What Causes Skin Dullness, and How Do We Treat It?

Combined with stress from the workplace, lack of sleep, and family obligations, sometimes our self-care falls short leading to dullness. And when that happens, our faces may begin to look lackluster. However, just because we feel dull on certain days doesn't mean that our skin has to look it. In skincare, dullness essentially refers to a lack of radiance or an inability to reflect light well. Dull skin may appear dry, patchy, ashy, or lackluster. Additionally, dullness is often accompanied by an uneven skin texture because textured skin is less able to reflect light uniformly (Kiehls).

Many dermatologists suggest that dullness can be caused by over-exfoliating, exfoliating improperly, or not exfoliating enough. These things can all compromise the skin barrier, and the dry skin left on your face needs to be removed in order to allow new, glowing or light reflecting cells to come forward.

Photo cred:Medium

Furthermore, research also indicates lack of sleep and increased stress levels are causative of dull skin. “Recent research has confirmed skin both as an immediate stress perceiver and as a target of stress responses. As the largest organ of the body, the skin plays an important barrier and immune functions,” and likewise, its barrier function can be impaired by a lack of sleep, heightened stress, and increased cortisol levels (Chin, Lyga; 2014).

Photo cred: Paula's choice 

For example, your body increases blood flow when you are asleep, giving you a healthy glow in the morning. After a few days of insufficient sleep, have you ever noticed that your skin looks not only a bit pale but less vibrant?

When we notice dull skin, we often want to grab for oils or moisturizers, but doing so might just add grease on top of the dullness. So let's dive more deeply into some of the things that cause dull skin and ingredients that can actually help to brighten skin and make it look more luminous without using greasy formulas.

Exfoliation helps with Dullness

Our skin sloughs off and renews itself naturally, but sometimes it needs some support. There are many ingredients such as AHAs that can aid in this. Cassandra suggests the Inkey List specifically because they have a lot of really good products for dull skin and damaged skin barriers. The Ordinary is also a great choice, but it has a lot of actives making it potentially sensitizing, especially for a compromised skin barrier. The Inkey List also has effective actives but gentler formula. This is great because in the case of dull skin, we need mild exfoliation, not anything that’s going to irritate our skin. 

AHAs for exfoliation

AHAs are basically water-soluble acids that enter the skin and eat away dead layers of skin that build upon our stratum corneum. Desmosomes hold this dead skin together, but AHAs help dissolve those and exfoliate. Now, exfoliation shouldn't be done all the time. You want to make sure that you're taking it easy and not doing it every single day. However, AHAs are a great way of revealing that smooth, soft skin that kind of glows from underneath whilst not stripping the skin.

So, here are few products from The Inkey List that can help brighten up the skin and make it look luminous despite fatigue and high-stress levels.  The glycolic acid toner from the Inkey List is a fantastic one. This one's a lot easier to use because you can layer it under more products and again. It goes well underneath other serums and moisturizers, and if you don't want to use this glycolic acid, they also have the BHA.

The INKEY List Glycolic Acid Exfoliating Toner - $11.99

The INKEY List BHA - $11.99

You can use this alone as a serum, or you can also mix this in with other things. Cassandra mixes it in with her cleanser, and the Inkey List actually has a peptide moisturizer that uses peptides to help support the barrier. 

The INKEY List Peptide Moisturizer -$14.99

You can mix the moisturizer with the AHA to make it more of an exfoliating moisturizer. 

Product buildup

Sometimes products like sunscreen build up on the skin, and they don’t get fully removed. So, finding a balm or cleanser that is specifically meant to remove the product is very helpful. For example, the Oat Cleansing Balm is extremely hyrdating and one of the best products for removing build up. And if you’re a person who has both oily or dry areas on your skin like Cassandra, this is fantastic. It’s also wonderful for super oily skin, and it does a great job at  breaking down tough waterproof sunscreens, liquid lipstick, mascara, and makeup, etc. 

The INKEY List Oat Cleansing Balm - $10.99

After using this balm, you can use a regular oil-fighting or acne-fighting cleanser. This is a great way to double cleanse if you’re worried about stripping the skin.

As mentioned before, some cleansers don’t fully cleanse the skin and remove all of the makeup and sunscreen from inside the pores. Yes, this can lead to dullness, but again, we also have to make sure that we are not stripping the skin. The Oat Cleansing Balm is a great solution to this dilemma.


While dryness can be a culprit of dullness, we don’t want a product that causes even more dullness by adding grease. So, something lightweight moisturizers like the Inkey List’s Squalene oil is fantastic. The squalane oil here is really nice and lightweight.

The INKEY List Squalane Oil -$12.99


Antioxidants actually fight free radicals from the environment and the sun. Free radicals attack your skin barrier, and if you live in a polluted city or environment, the free radicals could have an even greater impact. However, there are antioxidant products that can help combat this.The INKEY List Q10 Antioxidant Serum  absorbs into the skin beautifully, and it works for almost anyone. The serum also helps with fine lines, wrinkles, and it actually hydrates the skin which we don't see from a ton of antioxidant serums. You can wear this under a sunscreen. However, Cassandra would recommend using this at night. More of a daytime choice would be the inky list 15% of vitamin C and EGF epidermal growth factor serum.  

The INKEY List Q10 Antioxidant Serum -$8.49

The INKEY List 15% Vitamin C and EGF Brightening Serum -$14.99

These two are some of the best vitamins from the Inkey list. You can use them together for collagen stimulation and an antioxidant boost. The vitamin C is lightweight, gentle, and not overly irritating. While the epidermal growth factor helps to smooth over the skin. So, it actually gives you a luminous, invigorated glow rather than just a temporary “shimmer.” 

Lastly, wear your SPF because adding these extra steps won’t do as much if you’re not protecting your skin’s barrier to begin with! Also, remember that it's hard  sometimes to see an immediate change. If you’re someone who habitually lacks sleep or struggles with dullness, making  a mental note of you reflection or snapping a quick selfie may help to see the difference overtime.

Coverphoto cred: freepik