9 Reasons Your Skin Looks Dull, Plus What You Can Do to Restore Radiance
A radiant complexion that seems to glow from the inside, out, is typically the mark of youthful, healthy-looking skin. While our complexions may look soft, smooth, and blemish-free, without that tell-tale glow, we’re often left feeling as though our skin appears dull and lackluster. Worried that healthy-looking glow is out of reach? Keep reading! To achieve the radiant-looking skin you’re after, you first have to start by discovering the reasons your skin could be looking dull to begin with. We reached out to board-certified dermatologist, and Skincare.com consultant, Dr. Elizabeth B. Houshmand (@houshmandmd), for some insight on what causes dull skin. Below, we share more about dull skin, including nine common causes for a dull skin tone and a few tips to help you brighten the appearance of your lackluster complexion.
WHAT IS DULL-LOOKING SKIN?
When someone is talking about dull-looking skin they are typically referring to skin tone. “Dull skin is usually used describe skin that lacks radiance or luminosity, that dewy look we all strive for,” Dr. Houshmand says. The goal for most is to have glowing skin that exudes radiance and appears bright. When skin is dull it looks lackluster and doesn’t reflect the light in the same way healthy-looking, well-cared-for skin does.
WHAT CAUSES SKIN TO LOOK DULL?
Dr. Houshmand noted that healthy skin is usually not dull, so there may be an underlying issue at hand. Now that you know what dull skin is, it’s time to figure out what’s behind that loss of brilliance. Below, we’re sharing a few common causes of dull skin to watch out for.
1. Dryness and Dehydrated Skin
Have you been skipping on skin hydration? Dry, dehydrated skin lacks the moisture it needs to look luminous. “Dry skin looks parched and loses it radiance,” Dr. Houshmand says. When skin isn’t hydrated, fine lines can be more pronounced, skin can look rough and skin tone can appear dull and lackluster.
2. Dead Skin Cell Buildup
Dr. Houshmand also notes that the buildup of dead skin cells on your complexion could be a cause of dullness. Just like dry skin, built-up dead skin cells can leave the skin looking dull since they don’t reflect light the way healthy-looking, hydrated skin would. Think of your skin like a window. When the window is dirty, the light can’t shine through as well and instead becomes muted.
Unfortunately, dull-looking skin is just one more side effect of time. As we get older our skin’s natural cell turnover rate slows down. Dr Houshmand notes that this lowered rate of cell turnover can lead to a lackluster skin tone. As well, aging skin tends to show more visible sun spots, wrinkles, and other complexion ruining side effects of UV rays.
4. Poor Diet
Like the age-old adage says, you are what you eat. Certain things when consumed in excess—like alcohol, caffeine, and sugar—may contribute to skin looking dull and dehydrated. If you’re skipping out on vitamin-rich fruits and veggies and heading for the chips and dip, this could be your problem.
Ever notice how your skin can become dry and dehydrated in low-moisture environments? This is because lack of humidity in the air during winter—and in arid climates all year round—can potentially cause skin-dulling dry skin.
Smoking can do a lot of harm to your body, and your skin is definitely not an exception. Smoking can cause a number of negative side effects on the skin. Cigarettes are known to speed up the skin’s aging process, causing a sallow, dull-looking complexion.
Whether it’s caused by a never-ending to-do list or a few overwhelming tasks looming on the horizon, stress can affect the skin in a number of ways, including a lackluster complexion.
It’s during sleep that our skin has an opportunity to renew and refresh itself. If you’ve had a few too many sleepless nights, the signs of fatigue may start to appear—and yes, a lack of radiance can be one of these signs.
9. Using the Wrong Products
If you have dull-looking skin it may be caused by using the wrong products in your beauty routine. If you are hoping for bright, dewy-looking skin, you should steer clear of oil-absorbing, mattifying formulas when shopping for makeup and skin care. Dr. Houshmand says that lack of moisture could be a big reason for your skin looking dull, so skipping on your face creams is not doing your skin any good. She also suggests that you have an exfoliant of some sort in your skin care routine, since they can help scrub off any dead skin lingering on your face.
HOW TO BRIGHTEN THE APPEARANCE OF DULL SKIN
If you have dull skin and you want to get rid of it—or at least make it appear brighter—there are a few steps you can take. Below we’re sharing a few simple tips to help you achieve skin that looks like it’s glowing from the inside, out.
Wear Broad-Spectrum SPF
The sun’s harmful UV rays are known to be incredibly drying for our skin. Since dryness may be the reason your skin appears dull, you’ll want to protect your complexion from the sun. Each and every day layer on broad spectrum sunscreen and seek shade when the sun is at its strongest during the day. To keep your skin guarded from those harmful UV rays, Dr. Houshmand recommends using a sunscreen with an SPF of 50 daily, and making sure to reapply throughout the day.
