How to Make Dull Skin Glow Again

July 24, 2023
Ariel Wodarcyk
By: Ariel Wodarcyk | by L'Oréal
Image of a woman applying moisturizer to her cheek

Dull skin can happen to anyone, regardless of whether your skin is naturally dry, oily or somewhere in between. While it can be particularly present in the winter, when our skin tends to get drier due to harsh outdoor climates and moisture-zapping indoor heat, the best way to prevent dull skin is to treat it as a year-round concern. Below, we turned to dermatologists to figure out what causes dull skin and how you can prevent it. Plus, we rounded up some of our favorite skincare products to restore your skin’s glow. Keep reading for it all.

What Is Dull Skin?

We all know what glowy, hydrated skin looks like — think plump, supple and dewy, with that coveted “glass skin” look. Dull skin, on the other hand, can appear dry, dehydrated and lacking in both moisture and radiance. If your skin is dry and dull, fine lines and wrinkles can also appear more noticeable. “People with dry skin may show the signs of aging earlier than their oilier skin friends because dry skin needs hydration and moisturizers to soften the fine lines from aging,” Dr. Susan Van Dyke, a board-certified dermatologist based in Arizona, previously told Meanwhile, hydrated skin appears softer and plumper, with less visible fine lines. 

Dull skin can also appear to be dry, flaky, peeling or a combination of all three. If you’re experiencing persistent irritation and flakiness along with a dull-looking complexion, it’s important to make an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist. Your doctor can advise you on best practices to incorporate into your skincare routine and help you figure out if any underlying skin conditions, such as psoriasis or eczema, may be to blame for your skin concerns. 

What Causes Dull Skin?

Exposure to UV Rays

Not only can excess exposure to UV rays increase your risk of skin cancer, it can also lead to signs of premature aging, such as fine lines and wrinkles, and dull-looking skin. Your best line of defense is to apply a broad-spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen every day and remember to reapply every two hours or more if you’ve been in water. “I typically recommend using powdered sunscreen on top of traditional creams, lotions or gel forms of sunscreen, or as a really wonderful and convenient way to reapply sunscreen throughout the day over makeup,” Dr. Rachel Nazarian of Schweiger Dermatology previously told We recommend the CeraVe Hydrating Sheer Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 30 for Face & Body, plus the Supergoop! (Re)setting 100% Mineral Powder SPF 35 for quick and effortless reapplication. 

CeraVe Hydrating Sheer Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 30 for Face & Body

Seasonal Changes

“During the winter, the cold temperatures and lack of humidity in the air can lead to dryness of the skin,” says Dr. Marisa Garshick, a board-certified dermatologist based in NYC. But it’s not just the outside temperature that contributes to dryer skin, she notes. Indoor heating and hot showers can also lead to a loss of moisture and make the skin more vulnerable to irritation and a dull, lackluster appearance.

Harsh Cleansers

Over-cleansing your skin, or using an excessively harsh cleanser, can compromise your skin’s moisture barrier and exacerbate a dry, dull appearance. “Any time that your skin feels really tight, dry and squeaky clean after cleansing, it probably means that you’re killing off some of your good bugs,” board-certified dermatologist Dr. Whitney Bowe previously told

We recommend using a gentle yet effective cleanser to remove makeup and debris without disrupting your skin’s moisture levels. The CeraVe Hydrating Foaming Oil Cleanser, a comforting formula packed with hyaluronic acid and ceramides, is our current go-to choice. In addition, try simply splashing your face with warm water or a facial spray in the morning and reserving cleanser for nighttime use only. We love the Thayers Alcohol-Free Witch Hazel Facial Mist, which helps to soothe and refresh the skin with aloe vera. 

Thayers Alcohol-Free Witch Hazel Facial Mist

Over- or Under-Exfoliation

“Exfoliating can also help to eliminate a buildup of dead skin cells to leave the skin radiant and glowing,” explains Dr. Garshick. However, not all exfoliating skincare products are created equal. “It is important to avoid harsh soaps and abrasive scrubs as this can disrupt the skin barrier and lead to moisture loss, which can lead to increased dryness of the skin.” Instead, it’s best to use a chemical exfoliant, such as a formula with glycolic acid or lactic acid, on dry, dull-looking skin. We recommend the Garnier SkinActive Micellar Cleansing Peeling Water with 1% PHA + Glycolic Acid, a gentle formula that lifts makeup and reveals smoother, more glowing skin. While some exfoliating products are gentle enough to be used daily, most derms recommend starting with once-a-week use, then building up frequency if needed. Over-exfoliation can further dry out your skin and wreak havoc on its moisture barrier.

Garnier SkinActive Micellar Cleansing Peeling Water with 1% PHA + Glycolic Acid

Dehydrated Skin

Dehydrated skin is different from dry skin, but both can contribute to a dull appearance. It’s important to note that any skin type, including those that are oily, can be dehydrated. “Dehydrated skin can be the result of not drinking enough water or liquids,” board-certified dermatologist Dr. Dendy Engelman previously told “It can also be caused by irritating or drying products, which can strip the skin of its moisture.” 

