Can You Use Too Much Moisturizer? Derms Say Yes

There are complexions on the internet with a sort of glinty, dreamy finish that resembles light hitting the snow or saccharine frosting crystallizing atop a freshly baked cake. If you asked me to pick out which skin-care products are responsible for achieving this effect, I’d reach for serums, oils, and lots and lots of moisturizers. But as it happens, the more-is-more mantra doesn’t play out here, and dermatologists say you can actually do too much moisturizing in your skin-care routine.

What happens if you use too much moisturizer

The Goldilocks moment of “just enough” skin care is tricky to achieve, but you’ll know you’ve added too much moisturizer if a few things happen.

First off, applying too much moisturizer isn’t inherently problematic if the ingredients are gentle and nourishing—you’ll likely just waste a good product. “At some point, the skin becomes fully saturated with the product, so more does not give any added benefit,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, FAAD, a New York City dermatologist.

If you’re using a regular-old moisturizer with basic ingredients, nothing particularly “bad” will likely happen to your skin. Your complexion might feel a little sticky, or pilling—small little balls on your skin—might occur. “It means the product’s being hindered from absorption and is just coming back off. There’s an occlusive barrier that’s preventing absorption,” Purvisha Patel, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Visha Skincare, previously told Well+Good. “It happens if too many products are used at the same time, or in the wrong order.”

Dr. Zeichner adds that applying certain benign ingredients, like petrolatum, that create an occlusive barrier—AKA one where nothing can get in or out—too frequently to the skin can theoretically be harmful. When you shellac your face with things like Aquaphor or Vaseline every day of the week, you’re tampering with the skin’s environment by decreasing oxygen and humidity coming into contact with your complexion. “This artificial external environment impacts the biological activity of the skin cells themselves…and while it’s ideal for enhancing wound healing for open sores in the skin, some feel that continuous use can make the skin ‘lazy’ over time,” he says.

Lazy Skin, which I’m going to rename “Sims Skin,” is living in a simulation where the world is chill every day of the week, and nothing comes at it. In other words: Not the real world. That means it can’t adjust to produce natural oils when it comes into contact with frigid winter air or pull back when it gets hot and humid. Over time, it just stops taking cues from its environment and doesn’t do much of anything other than receive more occlusive ingredients to sit atop it.

What happens if you use too much of an active moisturizer

Nowadays, many moisturizers are spiked with concentrated, targeted ingredients that help you see results beyond keeping your skin plumped up. For example, this LilyAna Naturals Retinol Cream with 26,000 five-star reviews has retinol, which is the most studied and trusted ingredient that dermatologists always recommend. “If you are using a moisturizer that contains an active ingredient like retinol or an exfoliating acid, then applying too much can actually be problematic,” says Dr. Zeichner. “Especially at higher concentrations, these actives can lead to skin irritation, which ultimately can mean dryness and inflammation.”

While pilling and slickness are key signs that you might be applying too much of a basic moisturizer, Dr. Zeichner says that itching, redness, or flaking might be a clue that you’re using too much of a moisturizer with potent skin-care ingredients. “My best advice is to listen to what your skin needs. Apply the moisturizer if and when you need it, not just because you think you should be,” he says.

How much moisturizer to use daily

In news that will really blow your mind, Dr. Zeichner says that a moisturizer doesn’t have to be in your daily rotation. “Moisturizers are helpful when people need them, but they are not a must all the time.” If you plan to use one, experts have told us that you should use a nickel-sized amount for your face and a quarter-sized amount for your face and neck together.

What’s more, adjusting the weight of the moisturizer you’re using—depending on the season and your skin type—can help you get the right level of product. If you have drier skin, opt for something heavier with more weight, like SkinCeuticals Triple Lipid Restore ($150), which includes ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids to replenish your barrier. If you have oilier skin, opt for something more lightweight, such as the Versed Dew Point Moisturizing Gel Cream ($20), which hydrates skin with aloe leaf and hyaluronic acid.

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