Moisturize Every Time You Cleanse
If you don’t moisturize your skin after you cleanse morning and night, it’s time to start…now! Since dryness and dehydration can cause your skin to appear dull, it’s common sense that moisturizers can help. Dr. Houshmand suggests moisturizing at least twice a day to tone down dullness. “I love products formulated with hyaluronic acid as they can help plump up and hydrate your skin,” she says. As a reminder, hyaluronic acid is a potent humectant that can attract and hold on to up to 1000 times its own weight in water, helping to offer your skin lots of long-lasting hydration.
Add Exfoliation to Your Routine
You cleanse, you moisturize, and you wear sunscreen like it’s your job, but your skin still looks dull. It’s possible your routine is missing an all-too-important step: exfoliation. Since a buildup of light-diffusing dead skin cells on the surface of the skin can cause it to appear dull, it’s important to slough them away to help your other skin care steps be as effective as they can be—versus simply sitting atop that buildup. What’s more, sloughing away that buildup can help to reveal new, brighter-looking skin that’s been hiding underneath. Twice a week, exfoliate your skin before anything else so your products have a clean slate to penetrate.
You can exfoliate your skin by using scrubs and mechanically sloughing away that buildup or by using products formulated with alpha-hydroxy acids or enzymes to help chemically exfoliate it away. We love using peel pads formulated with glycolic acid—a dermatologist darling and gentle AHA derived from sugar. Just be sure to be serious about sun protection since exfoliation—especially chemical exfoliation—can make your skin more photosensitive. A once a week gentle exfoliation— can help gently slough away any buildup of dead cells on skin’s surface, helping to get one step closer to that radiant glow.
If you’re not getting enough H2O your skin may show it. “Dehydrated skin can be the result of not drinking enough water or liquids,” explains Dr. Dendy Engelman, board-certified dermatologist and Skincare.com consultant. Since a dehydrated complexion can be a cause of dull-looking skin, try drinking a good amount of water each day. While a few more glasses of H2O aren’t enough to get rid of that dull-looking skin, it can help you keep your body hydrated from the inside, out. Need a little encouragement? Try one of these fruit-infused water recipes!
If You Smoke…Stop!
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, smoking can result in a dull, dry complexion—in addition to a loss of firmness and premature lines and wrinkles. If you smoke, consider this your call to stop!
Incorporate Brightening Products into Your Regimen
A routine complete with cleansing, moisturizing, SPF, and exfoliation is a great start, but to help you visibly restore radiance you’ll want to incorporate a few key products into your routine. Look for serums and creams formulated with antioxidants. “Serum is my preferred product, just a few drops every morning can help change the texture of your skin,” Dr. Houshmand says. Look for formulas with antioxidant vitamin C, which can help brighten the appearance of the complexion.
Wash with Lukewarm Water
Sure steamy, hot water feels amazing on your skin, but they can do a number on the way your complexion looks and feels. Hot water can strip the skin of its natural oils, subsequently drying it out and causing a dull complexion. Instead of using hot water, turn that temp down a bit and use lukewarm water instead.
Use a Mask
Getting a monthly facial is a great way to care for your skin, but let’s face it, it’s not always in the cards. A more budget-friendly option? Using a face mask 1-3 times a week. Look for a face mask that can help to brighten the appearance of your skin.
Cleanse Your Skin Thoroughly
Did you know that dead skin cell buildup isn’t the only factor that can prevent the skin from reflecting light properly? Impurities like makeup and dirt can also buildup on the skin if not properly cleansed away. Dr. Houshmand suggests to always remove your makeup at the end of the day, cleanse your skin twice a day to keep your canvas fresh, and to find a daily cleanser that works well with your skin type. According to Dr. Houshmand, using the appropriate cleanser for you, preferably once with glycolic acid to help exfoliate dead cells, is a great way to remove any impurities that can dull your skin’s glow.
Get Some Sleep
We couldn’t tell you enough how important sleep is for your skin. This study shows that skin ageing actually increases at a faster rate when you aren’t getting the proper amount of sleep, so make sure to get the recommended amount of sleep every night. This may seem hard at first, but Dr. Houshmand suggests keeping your cell phone and other bedtime distractions out of your bedroom so you can get a good rest every night.
Fake it Until You Make it!
Skin care products and lifestyle changes can take time before you start to see results, while you wait fake it! Cosmetics like color correctors, highlighters, and illuminating primers are great to help you get a faux glow. What’s more, instead of using a matte foundation, opt for a dewy-finish foundation instead. These formulas can help to give the illusion of glowing, hydrated skin.
By knowing what’s causing your dull-skin tone and by following a few of the tips above, you may start to see more radiant skin in no time!