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What is dull skin — and how do I get rid of it?

Dr. Robin Schaffran on dullness and the best ways to liven things up.

Q: Lately, my skin just looks and feels sorta blah. Is this what skincare experts mean by dull skin? What should I do about it?

Dr. Schaffran: Dullness is sometimes more easily defined by what it’s not. It’s skin that appears less radiant, or like it’s missing a kind of natural glow. Dull skin is essentially caused by dead skin cells building up on the skin’s surface.

Sun damage contributes quite a bit to dullness. Damaged skin doesn’t naturally turn over as quickly as non-damaged skin, which results in a more uneven in texture and tone. Hyperpigmentation caused by chronic sun damange also contributes to a more lacklustre appearance. (Sunscreen and shade are the obvious preventative measures here).

Hormones — a perimenopausal woman’s best friend — play a role as well. As estrogen levels start to decline (typically after age 35), the relative amount of male hormones rise, which causes oil production to increase. This can change the overall appearance of the skin and pores, which tend to look larger.

Stress, and the disruption to sleep that often comes with it, can also accelerate dullness. When cortisone levels increase, there is less blood flow to the face which leaves the skin looking more sallow. Facial massages can help counteract this. 

Dullness describes skin that appears less radiant, or like it’s missing a kind of natural glow.

The bottom line is that younger skin naturally exfoliates well, so dullness can tend to creep up on you in your thirties and forties. The easiest way to combat it is to incorporate a gentle exfoliator into your routine, or to use a scrub a few times a week. If your skin starts to feel irritated, try using it just once a week.

And remember, hydrated skin is happy skin. Skin needs moisture to look radiant, reflect light and give off that healthy glow. So if you’re struggling with dryness or dehydrated, dull skin, incorporate a good emollient into your routine. Keep an eye out for products with hyaluronic acid — it’s a total hydration super hero.

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