Can I damage my skin by scrubbing too hard?

scrubbing too hard
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Has this ever happened to you? One second you're merely encouraging your husband to get a little more serious about his career. The next, he's stabbed the king to death to win his throne, and you have to plant the bloody daggers to frame the servants. Before long, he's jabbering about prophecies, and you're busy trying to scrub imaginary blood off your hands.

Those guilt-manifested stains may not be going anywhere, but your skin is. On the extreme end of the spectrum, excessive scrubbing can actually wear away your skin the same as if you took a sheet of sandpaper to it. Individuals who suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder sometimes wash their hands until they're red and sore -- or actually bleeding. If you've found yourself experiencing similar symptoms from repeated grooming rituals, see a health care professional.


Repetition isn't the only potential scrubbing risk to skin. Remember, skin thickness and sensitivity vary across your body. While it's perfectly acceptable to take a pumice stone to the soles of your feet (even this can be overdone), you'd never want to apply the same skin care regimen to your face, where the skin is far thinner and more susceptible to damage. Likewise, some skin care products are specially formatted for use on sensitive skin areas like the face, incorporating more sensitive ingredients and gentler exfoliants.

Even with the most gentle cleanser products, there's a limit to how much scrubbing a face can take. Fortunately, however, scrubbing isn't a major contributor to damaged skin and wrinkles. The main culprits, according to Everyday Health, are cigarettes, chemical irritants and -- oddly enough -- facial expressions.

Still, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that washing and scrubbing can only make you so clean. After a point, your skin can actually become "too clean." For this reason, irritant contact dermatitis is an occupational risk for health care professionals, who frequently wash their hands and use gloves. Excessive scrubbing can wear away the stratum corneum, the outermost skin barrier. If this barrier is regularly breached, skin dryness, irritation, cracking and other problems may result. Damaged skin also tends to host a higher number of pathogens [source: Larson].

So don't get too carried away with your personal hygiene regime and, by all means, don't get too heavy-handed. Otherwise, you'll find yourself facing rather diminishing returns on cleanliness -- to say nothing of sleepwalking around some dreary Scottish castle.

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Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Larson, Elaine. "Hygiene of the Skin: When Is Clean Too Clean?" Emerging Infections Diseases Journal. April 2001. (Dec. 21, 2009)
  • Poulton, Sonia. "Scrubbing my hands till they bled, turning coins up so the Queen can 'breathe'... My life's been an Obsessive Compulsive Disaster." The Daily Mail. April 8, 2009. (Dec. 21, 2009)
  • "Three Common Culprits of Skin Damage." Everyday Health. (Dec. 21, 2009)