How to Brighten Dull Skin

Cleanse Your Skin Properly

While over-cleansing or using too harsh of a cleanser can strip your skin of its essential moisture, proper cleansing is still a key component of soft, glowing skin. “This helps to remove dirt, debris and oil buildup that can lead to a dull-looking complexion if not regularly removed,” Dr. Ramya Garlapati, a board-certified dermatologist, previously told Opt for a gentle cleanser that suits your skin type, and try a double-cleansing routine if your skin needs it.

Look for Humectants, Emollients and Occlusives

There are three kinds of ingredients that can help leave your winter skin looking and feeling more moisturized: humectants, emollients and occlusives. Humectants include hyaluronic acid and glycerin — they help to draw moisture in, says Dr. Garshick. Emollients smooth and soften your skin, while occlusives lock in your skin’s moisture.

Soothe the Skin

Dr. Garshick recommends using products with niacinamide, colloidal oatmeal and ceramides to help soothe the skin and prioritize barrier repair

Prioritize Moisture and Hydration

A thick, hydrating moisturizer is the perfect antidote to dull-looking skin. To help support your skin’s moisture barrier and replenish hydration, we recommend reaching for the Thayers Barrier Bestie Ultra Whip Face Cream, a deeply nourishing moisturizer that helps jumpstart  barrier repair with just one use. Ingredients include sugarcane, squalane and ceramides, leaving your skin soft and comforted. 

Try Gentle Exfoliation

Gentle, weekly exfoliation will help slough off dead skin cells and reveal glowier, smoother skin underneath. Plus, regular exfoliation will help clear away debris and help subsequent, more moisturizing skincare products penetrate better into your skin.

Prioritize Fragrance-Free Products

“When the skin is dry and the skin barrier is disrupted, it can be more susceptible to allergy and irritation from fragrances,” says Dr. Garshick. However, she notes, not all skin types experience irritation to fragrance — this may only apply to those who have sensitive skin.

Keep Your Showers Short

As tempting as it may be to indulge in a long, hot shower after a cold day, Dr. Garshick cautions that prolonged exposure to hot water can dry out your skin. Try to stick to shorter showers in lukewarm water, and be sure to apply lotion once you get out to lock in your skin’s moisture.

Add Antioxidants to Your Skincare Routine

Skincare products with antioxidants can help fight free radicals and prevent environmental damage, as well as brighten up dull skin. Popular antioxidants to look out for include vitamins C, E and B3, also known as niacinamide. “When added to your daily routine, vitamin C provides a range of benefits, from evening out your skin tone to reducing pigmentation and shielding skin from the visible impacts of pollution,” board-certified dermatologist Dr. Paul Jarrod Frank previously told “It is a powerful antioxidant that, when combined with SPF, can be an added boost against UV light.” 

The Best Products for Dull Skin

L'Oréal Paris Revitalift 10% Pure Vitamin C Face Serum

Vitamin C is your ticket to smooth, glowy skin. This drugstore formula utilizes 10% pure vitamin C, which helps boost your skin’s radiance, soften the look of fine lines and wrinkles and even skin tone. The serum is fragrance-free and allergy-tested, making it a gentle pick for all skin types.

L'Oréal Paris Revitalift 10% Pure Vitamin C Face Serum

Youth to the People Superberry Hydrate + Glow Dream Mask

Revive your skin’s glow with this rich, creamy overnight mask. Powered by THD ascorbate, a gentle yet effective form of vitamin C, in addition to antioxidant-packed superberries, it softens skin and enhances your natural glow. To use, apply after cleansing and leave on overnight.

Youth to the People Superberry Hydrate + Glow Dream Mask

Vichy LiftActiv Peptide-C

This vitamin C- and peptide-infused moisturizer works to fight multiple visible signs of aging, including fine lines, wrinkles, loss of firmness, discoloration and dullness. The fragrance-free formula sinks in quickly and is gentle enough for all skin types.

Vichy LiftActiv Peptide-C

SkinCeuticals Daily Brightening UV Defense Sunscreen SPF 30

This sunscreen provides skin with an instant glow, thanks to the addition of shimmery, light-reflecting mica in the formula. Plus, with continued use, it helps fight existing dullness and discoloration and prevents them from reappearing.

SkinCeuticals Daily Brightening UV Defense Sunscreen SPF 30

INFINESSE Derma Plump Milk S

Part toner, part lotion, part cleanser, this Japanese-made plumping milk leaves skin juicier, brighter and softer. To apply, dispense three pumps onto a cotton pad and massage into skin after cleansing. This will provide a dose of gentle exfoliation and softness to your skin before you apply moisturizer.

INFINESSE Derma Plump Milk S
Photographer: Chaunte Vaughn

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