5 Reasons Why Your Skin Looks Dull + What to Do About It


dull skin reasonsSource: Shutterstock

We often think about our skin as something that we take care of only on the outside, but the reality is that this organ can be affected by a combination of both external and internal factors. For example, one of the biggest complaints people have about their skin is that it looks dull, but simply washing your face or throwing on an illuminating primer won’t remedy the issue. You’ve got to go deeper than that! To go from lackluster to ultra-glowy, pay attention to the most common dull-skin culprits, and adjust your routine accordingly! Getting to know these five common causes of dull skin will help you to boost your glow game accordingly.

1. The Culprit: Dehydration

Skin can be dehydrated both from the inside out, and from the outside in. If you’re not drinking enough fluids and/or consuming lots of salt, this can make your skin appear flaky and flat. Not moisturizing regularly and using very hot water (which strips your skin of its oils), can dehydrate skin from the outside.

“Make sure you stay well hydrated every day by drinking at least eight glasses of water at 8 ounces each. The easiest way to accomplish that is to carry around a water bottle with you, which will serve as a constant reminder and will provide ease of access,” suggests Dr. Peterson Pierre, a board-certified dermatologist in Thousand Oaks, Calif.

In addition, make sure you’re washing and showering with warm water versus scalding hot, and moisturize your skin from head to toe at least twice daily. (Psst. Even if your skin doesn’t feel dry, you should still moisturize). For your face, try using a moisturizing toner followed by a hyaluronic acid serum, and then top it with a cream to help lock everything in. For your body, reach for your favorite body lotion or oil.

Shop it: Mamonde Rose Water Toner, $23; The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5, $7; Inn Beauty Next Level Daily Moisturizer, $22

2. The Culprit: Dead Skin Cell Overload

Our skin is constantly shedding dead cells, which have a tendency to linger on the surface until we wash them away. The thing is, sometimes washing isn’t even enough for the extra-stubborn stuff. That’s where physical and chemical exfoliators come in.

“Physical exfoliants — like scrubs, textured sponges, and brushes — mechanically remove dead skin cells. Chemical exfoliants are acids that are applied to the skin, causing the skin to peel off in thin layers,” explains Dr. Jaqueline Berliner, a board-certified dermatologist at Greenwich Point Dermatology. Even after using an at-home exfoliator once, you’ll see a difference in glow! Aim for once a week, or twice a week if you’re typically oily and congested.

Shop it: For your face, Wishful Yo Glow Facial Enzyme Scrub, $39; For your body, Tree Hut Shea Sugar Scrub, $9

Scrubbing Tip: Be gentle! Applying more pressure with a facial exfoliator does not mean better results. If you over-exfoliate, you run the risk of damaging the skin barrier and creating micro-tears, which means bacteria are more easily able to enter the skin, and you’re more vulnerable to dehydrated skin.

3. The Culprit: Pollution and UV Rays

If you live in the countryside then pollution probably doesn’t impact you, but those who live in any sort of suburban or urban area encounter it all day every day. No matter where you live, though, the sun’s rays are shining down on you. Both pollution and UV rays can damage your skin via free radicals, which eventually causes a dull complexion. Your best line of defense is both ingested and topical antioxidants, as well as sunscreen.

“Using an antioxidant in the morning, like stable vitamin C in 10% concentration, can help. Follow that with a mineral sunscreen, which helps block the pollution mechanically as well as protect from UV damage,” recommends Dr. Sandy Skotnicki, a board-certified dermatologist and author of Beyond Soap.

Regarding diet, incorporate as many colorful whole fruits and vegetables that you can. These vitamins and minerals make you feel good, keep you healthier for longer, and can contribute to more beautiful skin.

Shop it: La Roche-Posay 10% Pure Vitamin C Serum, $40; Sun Bum Mineral Sunscreen Face Tint SPF 30, $18.

4. The Culprit: Lack of Exercise 

“Exercise is great for improving your overall circulation, including to your skin. Also, sweating is a natural way of purging bacteria and chemicals from your skin. That post-workout glow is hard to beat,” says Dr. Berliner.

The solution is to move your body! Any form of exercise can help, whether it’s a short walk in the early evening or a full-blown HIIT workout. Find what you love (check out these fun workouts here), and you’ll be inclined to do it more often. If you’re outside, make sure to wear SPF and always change and shower right after a workout to prevent bacteria from lingering.

Shop it: Kinship Self Reflect Probiotic Moisturizing Sunscreen Zinc Oxide SPF 32, $25; Bath & Body Works Shower Gel, $14

5. The Culprit: Slow Cell Turnover

On average, it takes about 28 days for our skin layers to fully turn over. This can slow down for a number of reasons, including poor diet and lack of hydration, but aging is also a part of the equation. In addition to exfoliating once weekly, there are a couple of things you can do to help speed up the turnover process.

“Topical retinoids work wonders for your skin by stimulating increased cell turnover and the production of collagen. This makes the skin appear younger and brighter,” says Dr. Berliner. “Laser treatments can also work. They range from light procedures with little to no downtime to more intense and aggressive resurfacing procedures that have longer downtime but can also reduce the signs of aging.”

People in their late 20s and up should incorporate a retinoid (or retinoid alternative bakuchiol) into their skincare regimen. Lasers are obviously a more intense option, but if it’s in your budget and you’re looking for immediate results, they’re great.

Shop it: Obagi Clinical Retinol 0.5 Retexturizing Cream, $49; The INKEY List Retinol Anti-Aging Serum, $10.

Hopefully, this guide helps you pinpoint what’s causing your dull skin; and for an extra boost, we find that using enzymes regularly in our skincare routine really helps to bring the glow. Find out all about enzymes and how they’ll make your skin glow here. Until then, you can always fake it with this natural, glowy makeup look.

Disclaimer: Every product we review has been independently selected and tested without bias by our editorial team. We never take payment to review products, however, some brands allow affiliate links, so we may earn a commission if you purchase a product by clicking on one of our links.