"I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.” The famous dictum was uttered by Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart upon hearing a case about radiant skin. (OK, maybe he was talking about something else, come to think of it.) Anyway, you get the point: Skin with that ineffable glow is hard to define. It seems to come from eight hours of sleep, a well-balanced chi, and inner beauty.
But good news for those of us short on any of the above and suffering from dull skin: It also comes from a few great products and some excellent advice on how to use them. We’ve identified every saboteur standing between your skin and that elusive lit-from-within-ness — and come up with a very concrete plan to unseat it. (And by “we,” we mean us and top dermatologists.)
Whether you need a simple at-home solution or more intense professional backup, here’s your guide to fixing whatever is dimming your epidermal wattage.
1. CAUSE: Dead skin cells — they're everywhere.
No, you’re not seeing things — that probably is an ashy tint on your face. “We shed millions of skin cells a day, so unless you do something to actively remove the ones that don’t fall off naturally, you’re going to have a grayish look no matter your skin tone,” says Mona Gohara, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine. Think of that dead-cell buildup like dust. Until you wipe it clean, it’s a dingy layer that prevents your skin from reflecting light.
SOLUTION: Mist some Pledge on a face wipe — kidding, please don’t do that. But you are going to need to gently exfoliate once or twice a week. “Scrubs with sugar or jojoba esters are mild enough for even sensitive skin, and grainy scrubs with pulverized nut shells are good for everyone else,” says Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. (Try Fresh's Sugar Face Polish Exfoliator.) Peels use alpha and beta hydroxy acids to remove dead skin cells; look for formulas that contain soothing ingredients, like aloe and green tea, to minimize irritation. (We like Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial.)
2. CAUSE: A fossil-fuel-based economy and eased environmental regulations.
Oh, yes, that’s also a skin-care concern. Polluted air contains a host of tiny particles, like dirt and sulfur dioxide, that create free radicals on skin. Free radicals damage collagen (hello, new wrinkles!) and stimulate pigment production over time and when your skin’s tone and texture are uneven, it diffuses light and looks dull.