If you have a dull complexion, it's hard to feel naturally confident about your skin, but a brighter complexion is possible. By assessing your diet, lifestyle, and daily skincare habits you can find out what's causing your dull skin and how to correct it.
"Dull skin is a bit of an all-encompassing term for skin that doesn't look healthy," Dr. Dhaval Bhanusali says. "Some reasons include a pile-up of dead skin cells, debris from the day (like pollution), or even dehydration."
Meet the Expert
Dhaval Bhanusali, MD is an NYC-based dermatologist. He specializes in medical and cosmetic dermatology.
So how do you prevent your skin from looking—and feeling—blah? Read on to find out.
Try Reducing Your Alcohol Intake
Alcohol, although it can be healthy for your body in moderation, can seriously dehydrate and dull skin. It can also increase the blood flow to the skin's surface, resulting in a flushed appearance that can become permanent over time for some people. If you feel the need for a drink and don't want to see the effects of it on your skin, drink clear alcohol and always sip water along with your drink. Just remember—keeping your alcohol intake at a minimum is an easy way to achieve healthier skin.
Make Sure to Eat Well
You are what you eat. The quality of food you eat and the types of foods you consume do affect the health and look of your skin.
Incorporate more foods into your diet that are high in fatty acids: fish, especially salmon, walnuts, flaxseed, etc. Fatty acids are crucial to healthy skin because they boost collagen and cell production below the skin's surface. Think of it as nourishing your skin from within.
Eat foods that are rich in antioxidants to fight skin inflammation and free radical damage. Eat nuts and seeds like walnuts and pumpkin seeds to protect and rejuvenate your skin. Tomatoes can protect your skin from sun damage, and dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants that can make your skin supple. Also, make sure your diet is rich in probiotics because the healthier our gut is, the healthier our skin is, too.
Don't Forget to Exfoliate
You cannot moisturize dead skin away. Dead skin can look flaky, and it's not going to go away with just a moisturizer. Even if you moisturize often, if you don't exfoliate, ashy skin will always come back as soon as the moisturizer wears off.
Exfoliation is key to a brighter complexion, and you can exfoliate many different ways. You can gently exfoliate with a washcloth, use an exfoliating cleanser or scrub, or go even deeper with microdermabrasion treatments or a skin cleansing brush. You need to remember to exfoliate both your face and the skin on your body regularly—which means at least once a week.
If you’re thinking about purchasing a skin cleansing brush, we recommend trying out the Clarisonic Mia Skin Cleansing brush. It's great at getting rid of dead skin cells and deep cleans pores for soft skin.
If you exfoliate on a regular basis, you are consistently sloughing off the dead skin and allowing new and plump skin cells to come to the surface of your skin, which is a crucial step to achieving a brighter complexion.
Start Your Day With Vitamin C
Sure, a daily dose of orange juice loaded with vitamin C is good for keeping colds away, but vitamin C is also a nutrient-rich antioxidant that fights signs of aging, and it's a known skin-brightening agent, too. Your skin will definitely benefit from vitamin C applied topically.
There are quite a few skincare companies with vitamin C lines that hit every price point. Our favorite is Glam Glow's Flashmud Brightening Treatment ($25), which is packed with vitamin C and salicylic acid. The duo makes skin glowy instantly.
Never Skip Moisturizer
You should wash your face every day, twice a day: first thing in the morning and before bed. This gets rid of built-up dirt and oil on the skin's surface, and it also removes makeup. Untouched dirt, oil, and makeup can clog pores and weigh down your skin. If you wear makeup, it never hurts to do a double cleanse to make sure there isn't any leftover makeup left on your face after a full day.
But, washing your skin can reduce your skin's natural oil levels and leave your skin feeling dry. Pay attention to the skincare products you use, as dry skin is almost always attributable to products that are too harsh. Even someone with oily skin will benefit from using a mild cleanser instead of an anti-acne one.
Either way, you need to moisturize. Skipping moisturizer will cause the skin to look older and fine lines to appear more visible.
Use a daily moisturizer with SPF in the morning and a hydrating nighttime moisturizer before bed. For an added glow, try an illuminating moisturizer.
"Hyaluronic acid helps retain moisture better than any other ingredient," Dr. Bhanusali says. Thankfully, tons of brands are including this magic ingredient in their masks and moisturizers now.
Here are some of our favorite moisturizers to improve dull skin:
Use a Weekly Brightening Mask
There are facial masks for all types of skin, from dry to oily, that you can pick up at the drugstore, but there are also plenty of DIY complexion brightening facial masks you can concoct yourself. Here are some of our favorite masks that tackle tired skin with glow-worthy ingredients.
If you aren't a huge fan of masks, you can also try a serum. Serums soak into skin faster than masks, plus they're super easy to apply right before you go to bed.
Liu SW, Lien MH, Fenske NA. The effects of alcohol and drug abuse on the skin. Clin Dermatol. 2010;28(4):391-399. doi:10.1016/j.clindermatol.2010.03.024
Katta R, Desai SP. Diet and dermatology: the role of dietary intervention in skin disease. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2014;7(7):46-51.
Pullar JM, Carr AC, Vissers MCM. The roles of vitamin C in skin health. Nutrients. 2017;9(8):866. doi:10.3390/nu9080866