Unlike dark spots, acne, and fine lines, a dull complexion can be difficult to spot. That being said, if you've ever looked in the mirror and thought that your skin could be just a tad bit brighter, more radiant, and just plain healthy-looking, know that achieving a glowing complexion is possible. "Dull skin is a bit of an all-encompassing term for skin that doesn't look healthy," says Dr. Dhaval Bhanusali. "Some reasons include a pile-up of dead skin cells, debris from the day (like pollution), or even dehydration."
First things first in nixing dull, lifeless skin and making your skin brighter? Assessing the cause. Different factors like diet, lifestyle, and daily skincare habits may play a role, and making slight changes can help you correct it. Below, we tapped Bhanusali as well as esthetician Mahtab Moaven for some answers on how to amp up our face brightness and how to brighten skin naturally.
Meet the Expert
- Dhaval Bhanusali, MD, is an NYC-based dermatologist specializing in medical and cosmetic dermatology.
- Mahtab Moaven is an esthetician and an international trainer of skincare brand Biologique Recherche.
Reduce Your Alcohol Intake
Alcohol can seriously dehydrate and dull the 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, try sipping water along with your drink.
Consume a Balanced Diet
You are what you eat. The quality of food you eat and the types of foods you consume affect the health and look of your skin. Incorporate more foods into your diet that are high in fatty acids such as fish (especially salmon), walnuts, and flaxseed. Fatty acids are crucial to healthy skin because they boost cell production below the skin's surface, reinforcing the skin barrier and reducing inflammation. Think of it as nourishing your skin from within.
Also, eating foods that are rich in antioxidants can help to fight skin inflammation and free radical damage. Nuts and seeds like walnuts and pumpkin seeds as well as tomatoes may protect your skin while dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants that keep skin healthy. Also, make sure your diet is rich in probiotics—the healthier your gut is, the healthier your skin is, too.
Protect Your Skin From Sun Damage
According to Moaven, the sun depletes the skin of its levels of essential fatty acids and hyaluronic acid, which can lead to dullness as well as pigmentation called lipofuscin. "Use of SPF is very important every day, and the level of SPF depends on the time of exposure," says Moaven. "Use an SPF 30 for every day and an SPF 50 for activities such as hiking, swimming, walking, or jogging."
We hate to break it to you, but no matter how dry and dull your skin is, you can't moisturize dead skin away. Exfoliation may be the key to a brighter complexion, and when it comes to incorporating it into your routine, you have options. You can gently exfoliate with a washcloth, use an exfoliating cleanser or scrub (just make sure you're using a gentle product that won't cause any microtrauma to your skin), or go even deeper with microdermabrasion treatments or a skin cleansing brush. You can also go with a chemical exfoliant, like glycolic acid or salicylic acid, depending on your skin type. Exfoliate your skin two to three times a week, or, if you have sensitive skin, start with once a week and see how your skin tolerates it.
If you exfoliate regularly, you are consistently sloughing off the dead skin and allowing new, 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
A daily dose of orange juice loaded with vitamin C might be 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. Vitamin C also protects the skin from UV-related free radicals, lightens up dark spots, and improves your skin's overall appearance.
Get Adequate Sleep
Not only is it important for your body to get proper shut-eye, but it may be key for your skin, too. Moaven says that cell regeneration occurs during our sleep, and that lack of sleep will directly play a role in poor skin regeneration, resulting in tired and dull skin. If you're having trouble getting a good night's rest, try a pillow spray to help you fall asleep faster, like this one from This Works ($29).
Use a Moisturizer With Hyaluronic Acid
Ever feel like your skin is stripped, dry, and tight post-washing? Upping the ante on your moisturizer may be key for a well-hydrated, brighter complexion—especially if you choose one with hyaluronic acid. "Hyaluronic acid helps retain moisture better than any other ingredient," Bhanusali says.
Never Skip Cleansing
Try washing 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 depending on the cleanser's formula. Untouched dirt, oil, and makeup might clog pores, weigh down your skin, and lead to a dull complexion. If the day calls for a ton of makeup, a double cleanse may be in order to ensure there isn't any leftover makeup left on your face after a full day.
Combat Environmental Triggers With Skincare Products
Fun fact: the environment has a direct influence on our skin. Moaven says that some factors that can cause dull skin are oversensitivity, which pushes the epidermis to build a thicker layer of protection on the skin, which leads to a dull and rough texture. Also, pollution has been proven to disrupt the skin microbiota and increase sebum production and acne. If you live in a highly polluted city, using products that balance your skin's microbiome, like this mask from Eminence Organics, may help you achieve the brightness you desire.
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