Dermatologist explains what causes dull skin, and how to make your skin brighter fast.
Radiant and luminous skin looks healthy and filled with vitality. Lackluster and dull skin says the opposite about your health and vitality. Sometimes, dull skin is accurately transmitting that message... like when you are stressed, eating poorly and sleep-deprived. Other times, the dull tone to your skin is just an indication that you need to step up your skin care to boost skin radiance.
What is dull skin?
Skin is described as dull when it has a lusterless tone and a lack of radiance. Dull skin does not have a dewy character, and it may even appear limp. The color of dull skin is often sallow or putty-like. Dull skin has a texture that may be slightly rough, or even chalky and flaky. The term, "dull skin," is actually a catch-all term for these appearance issues related to skin texture, tone and color.
Why is your skin dull?
The 7 most common reasons your skin tone is dull include:
- Skin dehydration
- Lack of exfoliation
- Not getting your skin really clean
- Not using enough (or the right) moisturizer
- Being stressed or depleted
- Not getting enough sleep
- Eating poorly
Let’s take each of these causes of dull skin one at a time. I’ll explain why the problem causes dullness, and what you can do to reverse the problem to have glowing, bright skin.
1. Your skin is dehydrated, which leads to dull skin.
Dehydrated skin is skin that lacks optimal water content. The water content of your skin ebbs and flows quickly. Skin absorbs water from bathing and naturally looses it to the environment when the ambient humidity is below 85%.
Your skin’s outer "waterproofing" layer, called the stratum corneum, swells or deflates with gain or loss of water. In fact, these dead cells, called corneocytes, can swell as much as 50% when fully hydrated (1). That’s what you want! Plump, hydrated corneocytes look radiant, dewy and youthful – instantly bright and rejuvenated skin tone.
How do you rehydrate dull skin into bright, glowing skin?
Use ingredients that bind and hold water in the layers of your skin. Know that overdoing it will add too much water and cause your waterproofing stratum corneum lipids to become too permeable (this is how occlusion therapy works and you don’t want it in this circumstance).
Products with hyaluronic acid and glycerin work well. Again, they must be present in the right amount or else they will create work against the goal of optimal, skin hydrations. Sodium PCA, part of your skin’s natural moisturizing factor, is another important water-holding ingredient.
My Instantly Luminous Multi-action Serum is designed to dial in the right amount of these ingredients, and the result is actually instant. Apply it right after washing and towel drying and see the difference.
Top it with Green Tea Antioxidant Skin Therapy or your favorite moisturizer for instantly dewy, glowing, bright skin. Fight dull skin fast with by creating your optimal skin hydration. My popular Layered Up Besties gives you both Instantly Luminous Serum and Green Tea at a special price. This is becoming one of our most popular products for good reason!
2. You are not exfoliating, which leads to dull skin.
Exfoliated skin is bright, smooth and reflects light. Exfoliation gives instant results to revive and rejuvenate dull skin. Exfoliation removes built-up, dead skin cells that are lusterless and flaky, blocking reflectors of light. By removing these cells you polish skin to a layer that is smoother and more reflective.
How do you exfoliate skin at home to rejuvenate dull skin?
You can use physical or chemical exfoliation, or a combination of both. Physical exfoliation is the simplest. With physical exfoliation, you buff or polish using rough sponges or scrubs.
If you are using a gentle product, such as my Exfoliating Facial Sponge or the Salux Body Cloth, you may be able to exfoliate daily. If you are using a more abrasive product, such as the Bamboo and Clay Exfoliating Cleanser, you ideally use the product just twice a week. I recommend physically exfoliating in the morning so you can enjoy the bright skin texture and tone all day. Know that like dust, dead cells build back up, and exfoliation is part of bright skin maintenance care.
Chemical exfoliation is the use of skin care ingredients that aid in the loosening of intercellular glue holding dead cells together. Ingredients such as AHAs (glycolic acid being the best), BHAs (salicylic acid) and retinoids (retinol is the best non-prescription retinoid) all do this.
Products are used regularly to maintain exfoliated, polished skin. Glycolic acid and retinol will also compact the dead-cell layer to give it a brighter and more polished look to fight dull skin. As a bonus, they both stimulate skin production of hyaluronic acid, which binds water in the deeper layers of your skin. Thus, using hyaluronic acid serums and one of these chemical exfoliating ingredients gives you an even brighter, glowing skin tone than if you used only one of these ways to boost skin hyaluronic acid. My favorite chemical exfoliating products to fight dull skin include:
Triple Action Exfoliating Cleanser to buff and polish skin with both chemical and physical exfoliation.
Yes, note the "anti-wrinkle" term in these last, two products. That’s because they are powerful collagen renewal inducers. This is a third bonus to using these products.
For more information about the products listed on this page, and to help fight dull skin, click here.
- Enamul Haque Mojumdar, Quoc Dat Pham, Daniel Topgaard & Emma Sparr , Skin hydration: interplay between molecular dynamics, structure and water uptake in the stratum corneum, Nature, Scientific Reports; volume 7, Article number: 15712 (2017) Published 16 November 2017
- Anisha Sethi,Moisturizers: The Slippery Road, Indian J Dermatol. 2016 May-Jun; 61(3): 279–287. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4885180/
- Ian D. Stephen, Facial Skin Coloration Affects Perceived Health of Human Faces, Int J Primatol. 2009 Dec; 30(6): 845–857. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2780675/
- Silke K. Schagen, Discovering the link between nutrition and skin aging, Dermatoendocrinol. 2012 Jul 1; 4(3): 298–307. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3583891/