How to Smooth Out Rough Skin on Your Face


Exfoliating can help smooth out rough skin.“Exfoliating can help smooth out rough skin.©iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Rough, scaly, sandpaper-like skin is bad enough on the elbows, knees, hands and feet. When it shows up on your face, though, you may feel like going into hiding. Not only does the redness make you look perpetually embarrassed, but the pain, itchiness and flaking are also enough to drive you mad.

In many cases, a rough complexion is the result of dryness, also known by the fancier term "xerosis." Low humidity levels, sun exposure, harsh soaps, acne treatments and other abrasive factors degrade the skin’s natural moisture barrier, leading to peeling, irritation and cracks.

Rough skin can also be the symptom of numerous chronic and acute skin conditions. Some of the most widespread problems include:

  • Eczema: Also called dermatitis, eczema causes itchiness, redness, scaling and oozing. Flare-ups are often triggered by allergens and irritants, including dust, chemicals and foods [source: WebMD].
  • Rosacea: This common skin disease can lead to redness, swelling, visible blood vessels, bumps and acne-like breakouts. Rosacea’s root cause is unknown, but there may be a genetic component [source: American Academy of Dermatology].
  • Psoriasis: The result of an overactive immune system, psoriasis produces red papules that form thick, red, scaly patches. It tends to first appear during early adulthood [source: MedicineNet].
  • Keratosis pilaris: Sometimes called "chicken skin," keratosis pilaris is characterized by tiny bumps that usually develop on the upper arms, thighs and face. It is likely caused by excess amounts of keratin, a protein that makes up the skin’s outer layer [source: Wicker].
  • Actinic keratosis: Caused by exposure to sunlight, actinic keratosis begins as a rough, raised area and becomes a hard growth. It sometimes develops into squamous cell skin cancer, so be sure to have a doctor take a look [source: MedlinePlus].

Whether dryness or another condition is responsible, there are steps you can take to prevent, soothe and smooth rough skin on your face. Keep reading to find out more.

Preventing Rough Skin on Your Face

Since environmental factors contribute to dryness and other roughness-causing conditions, you can make lifestyle choices that prevent scaly skin. Here are a few to try:

  • Stay out of the sun as much as possible, and load up on sunscreen each and every day. Ultraviolet radiation dries out your skin and impairs collagen and elastin, the connective tissues that keep the skin smooth and supple [source: Mayo Clinic].
  • Take extra care of your skin during the winter, when humidity levels plunge and leave your skin parched. Keep the air in your home moist with a humidifier [source: Watson].
  • Choose a mild, non-foaming, soap-free cleanser that doesn’t contain fragrance, alcohol or antibacterial chemicals such as triclosan. Bar soaps and harsh face washes strip away the skin’s natural oils [source: Wu]. They can also trigger flare-ups in people with eczema or rosacea.
  • Use tepid water to wash your face, and avoid long baths and showers. Hot water breaks down the lipid barriers in your skin [source: American Skin Association].
  • Make sure you’re eating enough healthy fats, especially if you’re dieting. The skin requires essential fatty acids to maintain hydration, and your body can’t produce them on its own. [source: O’Neill]. Good (and tasty) sources include olive oil, salmon, avocadoes and nuts.
  • If you’re feeling stressed out, try to relax with exercise, meditation, deep breathing or massage therapy. Stress is known to aggravate psoriasis, rosacea and eczema [source: WebMD].

Treating Rough Skin on Your Face

Even if you take preventive measures, you may still wind up with a case of rough, irritated, flaky skin. Luckily, there are effective ways to treat it:

  • Moisturize several times a day with a product containing ceramides, petrolatum or lanolin. Creams with lactic acid and urea, available in both prescription and over-the-counter forms, can help soothe extremely dry skin and keratosis pilaris [source: Daily Glow].
  • Banish flakes by exfoliating once or twice a week with a gentle scrub, an exfoliating brush or a wet washcloth [source: Oliver]. Cleansers and lotions with chemical exfoliants, such as alpha hydroxy acids, can also remove dead skin cells [source: Daily Glow]. Ask your dermatologist before exfoliating if you have a chronic skin condition.
  • See a dermatologist for extremely rough skin, especially if you’re experiencing itchiness and discomfort. If an underlying skin condition is to blame, he or she may prescribe an oral or topical medication, such as an antibiotic or corticosteroid.
  • Talk to your doctor about in-office treatments for rough skin, including chemical peels, microdermabrasion, laser resurfacing and photodynamic therapy. It may take several sessions to see significant results.

For more information about rough skin and dryness, check out the links on the next page.

Originally Published: Aug 21, 2013

Smooth Rough Skin FAQ

What causes textured skin on the face?

In many cases, a rough complexion is the result of dryness or “xerosis.” Low humidity, too much sun exposure, harsh soaps, and acne treatments degrade the skin’s natural moisture barrier, leading to peeling, irritation and cracks. Dryness causes a buildup of dead skin cells that can clog pores and result in an uneven skin texture.

Can dry skin cause enlarged pores?

It’s important to note that there’s no way to change the size of your pores. However, pores may appear more noticeable when they become clogged up with oil, dirt, and dead skin cells resulting from dry skin.

What is the best treatment for rough skin?

Determining the root cause of your skin issue is an important first step in treating it. In many cases, the best treatment is to exfoliate your face two to three times per week and to use both a day and nighttime moisturizer, especially during winter months when the air tends to be very dry. If you do this and your skin doesn’t show improvement or if your skin is very itchy, talk to your doctor or dermatologist about your symptoms.

What causes bumpy skin on the face?

Rough bumpy skin can be the result of dryness, but it can also be a symptom of another chronic or acute skin condition. Common examples include eczema, rosacea, psoriasis, and keratosis pilaris (also called “chicken skin”).

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Dry Skin Overview
  • Correcting and Understanding Dry Skin
  • Daily Dry Skin Care Regimens
  • 8 Home Remedies for Dry Skin
  • Top 10 Tips for Moisturizing Dry Skin

More Great Links

  • American Skin Association
  • American Academy of Dermatology


  • American Academy of Dermatology. "Rosacea." (July 30, 2013)—t/rosacea
  • American Skin Association. "Dry Skin." (July 30, 2013)
  • Daily Glow. "Keratosis Pilaris: How to Cope With ‘Chicken Skin.’" August 15, 2011. (July 30, 2013)
  • Daily Glow. "Treating Dry Skin: Exfoliation to Remove Dead Skin." August 15, 2011. (July 30, 2013)
  • Mayo Clinic. "Dry skin." (July 30, 2013)
  • MedicineNet. "Psoriasis." (July 30, 2013)
  • MedlinePlus. "Actinic keratosis." (July 30, 2013)
  • O’Neill, Megan. "The 5 Most Common Causes of Dry Skin." Spry Living. (July 30, 2013)
  • Oliver, Dana. "How To Exfoliate Your Face And Get Smooth Skin In 3 Minutes." Huffington Post. January 24, 2013. (July 30, 2013)
  • Watson, Stephanie. "What’s Causing Your Dry Skin?" WebMD. (July 30, 2013)
  • WebMD. "Eczema Health Center." (July 30, 2013)
  • WebMD. "The Mind-Skin Connection." (July 30, 2013)
  • Wicker, Kimberly. "Keratosis Pilaris and rough, bumpy skin." (July 30, 2013)
  • Wu, Jessica. "Top 10 Causes of Dry Skin." Everyday Health. September 20, 2010. (July 30, 2013)


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here