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The main causes of dull skin

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Dull skin can be a real bugbear for so many of us. Lacklustre, possibly a bit dry, definitely lacking any va va voom and basically just feeling a bit meh. Dull skin can make us look like we’re under the weather and tired, even if we’re feeling good on the inside.

So what’s going on with dull skin? What causes it? Is it something that we just have to put up with?

No! If your skin looks dull, then never fear, Sönd are here!

We’re experts in developing skincare for all types of problem skin. We developed our range of alkalising skincare including cleansers, serums and day and night creams for skin that’s dull, stressed, sensitive or oily, so it could be just right for you!

We’d love you to try us out, but whilst you decide, here’s the lowdown on why your skin could be looking dull and what you can do to change it.

Why does my skin always look dull and tired?

Why is my skin so dull and lifeless?! We hear your cries. There are many reasons why your skin might be looking dull, but the good news is, there are also many things you can do to help it.

Dull skin may also occur in conjunction with other skin complaints. Dry dull skin is common, where treating the causes of the dryness will help to improve the texture and tone of your skin, helping to add an injection of brightness to counteract the dull.

Skin that looks dull and blotchy can also occur, most commonly associated with some form of inflammation that cause the skin to become red and blotchy which can then make the skin appear dull.

What does dull skin look like?

Anyone, of any age, can experience dull skin. It can come and go, caused by environmental stressors at a certain point in your life or it can plague you most or all of the time.

Dull skin is skin that doesn’t have any vibrancy or radiance. It may look dry, rough and pimply too. Dull skin looks like it needs a freshen up, and pronto, to bring it back to life and glow like it should do.

Causes of dull uneven skin

Here’s our top ten reasons why your skin may be looking dull and lacking in vibrancy plus tips on dealing with the problem.

You’re not exfoliating often enough

Our skin cells are renewing all the time, in fact, we lose millions of dead skin cells every single day.

That means that dead skin cells can accumulate on the surface of the skin along with dirt, oil, old makeup and other cellular debris. Together, these will definitely dull your healthy glow.

The best way to get rid of this dull inducing detritus is to exfoliate, at least once a week, twice if your skin isn’t too sensitive. Always make sure it’s a gentle exfoliant, vigorously scrubbing away isn’t going to do anything aside from make your skin appear red and angry.

So look for products with exfoliating ingredients such as glycolic acid or salicylic acid. These gently exfoliate without being harsh. You can also use a ‘mechanical’ exfoliant such as a product containing crushed apricot shell that will physically exfoliate the skin.

You’re dehydrated on the Inside

Dehydration is a skin dulling situation for sure. When the body is dehydrated, it will take steps to preserve the water it does have, and that includes reducing the amount of water that reaches the outer layers of the skin (as well as making you pee less).

Dehydration can lead to dull, itchy skin with dark shadows under the eyes. Treating it comes from the inside, rather than the outside. Using a moisturiser for dry skin will add oil to the skin, but it’ll still be lacking water. So drinking plenty of water is key!

We should all be aiming for around eight glasses of water a day (herbal teas and clear juices also count). But you’ll need more if it’s a hot summer’s day and you’re outside and if you’re exercising or doing anything else that makes you particularly sweaty. Our skincare tips for summer page has more advice. 

Also aim to drink more water if you’re drinking alcohol or regularly eating something very salty such processed meat, ready meals, olives, soya sauce or anchovies.

Your skin is suffering the effects of pollution

City life is exciting for sure, but it also generally goes hand in hand with pollution. Car exhausts, particulate matter, fumes from nearby factories, air conditioning exhausts from office blocks and homes and even pollen all contribute to the toxic air that we can be breathing in each time we’re outside.

This obviously signals potential bad news for our lungs but pollution is also bad for the skin, sapping it of its radiance and glow.

Pollution contains free radicals, unstable molecules of oxygen that enter the body and can lead to inflammation and chronic disease. But they also negatively affect the skin by attacking healthy skin cells, stripping them of their oxygen. This leads to wrinkles and fine lines, as well as a dulling of the skin.

Our faces are exposed to the elements all the time so avoiding pollution is near on impossible. Make sure you thoroughly cleanse your skin at the end of each day to remove these toxic particles.

You’re tired

Sleep is restorative for the body and mind, but also for the skin. When we’re asleep all our cells, including our skin cells, regenerate and go through a system of repair.

If we’re not getting enough sleep on a consistent basis, our skin cells cannot repair and regenerate and our skin is likely to show tell-tale signs of tiredness by looking dull. Getting seven to eight hours of sleep a night will help you on your way to the glowing skin you deserve.

You’re stressed

Some level of pressure is good for us. It keeps us driven and focussed. But stress on the bigger scale, be it work, relationships, money or whatever else related will take its toll on your physical and mental health.

Your skin doesn’t escape either. Being stressed releases stress hormones, the most notable being cortisol. Cortisol sends us off into fight or flight mode and whether we choose to stick around and fight it or run away, our blood flow is directed inwards towards our vital inner organs. Leaving the skin to fend for itself whilst looking dull and lacklustre from a reduced blood flow. Chronic, long term stress will lead to long term skin dullness.

