7 Reasons Your Skin Looks Dull — and How to Get a Glowing Complexion
With the help of these at-home solutions and professional tips, your skin will be glistening in no time.
“I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.” The famous dictum was uttered by Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart upon hearing a case about radiant skin. (OK, maybe he was talking about something else, come to think of it.) Anyway, you get the point: Skin with that ineffable glow is hard to define. It seems to come from eight hours of sleep, a well-balanced chi, and inner beauty.
But good news for those of us short on any of the above and suffering from dull skin: It also comes from a few great products and some excellent advice on how to use them. We’ve identified every saboteur standing between your skin and that elusive lit-from-within-ness — and come up with a very concrete plan to unseat it. (And by “we,” we mean us and top dermatologists.)
Whether you need a simple at-home solution or more intense professional backup, here’s your guide to fixing whatever is dimming your epidermal wattage.
1. CAUSE: Dead skin cells — they’re everywhere.
No, you’re not seeing things — that probably is an ashy tint on your face. “We shed millions of skin cells a day, so unless you do something to actively remove the ones that don’t fall off naturally, you’re going to have a grayish look no matter your skin tone,” says Mona Gohara, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine. Think of that dead-cell buildup like dust. Until you wipe it clean, it’s a dingy layer that prevents your skin from reflecting light.
SOLUTION: Mist some Pledge on a face wipe — kidding, please don’t do that. But you are going to need to gently exfoliate once or twice a week. “Scrubs with sugar or jojoba esters are mild enough for even sensitive skin, and grainy scrubs with pulverized nut shells are good for everyone else,” says Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. (Try Fresh’s Sugar Face Polish Exfoliator.) Peels use alpha and beta hydroxy acids to remove dead skin cells; look for formulas that contain soothing ingredients, like aloe and green tea, to minimize irritation. (We like Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial.)
2. CAUSE: A fossil-fuel-based economy and eased environmental regulations.
Oh, yes, that’s also a skin-care concern. Polluted air contains a host of tiny particles, like dirt and sulfur dioxide, that create free radicals on skin. Free radicals damage collagen (hello, new wrinkles!) and stimulate pigment production over time and when your skin’s tone and texture are uneven, it diffuses light and looks dull.
SOLUTION: Wash your face at night — every night. If the day’s filth lingers, it will damage your skin while you sleep. (But feel free to skip a morning wash.) “Because pollution causes inflammation and can disrupt the skin barrier, it’s important to choose a gentle creamy cleanser that helps build it back up,” says Zeichner. (Try Olay Luminous Brightening Cream Cleanser.) Studies have shown that using soap with a cleansing brush is more effective at removing nanoparticles of pollution than manual cleansing. (Facial wipes aren’t thorough enough to remove pollution, but if you’re too tired to wash your face, they’re better than nothing.) In the morning, load up on serums and lotions that contain antioxidants, like vitamin C and idebenone. “It’s like having a safety net to minimize potential damage from pollution’s free radicals,” says Zeichner.
3. CAUSE: Skin issues cause stress, which causes skin issues, which…
A work deadline, an argument, or a bad night’s sleep has you a little on edge. Then you hear the most obnoxious three words ever strung together: “You look tired.” Whatever form stress takes, the result is the same. “Cortisol levels go up, your fight-or-flight response kicks in, and blood flow goes to your vital organs, not your face, leading to skin looking sallow,” says Gohara.
SOLUTION: Being told to relax or get more rest tends to raise cortisol levels further rather than lower them, so we’ll skip the obvious advice for now. Instead, try a quick facial massage while cleansing or applying moisturizer. “It’s a great way to stimulate blood flow, which will add radiance and plump the skin,” says Gohara. For a more lasting glow, consider a microdermabrasion session at a dermatologist’s office. It will remove dead skin cells and boost circulation.