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5 tips to brighten dull skin from a skincare expert

How to make your skin glow, according to science

Allison Buckley Avatar
by Allison Buckley, NP-C
Updated on Jul 7, 2023 • 5 min read
Woman with voluminous brown hair in front of purple background
Allison Buckley Avatar
by Allison Buckley, NP-C
Updated on Jul 7, 2023 • 5 min read
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

Welcome to Ask Curology, a series on the Curology blog where one of our in-house licensed dermatology providers answers your questions about all things skincare. This week, it’s all about how to brighten the skin. Keep reading if your face feels dull or you want to know the science behind glowing skin.

• • •

Dear Curology,

People are always talking about bringing out their inner glow, but I’m beginning to doubt I even have one! Even though I moisturize daily, my skin still looks dull. What gives? Am I doomed to never gleam in the pale moonlight, or is there anything I can do to brighten up my face?


Desperately Urging Luscious Luminosity

Dear D.U.L.L.,

I feel you! It seems like everyone is obsessed with the elusive skin glow these days, and if dull skin has you feeling left out, you’re not alone. Dull and colorless, or even grey skin can result when our cell turnover needs some encouragement. In other words, a buildup of dead skin cells is probably to blame. When dead skin cells accumulate, the skin’s surface may lack color or luminosity. So if you’re wondering how to make your skin glow, try incorporating one of these tips into your skincare routine.

Tip #1: Exfoliate

The best way to remove the build-up of dead skin cells on the skin’s surface is to exfoliate! This can be done one of two ways: with a physical or chemical exfoliant. Regardless of the method used, we don’t recommend doing so more than 1–2 times per week.

Physical exfoliation gently scrubs away dead skin cells. A gentle method to physically exfoliate is by using a konjac sponge. These sponges have a mild exfoliating effect, yet are typically soft, and gentle on the skin.

Chemical exfoliants “dissolve” dead skin cells. Chemical exfoliants include beta hydroxy acids (like salicylic acid) and alpha hydroxy acids (like glycolic acid). If your skin is more on the sensitive side, stick with AHA’s as the BHA’s are more heavy-duty, working to deeply penetrate the follicles of the skin.

Tip #2: Hydrate

Another possible cause of dullness is dehydrated skin. Dehydrated skin lacks water, making skin appear tight, dry, or rough. This can be the result of poor water intake, certain medications, smoking, or UV light exposure.

We all know drinking enough water is an important part of staying healthy, but it’s also an important part of your skin’s health, so be sure to use a moisturizer once or twice a day to maximize a happy face. Moisturizing while your skin is still damp can also help to “seal in” hydration.

One last thing: if you want to avoid dry skin, skip the super hot showers! Hot water can strip the skin of moisture. Instead, try showering in lukewarm water. While we’re on the topic of dry skin, you might also try running a humidifier while you sleep, particularly if you live in a colder climate.

Tip #3: Fortify

The best offense is a good defense, so make sure you’re practicing sun protection. Start by applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 (and re-applying it often). You can also seek shade or wear clothing to block out the sun, like hats and sunglasses. Lifestyle factors like exposure to cigarette smoke or eating a high-sugar diet can also damage our skin — do what you can to minimize your exposure!

Air quality can also wreak havoc on our skin. Air pollutants damage our skin by causing oxidative stress, meaning our skin’s antioxidant defenses are compromised. Air pollutants can be anything from UV light to cigarette smoke to nitrogen oxides. When our skin is exposed to these pollutants on a daily basis, we see skin that is prematurely aging, dull, and dehydrated.

Tip #4: Stress reduction

Anything that you can do to reduce your stress (exercise, yoga, meditation) and get more rest may help the overall appearance of your skin. If you think your dull skin might be stress-induced, now is a good time to try a hydrating or brightening mask. You could also help stimulate blood flow to your face by giving yourself a quick facial massage while cleansing or applying your favorite moisturizer.

It goes without saying that a lack of sleep and stress go hand in hand, which means the combination of the two can cause trouble for your skin. Stress causes the body to release more of the stress hormone cortisol, which can negatively affect blood flow to the skin. A lack of sleep has also been associated with higher levels of transepidermal water loss, meaning the outer layer of your skin loses water through evaporation. So not only will you likely notice dark circles under your eyes from lack of sleep, but your skin may appear dry and dull. Make sure you’re practicing good sleep hygiene and see an in-person medical provider if you need help catching Z’s!

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Tip #5: Treat your specific skin

Hyperpigmentation, or dark spots on the skin, can be caused by trauma (i.e. picking), hormonal changes, or years of sun exposure, giving our skin a less than glowing appearance. There are 2 aspects to dealing with dark spots: prevention and treatment. After sun protection, the next best method to prevent dark spots is to prevent any trauma to the skin (i.e. picking!). We suggest hydrocolloid bandages for those pimples you’re tempted to pop.

When treating hyperpigmentation, it is important to treat the underlying cause at the same time (i.e. acne). Curology was designed just for this! Because each Curology formula contains 3 active ingredients, it can be customized for your skin’s specific needs. As always, you can sign up for a free trial of Curology and pay just $4.95 (plus tax) to cover shipping and handling on your first custom cream, or get the complete skincare set with a moisturizer and cleanser!


Allison Buckley, NP

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Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Allison Buckley Avatar

Allison Buckley, NP-C

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