my right cheek to look at me u wouldn’t think nothing was wrong but to slightly touch it,,, it sorta burns did I over exfoilate with clarisonic then using higher strength retrinal make things worse and will my skin go back to normal to where I can use my products and how long will if take. I’m just using vaseline and cerave pm right now…. Please help need some good advice

    Posted By: Ladonna  | 

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      It’s hard for me to give specific advice on how long it will take to heal but definitely being gentle with your skin is the way to go. It sounds to me as though you need to build up your skin’s moisture barrier as it appears to be damaged. A damaged moisture barrier can result in red, raw, dry skin. You can read more about this here.

      Posted By: Renée Rouleau  | 

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  5. Avatar

    Omg, this.

    “removes so much of the surface skin cells that it loses the layers of the skin that give it texture.”

    Dermabrasion did that to me, is there any way to get the surface skin cells that gives my skin its smooth texture back?

    All you can see is pores. Ugh

    Posted By: Starh  | 

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  6. Avatar

    Hi I use to have combination/super smooth/sensitive skin, but from doing so many exfoliating remedies from online, my skin is super dry/dehydrated and more sensitive then ever,I’m allergic to she butter, almond oil, and tree nuts,what should I do? my skin looks dull and proon like.

    Posted By: Amia  | 

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    Please help me Renee! I started using the clarisonic brush twice a day for a month and a half and then was prescribed retin a. After just a few nights of using the retin a (done correctly and slowly) my pores opened and have not closed since! My entire face is open pores! I usually have poreless, dewy, beautiful skin. Now I have open pores and weird lines in places I have never had lines before. I know my skin is dehydrated and I know my skin is over exfoliated. Is there anything else? I have stopped everything and I am using cellceuticals extra gentle face wash, cerave and maracuja oil at night. No clarisonic and no retin a. My pores are still open. Is this permanent? will my skin go back to normal? How long might it take? And can I help things along? Thank you so much.

    Posted By: Emily  | 

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      Hi Emily, Pores don’t open and close, they simply can become more visible. I’m not entirely sure why they are more noticeable with what you’re doing. Long term retin-a is your best bet for making pores appear smaller so I would slowly work at getting back on the that. Perhaps the Clarisonic was just too much for your skin.

      Posted By: Renée Rouleau  | 

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  8. Avatar

    I’ve always noticed that my forehead will look really shiny in certain pictures (usually flash cameras at nightclubs) I always wondered why but now I know that I am probably exfoliating too much (every other day to be precise) so I’ll cut this bad habit and hopefully my skin will revert back to it’s natural state; thanks for the good advice!

    Posted By: Josh Williams  | 

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    i did at home chemical peels and i think i may have overdone it as now my skin is super shiny and my makeup will only cover it for a bit then bam! all the shine back:/ anythin i can do to restore some skin and less shine please:)

    Posted By: cassie  | 

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    Hi I got a lactic peel on top of a salicylic peel and have been experiencing rough breakout prone dehydrayed skin for the past month. I have been using hyalronic acid serum and not washing my face in the morning but can I do anything else? How long does it take to fix this? Thanks in advance!

    Posted By: sarah  | 

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      Hi Sarah, It’s really hard to give advice when I’m not familiar with your skin or any of the details. Can you consult with the person who did the treatment? I’m assuming they would know best. Did they suggest any follow up exfoliation? Perhaps some of the residual dry skin cells from the peel may need to be lifted off, with a gentle facial scrub or a professional ultrasonic exfoliation. Again, consult with your professional to see what they suggest. But as for not washing your face in the morning, it’s very important to do that to remove any oil that secreted while you slept. As long as you’re using a sulfate-free cleanser, you will not be dehydrating the skin. Our AHA/BHA Cleansing Gel is really good for breakouts and it won’t dry the skin. Click here https://www.reneerouleau.com/AHABHACleansingGel.aspx

      Posted By: Renée Rouleau  | 

      Reply

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