Ever feel like your skin is looking a little…less than glowing? Maybe it was just a rough night of sleep or maybe you’re dealing with dull skin. You can likely envision what dull skin looks like but the term itself is actually “an umbrella term that accounts for lackluster, non-vibrant, and uneven skin,” says Claire Chang, MD, a dermatologist at Spring Street Dermatology in NYC. “It can be caused by a number of different reasons and knowing the cause is the first step in taking measures to restore a more glowy, radiant complexion.”
If you’re wondering what the culprit is for your dull dilemma, here are seven common causes along with remedies so you can get your glow back.
Dull Skin Causes
Dull Skin Cause #1: Dry skin
Think about how a dried, shriveled up apple looks compared to a fresh one full of moisture—the same idea is what happens to your skin when it’s dehydrated. Without moisture, the skin becomes dry and dehydrated, which can it turn leave it looking dull. Dry skin also makes fine lines and wrinkles look even more harsh. Not enough moisturizer, dry climates, long hot showers, and indoor air can all contribute to drying out your skin.
Dull Skin Cause #2: Excess Dead Skin Cells
The skin naturally sheds away dead skin cells but as you age that rate at which that happens slows down. When these dead skin cells start to build up it blocks the fresh, new skin underneath from shining through.
Dull Skin Cause #3: Aging
“As we age, the amount of moisturizer our skin naturally produces decreases along with collagen production (aka what makes babies faces so plump), while melanin production increases, leading to more dark spots for an uneven skin tone,” says Dr. Chang.
Dull Skin Cause #4: Environmental Damage
“Sun exposure and environmental pollution produce free radicals in the skin that harm cells and can also lead to excess pigment, loss of collagen, and skin damage,” says Dr. Chang.
Dull Skin Cause #5: Stress
“Chronic stress leads to increased cortisol in the body and skin, which contributes to increased inflammation of the skin,” says Dr. Chang. “It’s also known to worsen inflammatory skin conditions, like rosacea and acne, but can also contribute to an uneven, dull complexion.”
Dull Skin Cause #6: Lack of Blood Circulation
Think about that natural flush you get after a jog—it’s because your blood as been pumping. “A lack of blood flow means that less nutrients and oxygen are being brought to the skin cells and in turn eliminating the glow,” says celebrity esthetician Renée Rouleau.
Dull Skin Cause #7: Damaged Lipid Barrier
“When the skin is dull-looking, it could be because the top layer of your skin is compromised and moisture is escaping,” says Rouleau. “This happens when there are tiny, invisible cracks in the skin that no longer seals moisture between surface cells.”
Dull Skin Remedies
Dull Skin Remedy #1: Use a hydrating cleanser
“Switch to a gentler, hydrating skin cleanser,” recommends Dr. Chang. “Harsh soaps and cleansers can strip away your skin’s natural oils and further worsen the dryness and irritation.” She suggests looking for one with ceramides (moisturizers that are most similar to what your skin naturally produces) or any creamy formulas that don’t suds up.
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Dull Skin Remedy #2: Apply moisturizer on damp skin
“The best time to moisturize is while your skin is still slightly damp as it will help hold the moisture into your skin,” says Dr. Chang. After bathing or showering, pat your skin dry with a towel and apply moisturizer immediately. Slather on that moisturizer again and again (or at least every morning and evening). “When you moisturize your skin, you’re also creating a more light-reflective surface that appears healthier,” says Rouleau. She recommends looking for a product with ingredients such as sunflower oil, ceramides, or squalane that mimic your skin’s natural moisturizers.
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Dull Skin Remedy #3: Massage in your moisturizer
Another quick solution is spending a couple of minutes really massaging your creams into your skin in a circular motion with your fingertips. You’ll get an instant glow, and it will help deflate any puffiness.
Dull Skin Remedy #4: Seal in your moisturizer
Ever feel like your moisturizer evaporates as soon as you massage it in? That could actually be what’s happening. “If you’re in a dry climate and using a water-based moisturizer, the dry hair is sucking it right out of your skin,” says Rouleau. “It’s important to use an occlusive product on top as your last step to create a seal on the skin.” She recommends using a cream or an oil.
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Dull Skin Remedy #5: Add in a humidifier
Another way to step up your dewy level: a humidifier. “Indoor air tends to be very dry, so it will pull moisture out of your skin,” says Dr. Chang. “Humidifiers add water content back into the air and, in turn, allow your skin to stay hydrated too.”
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Dull Skin Remedy #6: Exfoliate weekly
Sure, you wash your face every night to remove makeup and grime, but a little more oomph is needed for that old cling-on skin that kills your #glowgoals. “When you’re young, your skin regenerates about every two weeks, but starting in your late 20s, it slows to every 28 days or longer,” says celebrity esthetician Shani Darden. What’s more, as past-their-prime cells gather, they block pores and trap gunk, which can cause acne. Yes, dry (not just oily) skin is a *major* zit offender. It’s also another reason your skin doesn’t stay hydrated: your moisturizer just can’t go deep.
There are two ways to exfoliate: physical (scrubs that manually lift away the cells) and chemical (acids that dissolve them on a molecular level). Dr. Chang likes the latter—particularly products with ingredients like glycolic, lactic, or salicylic acid—as it’s harder to overdo it compared with rubbing your face, which can cause damage or irritation.
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Dull Skin Remedy #7: Use a retinol
Another addition that will speed up your cell turnover: Retinol. Not only that, it will also “boost collagen to minimize fine lines and wrinkles as well as reduce hyperpigmentation,” says Darden. Just keep in mind that retinol can be really drying and irritating so you’ll want to introduce it slowly (i.e. only use it every couple of days until you see how your skin handles it.) Have really sensitive skin? Sandwich your retinol between layers of moisturizer to act as a buffer.
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Dull Skin Remedy #8: Add in an antioxidant
When it comes to skin protection, antioxidants are your friend. When free radicals from the sun and the environment (smoke or pollution are examples) come in contact with your skin cells they break them down which leads to a loss of collagen and zapped moisture. “Adding antioxidants like vitamin C and niacinamide to your skincare regimen help protect from free radicals and also brighten skin,” says Dr. Chang.
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Dull Skin Remedy #9: Hang your head upside down
Rouleau suggests taking things upside down for a few minutes—literally. “You can do this with a downward dog or a headstand, or simply by hanging your head over the side of your bed. You’ll get an immediate lift, and the more you do it, the more it works over time to improve the circulation in your face,” says Rouleau.
Dull Skin Remedy #10: Use a facial roller
Then take it up one more notch by adding in that facial roller you forgot you had—yes, it actually does something beyond just looking pretty on your bathroom counter. “Rollers increase circulation to help bring fresh blood and new nutrients to the skin cells,” says Rouleau. Score one for self-care!
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