Why Does Our Skin Become Dull?
Updated 2/10/21. As the skin ages, everything tends to slow down. This includes cell metabolism, blood circulation, oil production, and the natural exfoliating process. The result is skin that looks and feels dull and sluggish, lacking overall brightness. What’s more is that brown spots develop as pigment cells rise to the surface, causing the skin to look uneven in tone.
Before you give up on glowing skin, know that there’s a lot that can be done. In this post, I’ll share my favorite expert tips to get your skin looking fresh and glowy in no time.
10 Ways to Give Dull Skin a Healthy Glow
1. Start by gauging your skin’s circulation with the pinch test
When the skin is free of makeup, take your thumb and forefinger and gently pull on the apples of your cheeks. Gently (not to the point where you feel pain) pinch the skin quickly five times.
If no pinkness shows up, your skin is more than likely under-circulated, and you’ll need to increase blood flow. If your skin is a little pink, your skin has proper circulation—you’ll still want to keep that going, though, since this will slow down with age. However, if the skin is bright red, your skin is likely over-circulated. (Read six tips for soothing skin with redness and rosacea.)
To get the glowing skin you want, the goal is for your circulation to be right in the middle—not too much, not too little.
2. Use products with stimulating and energizing ingredients
Since circulation can become impaired with age, skincare products with ingredients such as peppermint, vitamin B12, niacinamide, and ginseng root extract work to improve blood flow to bring a fresh radiance to the complexion. When applied topically, these ingredients may dilate the blood vessels, allowing the skin to accommodate more nutrient-rich blood.
With continued use, you should notice the skin looking brighter and less dull, with a natural glow from within.
3. Use a well-formulated retinol product.
Retinol is most definitely a game-changing ingredient for getting smoother, more even-toned skin. It speeds up the rate of cell turnover, which slows down as we age. This will ensure that fresh, light-reflective cells stay at the surface of your skin. (Read my beginner’s guide to using retinol or prescription retinoids.)
4. Only use low-foaming, sulfate-free cleansers to wash your face
Cleansing your skin in the morning and at night is essential for optimal skin health. However, you need to pay attention to the type of cleanser you use.
Many foaming and gel-based cleansers are formulated with ingredients like sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate or ammonium laureth sulfate, all of which are surfactants. This means they are cleansing agents that cut oil from the skin. While you do need to remove oil from the skin, these sulfate ingredients are simply too harsh and will strip water from the skin in addition to oil after every washing. This leaves the skin feeling tight and creates unnecessary irritation. This eventually leads to a damaged moisture barrier, which contributes to your skin’s dull, dry appearance.
When it comes to cleansing, the general rule is this: more lather, more drying; less lather, less drying. Be sure to look for cleansers labeled as ‘sulfate-free’ and ones that don’t have a shampoo-like bubbly lather. Furthermore, bar soaps are an absolute no-no.
5. Repair your moisture barrier so the skin will appear light reflective
In order to give the skin the appearance of a radiant glow, you really want light to bounce off of the skin. If your skin is dry and flaky, it means you have a damaged moisture barrier. When this happens, your skin develops tiny, invisible cracks that not only allow moisture to escape, but also allow light to penetrate. This prevents light from bouncing off the skin’s surface, so the skin will not have that ‘lit from within’ look. Instead, you end up with that undesirable dullness.
Aside from using only gentle cleansers, you have to take steps to repair your skin’s moisture barrier and close up these cracks. The best way to do this is by using the RIGHT type of moisturizer.
To repair dry, flaky skin and make dull skin glow, look for the following emollient, barrier-repair ingredients when choosing a moisturizer:
- Borage Oil
- Bois De Rose Oil
- Carrot Oil
- Evening Primrose Oil
- Cranberry Oil
- Linoleic/Linolenic Acids
- Linoleic Acid
- Tocopheryl Linoleate
- Shea Butter
- Sunflower Oil
- Soybean Oil
- Safflower Oil
- Jojoba Oil
- Sweet Almond Oil
- Canola Oil
- Sesame Seed Oil
These ingredients will correct both the lack of oil and the lack of water deep within your skin. They will actually repair the skin’s lipid barrier to make your skin moist, supple, smooth…. and light reflective. It’s a fact that hydrated skin is healthy skin, so start looking at your ingredient labels to find the perfect moisturizer for your dry, flaky skin.
6. Use a face oil, but use it correctly
Especially during winter when the humidity is low and the air is dry, moisture is dramatically depleted from the skin. One of the very best ways to prevent moisture evaporation and keep your skin looking radiant is to apply a treatment oil over your night cream to ‘lock’ in moisture.
The reason you want to put it on as the last step in your night regimen is that oils have the largest molecule size, more so than any other skincare product. Because of this, oil acts like a top coat or a sealant so that everything underneath (your toner, serum, and moisturizer) stays in the skin.
7. Practice deep breathing
Not only does deep breathing help lower blood pressure and decrease stress, but practicing deep breathing will allow oxygenated blood to flood your system, giving skin a glowing, dewy look.
How to breathe deeply to encourage glowing skin:
- Breathe in slowly until your lungs fill up completely
- Hold your breath for 5-10 seconds
- Begin to let all of the air out slowly, as this removes carbon dioxide and cellular wastes from the body
- Practice this often throughout the day
8. Be sure to use the right type of exfoliating products, and use them regularly
The quickest and easiest way to instantly brighten the skin is to use an exfoliating product. By dissolving and removing dry surface cells, you instantly reveal fresher, brighter cells that reflect light and give the skin a smoother look.
There are many types of exfoliants to choose from, so be sure to take the skin type quiz if you don’t already know your skin type. At the end of the quiz, you’ll get product recommendations, including the best exfoliant for your skin type. Also be sure to read my beginner’s guide to using exfoliants. Even if you’re not a beginner, this post has everything you need to know about using exfoliants correctly so that you maximize the benefits without damaging your skin. Of course, Triple Berry Smoothing Peel is a fan-favorite for giving an INSTANT glow and is one that should be used weekly!
9. Use a skin brightener daily
Since pigment cells rise to the surface with age, brown spots and sun spots can make the skin look dull over time. One of the benefits of a natural skin brightener is its ability to suppress melanin activity to fade stubborn, discolored marks. My favorite ingredient for this is a vitamin C serum using the ingredient magnesium ascorbyl phosphate—a proven brown-spot lightener.
10. Understand that makeup can work miracles
If anyone knows how to fight dullness and give skin a radiant glow, it’s the Hollywood makeup artists who work with celebrities. I work with a lot of these makeup artists since we share clients, and they have taught me their tricks of the trade. In general, they rely on primers under foundation, brightening powders, and strobing sticks for radiant skin. Search YouTube or Instagram and you’ll quickly learn how they perform their skin-glowing magic. (Acne-prone skin? Read about the best foundations that won’t clog pores.)
With a little extra effort, you can certainly improve the look of your dull skin. Enjoy your #ReneeRouleauGLOW!
One final thought. I believe having glowing skin and brighter-looking skin are two different things. Of course, we all want both. Read how to get brighter skin. If your skin needs anti-aging, read this.
Celebrity Esthetician & Skincare Expert
As an esthetician trained in cosmetic chemistry, Renée Rouleau has spent 30 years researching skin, educating her audience, and building an award-winning line of products. Trusted by celebrities, editors, bloggers, and skincare obsessives around the globe, her vast real-world knowledge and constant research are why Marie Claire calls her “the most passionate skin practitioner we know.”