This paper scrutinizes the reliability of indentation-based damage quantification, frequently used by many industrial and academic researchers. In this methodology, damage evolution parameters for continuum damage models are experimentally measured by probing the deformation-induced degradation of either hardness or indentation modulus. In this critical assessment the damage evolution in different sheet metals was investigated using this indentation approach, whereby the obtained results were verified by other experimental techniques (scanning electron microscopy, X-ray microtomography and highly sensitive density measurements), and by finite element simulations. This extensive experimental–numerical assessment reveals that the damage-induced degradation of both hardness and modulus is at least partially, but most likely completely, masked by other deformation-induced microstructural mechanisms (e.g. grain shape change, strain hardening, texture development, residual stresses and indentation pile-up). It is therefore concluded that hardness-based or modulus-based damage quantification methods are intrinsically flawed and should not be used for the determination of a damage parameter.