5 Causes of Skin Dullness (And How to Brighten Things Up)
Some skin concerns are less of a mystery than others. We can probably recall the cystic breakout that left behind hyperpigmentation or put together that skipping moisturizer for a few days left skin feeling dry and flaky. But peeping in the mirror and wondering why your skin looks less than luminous? Not always so obvious.
On the bright side (wink), a dull skin tone isn’t too difficult to treat once you understand its root cause. We asked aestheticians why skin may be looking lackluster and how to brighten things up. Get their advice below.
WHAT IS DULL SKIN?
Glowing skin looks like a selfie taken in good lighting: Radiant, bright, and luminous. Dull skin is pretty much the opposite of that. While it often falls under the same category of uneven tone (think redness, discoloration, dark spots, and post-acne marks), dullness refers to a ‘blah’ complexion all over.
While treating dark spots can take up to 8 weeks, brightening a dull complexion isn’t as time intensive. For a quick fix, apply a few drops of the Mood Lighting Luminizing Glow Drops to bare skin or mix into makeup. Both shades’ light-reflecting pigments immediately enhance skin’s natural radiance while evening tone. For long-term repair, apply our Weekend Glow Daily Brightening Moisturizer anytime you need a boost of hydration and vitamin C radiance. We recommend pairing it with the Weekend Glow Daily Brightening Toner for even brighter results.
WHAT CAUSES SKIN DULLNESS (AND HOW TO TREAT IT)
Everyone’s skin tone is unique, of course, but there are some common causes for a duller tone than usual, according to experts.
Hydration is the answer to many of our skin concerns, including dullness. Why? Think of a fresh coat of paint. When it’s wet, it looks glossy. But as it dries, it becomes matte. Skin works similarly; when it becomes dehydrated (a.k.a. lacking water), it loses its “gloss”.
You can’t achieve that dewy, glass-like complexion without sufficient hydration. Aesthetician Shari Friedman specifically recommends adding both hyaluronic acid and antioxidants to your routine to immediately restore radiance. Get both with the Sunday Morning Antioxidant Oil-Serum, which delivers a boost in softness and glow. If you’re looking for something more lightweight, our Moisture Maker Hydrating Hyaluronic Serum is ideal for those with a drier skin type looking for all of the quick-absorbing moisture benefits you love in a hydrating serum. You can also incorporate a vitamin C-rich moisturizer into your routine to get both brightening and hydrating benefits at once.
Don’t forget to include the skin below your chin, too. Use a Retinol Body Lotion to not only hydrate thirsty skin, but also brighten up dull legs, shoulders, and more.
DEAD SKIN CELL BUILDUP
“How often do you exfoliate?” is probably the first question experts will ask when it comes to treating dull skin. That’s because a buildup of dead skin cells is one of the main reasons for a lackluster tone (it can also cause lingering hyperpigmentation and a bumpy texture). Aim to exfoliate 1-3 times a week to brush away dull skin cells and resurface the glowing complexion hidden beneath. Choose between physical exfoliation (such as a Microcrystal Exfoliator) and chemical exfoliation (like the Instant Resurfacing Mask). Or, incorporate a mix of both into your weekly regimen—just not during the same day, as that can irritate the skin and compromise its barrier function.
Dullness is one of the less talked about side effects of aging skin. “As we age, our natural exfoliation process begins to slow down,” explains Friedman. This mechanism is more formally referred to as cellular turnover, where fresh cells move to the skin’s surface and old, dead ones flake off. “Generally, skin’s natural shedding process takes approximately 28 days. As the years go by, it can take up to 6 weeks for new skin [cells] to appear.” That means dull cells can be lingering on the skin’s surface for longer than usual, resulting in an uneven, textured complexion.
Friedman recommends incorporating a retinol into your routine to speed up this cellular turnover rate and “begin the process of shedding dull, damaged skin.” On days you aren’t exfoliating, smooth on 1-2 pumps of our Gentle Retinol Serum. An eye-safe retinol formula, such as the Advanced Retinoid Eye Balm, can help target tired, dark circle-ridden undereyes, too.
There’s a reason why our Skin Decoder quiz asks whether you live in a city or suburb. Our environment plays a major role in the health of our skin, from the amount of sun exposure we get to how polluted our hometown is. Both UV rays and pollution release free radicals, causing our skin to undergo oxidative stress. “When you are exposed to these environments, your skin may absorb tiny particles such as sulfur dioxide and dirt that can deplete collagen, [a protein] responsible for youthful, glowing skin,” says aesthetician Valerie Barnett, founder of PleasingCare. This not only causes premature aging (like fine lines, age spots, and loss of firmness), but it also dulls our complexion.
While we can only do so much about the sun rays and pollution levels, we can help fend off their free radicals by wearing ample sunscreen daily. Our Guards Up Daily Mineral Sunscreen is broad spectrum and rich in antioxidants (which neutralize free radicals and prevent their damage).
If none of these causes ring true for you, consider other lifestyle habits such as too much alcohol and/or sugar, smoking, and a lack of sleep. Alcohol dehydrates the skin, while smoking and sugar can cause oxidative stress. And because the body goes into repair mode overnight (which includes cellular turnover), losing sleep inhibits the skin’s ability to replenish fresh skin cells while shedding off dull ones.
While adjusting these habits is key, the skin will also benefit from brightening ingredients such as vitamin C. “Vitamin C should be the first ingredient you should look for,” confirms Barnett. You’ll find this dermatologist-favorite ingredient in our Stroke of Brilliance Brightening Serum. She also suggests one of the AHAs formulated in Weekend Glow, glycolic acid, which “helps break down dead skin cells.”
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