Imagine your beauty routine as a house: you can paint the walls and arrange the furniture any way you want, but if the foundation isn’t solid, your decor is never going to shine. Whether you’re baby-faced or beautifully mature, a makeup maximalist or a sweep-of-mascara-and-out-the-door type, having a dewy, fresh, glowing complexion is the most essential beauty weapon in your arsenal, and we’re here to tell you exactly how to get it.
Like dust on a polished surface, old, dead skin cells can make even the dewiest skin look dull and decidedly un-lustrous. “Dullness is often caused by dead skin cell buildup, so exfoliating can help brighten the skin by sloughing these dead cells away,” says dermatologist Sejal Shah.
As you may know, there are basically two kinds of exfoliants: chemical and physical. Physical exfoliants are scrubs, which slough away old cells with gritty substances and a touch of elbow grease, whereas chemical exfoliants use dead skin cell melting substances like glycolic or lactic acids to unstick stubborn cells. Both types can prove effective, but many dermatologists recommend chemical options as a first line of dullness defense.
“I tend to prefer chemical exfoliation over mechanical exfoliation because I find that people often over-scrub, which can damage the skin,” explains Shah.
“Although it sounds harsher than mechanical exfoliation, chemical exfoliation is actually gentler on the skin because it does not involve scrubbing. There are also a range chemical exfoliants in regards to strength so can be tailored to specific skin types. Try Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial, which uses glycolic, tartaric, lactic, citric, and salicylic acids for serious skin freshening.
If you just can’t give up the scrub love, Shah recommends avoiding versions with jagged particles like nut shells which can be more damaging to the skin and easier to overdo (we like Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant, which uses ultra-fine rice powder for a very gentle exfoliating experience.)
For a more intensive skin sloughing, take things to the doctor’s office for a chemical peel or laser resurfacing, which can smooth skin more dramatically under the guidance of your trusty dermatologist.
Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant
Another culprit in a dull complexion is unevenness. Dermatologists love retinol and other retinoids, which are forms of vitamin A that encourage your skin to speed up its natural turnover (the process wherein old skin cells are sloughed away and replaced by fresh new ones.) Faster cell turnover leads to more collagen, the springy framework that keeps young skin plump and glowing, and in turn, fewer fine lines and smoother skin texture.
“Retinoids can be irritating to the skin, so start with an over-the-counter retinol at a low concentration and gradually build up,” Shah suggests (we like RoC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Night Cream.) “I usually recommend starting 3 nights per week and increasing to nightly as tolerated. Prescription retinoids are more effective than OTC retinoids.”
RoC Retinol Correxion Max Wrinkle Resurfacing Anti-Aging System
When it comes to brightening up dark spots and pigmentation issues, vitamin C really brings its A-game. Considered the gold-standard of skin brightening, vitamin C (aka ascrobic acid) interferes with the development of pigmentation, so with regular application and time it can help to tame those spots from your less SPF-aware days.
The good news is that vitamin C is incredibly easy to integrate into your skincare regimen (just apply a few drops each morning before your moisturizer) and suitable for all skintypes. The only downside? The high-quality vitamin C products that will give you the best, most consistent results don’t tend to come cheap. “I do feel that not all vitamin C products are created equal, and while there are newer effective and budget-friendly options, this is one ingredient worth splurging on,” says Shah.
TruSkin Vitamin C Serum for Face
We hate to sound like your mother, but the only way to get your healthiest, brightest, most glowing complexion is to keep damaging UV rays far away from your precious cells. You know what that means—sunscreen, every day, no matter what. It may even help reverse aging—talk about a wonder product!
La Roche-Posay Anthelios Melt-In Sunscreen Milk SPF 60
While you’re investing in products to encourage collagen production, why not give your body a boost of the good stuff too? Between bone broth, skin vitamins, and mixable powders, collagen supplements are the hottest thing on the beauty scene right now. As for whether they work, there’s very little clinical evidence that proves their efficacy for skin, but since collagen is important to many of your body’s systems (everything from your ligaments to your eyes) including it in your diet certainly isn’t going to hurt.
“Like other proteins, collagen that you are eating or drinking is broken down into amino acids in your gastrointestinal tract,” explains Shah. “The amino acids may potentially reach the skin and help maintain healthy skin, but amino acids from ingested proteins, including collagen, are distributed throughout the body based on need and, overall, the skin is lower on the list compared to the heart and brain.”
She adds that age may also be a factor, with older people potentially benefitting more from the skin effects of ingested collagen, since our bodies tend to become more collagen deficient as the years go on.
It may seem obvious, but when it comes to dewy, glowing skin, moisturizing is essential. “When your skin is dry, it looks dull, so hydrating ingredients can help bring back that glow,” says Shah.
For skintypes already prone to shine, adding moisture may seem like the last thing you need, but an oil-free hydrator with ingredients like hyaluronic acid (try Tatcha The Water Cream) could actually help reduce your sebum production and even out slickness into a sleek glow.
Normal and dry types can push the envelope with richer options including ceramides, which can strengthen skin’s natural barrier and help it hold onto moisture better, and oils, especially ones rich in lineoleic acid like argan oil. Makeup artist Molly R. Stern, who gives Reese Witherspoon that enviable glow, recommends Dior Capture Totale Le Serum.”It gives the skin the most glowing base and wears beautifully under makeup,” she says.
Face Moisturizer Cream Natural & Organic