We know it’s tricky, but managing stress levels will help to improve your skin.

You’re exposing your skin to the sun too often

Feeling the skin on our faces is an enjoyable pastime for many of us. It feels good and it makes us happy, especially after a long, dark winter.

But overexposure to the sun isn’t fun. Most of us know the feeling of tight, dehydrated, burnt red and angry skin that can occur after an overzealous stay on a sun lounger.

Too much sun can also weaken the collagen in our faces, which leads to dull, saggy skin and wrinkles. So wear sunscreen! (See the section below on smoking for more on collagen and the role it plays in our skin.)

A quick note on other weather conditions too. Harsh winds, high humidity and cold temperatures can all also upset our skin, leaving it dull and dehydrated. So make sure you’re using skincare that helps to support and nourish healthy skinif you’re outside a lot of the time.

(Incidentally, do the same if you’re inside in air conditioned or centrally heated rooms all day. So really, essentially, use good skincare all day, every day, wherever you are – it’s your best line of defence!)

Your diet is poor

You don’t need us to tell you that a diet high in fatty, processed, salty and sugary foods distinctly lacking in fresh fruits and vegetables is a bad one. It can lead to nutrient deficiencies, lethargy, brain fog, chronic disease and problems with weight management.

But for all the damage a poor diet can do for you internally, it can also do for you externally. How diet affects skin is an important consideration. Our skin needs vitamins, minerals and antioxidants just like the rest of our organs do (our skin is an organ, just like our heart or brain is, and is officially the largest organ of the lot).

Without proper nutrients, our skin can become dull, lifeless and lacking in radiance. Aim to eat foods that contain skin enhancing vitamin E and healthy fats such as nuts, seeds, oily fish, flaxseeds and avocadoes.

You’re using the wrong skincare

Your skincare plays an important role in how good your skin looks. If you’re using skincare designed for oily skin when your skin is more dry, or the other way around, your skin won’t be happy and it’ll show.

The same goes for makeup. Using makeup designed to mattify the skin will keep oil at bay, but it could also cause your skin to appear dry. Foundations and BB creams designed to add luminescence to the skin will help you to get the glow.

Getting your skincare and makeup right is often a case of trial and error. See our post on the right skincare and makeup for dull skin to discover more tips and tricks.

Your hormones are in overdrive

Going through puberty, being on your period, being pregnant or going through the menopause all makes your hormones fluctuate, which can also cause your skin to react in many different ways.

Hormonal fluctuations can cause the skin to become dry or oily, or anything in between and cause your skin to become dull and lifeless. Sadly, there isn’t much you can do to control your hormone fluctuations except use gentle, natural skincare solutions that support healthy skin, whilst you wait for the hormone surge to be over.

You smoke

Number ten in our list is the biggest no no. Smoking affects your physical health negatively in so many ways – but you don’t need us to tell you that.

But did you know that smoking is also a major cause of dull skin? The chemicals in cigarette smoke are not only toxic and carcinogenic (cancer causing), they’re bad news for the makeup of our skin.

Cigarette smoke contains over 4,000 chemicals, and many of them lead to wrinkling of the skin. This is because they damage the natural levels of collagen and elastin that we have in our skin.

Collagen and elastin are both proteins that support the skin from underneath. They form a biological framework, like a scaffold for the skin to sit on. As we age, we naturally begin to lose our levels of collagen and elastin, which results in the tell-tale signs of ageing – wrinkling, sagging, fine lines and drooping.

But smoking accelerates this process, leading to premature ageing. But what’s this got to do with dull skin we hear you ask.

Well, the chemicals in cigarette smoke also cause a narrowing of the tiny blood vessels that provide the skin with oxygen and nutrients. The narrower the blood vessels, the fewer nutrients and less oxygen can reach the outer layers of the skin, leading to dull skin.

If you smoke, one of the best things you can do for your skin, and for your overall physical health and wellbeing, is to seek help and advice on giving up.

How to get rid of dull skin on the face

To cure dull skin, try to follow as much of the advice mentioned here as possible. But just as important is a good skincare routine.

Wash your skin twice a day using a gentle cleanser followed by a toner – once in the morning and again in the evening. This will remove sweat, dirt and debris that has built up on the skin overnight, but will also remove makeup, dirt and pollution that’s accumulated on your skin during the day.

Use a moisturiser designed for your skin type, be that oily, dry, combination or normal and perhaps consider a heavier one, or an extra layer, in the winter months.

Exfoliate once or twice a week to remove dead skin cells and other debris to clear your pores, minimise your risk of blocked pores and spots, and to revive dull skin.

Dull skin remedies

We’d love to hear what works best for your dull skin, so make sure you let us know!

Hannah de Gruchy BSc(Hons)

About Author

Hannah de Gruchy is a freelancer writer who specialises in health and wellness. She has a keen interest in the biology of skin and loves using her words to help separate the real science of skincare from the pseudoscience of some skincare brands. Hannah has a degree in Human Biology and many years’ experience working in laboratories around London. Using this experience, Hannah enjoys turning complex science into interesting, engaging and easy to digest pieces to read. In her spare time, Hannah runs, practices yoga and loves cooking plant based foods.

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