Dull Skin

woman with dull skin

In the pursuit of healthy skin, the “glowing skin” we all strive to attain can be especially frustrating for people who suffer from dull, dry skin. By its very nature, dry skin lacks glow and radiance because dead skin cells heap up on the skin’s surface which decreases light reflection, causing a tired skin appearance.  Radiant, glowing skin requires a smooth skin surface which only occurs when skin is hydrated. 


Dull Skin Meaning

Dull skin is skin that is not radiant because it does not reflect light. This lack of light reflection causes a dull skin tone. Glowing skin occurs when light reflects off of a smooth surface. The good news is that dull and lifeless skin can be brightened very easily with exfoliation. The lackluster skin improves immediately when the skin surface is smooth. If you would describe your skin as lackluster, tired, fatigued, lifeless, rough, or sallow, you most likely are dealing with dry skin.

How to Brighten Dull Skin?

There is more to treating dull skin on the face than simply drinking more water (although I think we can all agree that we should probably try to get in a couple more glasses each day) or applying a “good” moisturizer. No, dry skin remains dry due to an inability by skin cells to hold moisture. This fix requires a few different tools from the skincare toolbox. Sure you can use a facial scrub like Pidanti Smoothing Polish to get glowing skin fast, but preventing dull skin is the best way to keep skin glowing.

What Causes Dull Skin?

The causes of dry skin can vary from genetics, environmental factors (winter weather, anyone?), stress (I could write an entire article on what 2020 has done to my skin!), poor diet, medication, or ineffective skincare but, regardless of cause, the effect is the same – a one-two punch of a poorly functioning lipid barrier and the buildup of dead skin cells on the surface results in a dull complexion. Using the wrong skincare products for your skin type is the most likely cause of dull skin.  Dull skin is usually caused by dry skin but it also occurs when beginning retinoids. This is why the skin looks dull when first starting retinoids.  After 1 month on retinoids, the top layer of the skin gets more compact and the shine of the skin is increased.  So- if you are on retinoids- hang in there.  Your skin will be radiant soon.

Which Layer of the Skin Causes Dull Sallow Skin?

I find it helpful to understand where the problems exist in order to better be able to address the issues. The top layer of our skin, the Epidermis, is made up of 4 layers and each contains skin cells (keratinocytes) that move up, change, and eventually shed off through their life cycle in a process called desquamation. The uppermost layer of the skin- the stratum corneum- or SC- is the part of the skin that causes dull skin.

When the uppermost SC skin layer stops functioning properly, it becomes easier for skin to experience TEWL (transepidermal water loss; the measure of water evaporating out of the skin)  TEWL is in direct relation to how well your lipid barrier is working, AKA dull dry lifeless skin.). 

How to Get Rid Of Dull Dry Skin?

Thick moisturizers are temporarily soothing for dry, itchy skin, but it can take 4-6 days for dull skin to improve with a moisturizer alone. Getting on the best cleanser and moisturizer for dry skin will help prevent skin dullness, but you need exfoliation to improve dull lackluster skin fast.

Dry skin looks dull because of a build-up of dead skin cells on the surface. This is the result of slower cell turnover due to aging, dehydration, or using the wrong skincare products. The inability to shed skin cells properly causes the roughness and ashiness seen in dry skin.  Getting rid of this top rough layer of dead skin cells instantly smooths skin and gives it a glow. You have two options to get glowing skin fast: mechanical exfoliation (scrubs) or chemical exfoliation (peels).

How to Get Glowing Skin Overnight?

The glow we all seek comes from light reflecting off of the flat translucent skin cells that line the top layer of the skin.  These translucent cells get hidden by the “should-be-shedding-off skin cells” and if the top layer can’t or won’t shed properly, this glow won’t happen. Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) help dissolve the attachments of those stuck top-cells enabling them to shed properly. 

My favorite AHA for dull skin is Lactic Acid (frankly, it’s my favorite AHA across the board – my skin loves it!). Not only does it exfoliate, but it also brightens AND has humectant properties meaning it draws moisture into skin –  instant hydration!  Lactic Acid also tends to be less irritating than other alpha hydroxy acids like Glycolic Acid, so it can work well for more sensitive skin. Start your AHA product only a few times per week to avoid any inflammation and increase use as needed. 

Heaped up dead skin cells on the skin’s surface do more than cause dull skin- they also prevent penetration of important skincare ingredients. Proper exfoliation will encourage better penetration of the repairing and nourishing ingredients dry skin needs.  There are many ways to exfoliate dull skin, however, it is best to know your skin type because sensitive skin types can get irritated from over exfoliation. 

Best Skin Care Routine For Dull Skin

It is a multi-step process to address dry skin and prevent dull skin.  Luckily, you can address dull skin causes by getting on the right skincare routine for your skin type.  If you have dull skin, you are a dry skin type, but you need to take the skin type quiz to discover other underlying barriers to skin health that need to be addressed to have radiant glowing skin. If you consistently use the best skincare for your skin type, dull skin will be in your past but not your future.

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