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Understanding Why Your Skin Looks Dull (and How To Fix It)

Even the healthiest skin can occasionally look dull and lackluster. Learn what causes dull skin and how to achieve a more radiant appearance ahead.

Most common skin concerns are closely related to your skin type. Breakouts, for instance, tend to plague those with oily, acne-prone skin, while wrinkles may appear more prominent if you have dry or mature skin. Some skin concerns, however, stand in a league all their own. Dullness is one of them.

Anyone, regardless of skin type, can deal with the occasional bout of dull, lackluster-looking skin. That’s because there isn’t one distinct cause of dullness. Many factors—from your skincare routine to your age and even your lifestyle—can contribute to a lack of radiance. Thankfully, once you understand the cause of your dull skin, it’s pretty easy to manage with skincare products.

Ahead, we’re doing a deep dive into dull skin. We’ll answer common questions like “what does dull skin look like?” and provide expert-approved tips and tricks to help you boost your skin’s radiance and keep dullness at bay. Read on to discover what dullness is, five of its most common causes, and—most importantly—how to rejuvenate dull skin for a vibrant, healthy-looking appearance.

What Is Dull Skin?

Before we discuss the best way to care for dull skin, it’s essential to review what dull skin is—even if it seems self-explanatory. 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. Keep reading to discover the most common causes of dull skin and the Kiehl’s products that can help restore your skin’s radiant appearance.

What Causes Dull Skin?

Dullness often results from several separate forces, both internal (like your lifestyle) and external (like environmental stressors). That said, there are a few common factors that can make your skin appear less-than-luminous. Ahead, we’ll break down five of the most common dull skin causes. We’ll also offer expert advice and recommendations on how to brighten dull skin for a healthier-looking appearance. Read on to learn how to keep your skin looking its radiant best.

Dull Skin Source #1:


As you may already know, skin is uniquely impacted by the natural aging process. In youth, your skin typically appears firm, plump, and even, thanks to a steady supply of collagen and elastin—two key proteins responsible for maintaining skin’s structure. As you get older, however, the production of these essential compounds slows. In addition, aging affects the skin’s natural production of the lipids that help keep your skin hydrated and soft. Together, these factors—combined with the accumulated effects of chronic sun exposure and other environmental factors—can result in dull, uneven-looking skin.

How To Manage It:

Studies show that up to 80% of visible skin aging results from extrinsic factors, like chronic sun exposure.I In other words, while you can’t stop the natural aging process, healthy skin habits and a good skincare routine can help limit some of the visible signs of aging, including dullness.

To help protect your skin against the external factors that can result in tired, dull-looking skin, we recommend incorporating Vital Skin-Strengthening Hyaluronic Acid Super Serum into your daily skincare routine. This potent serum is formulated with 11kDa hyaluronic acid, an engineered form of hyaluronic acid capable of penetrating skin’s deeper layers. It also contains a blend of adaptogenic herbs, including Korean red ginseng root. The effective formula is clinically-demonstrated to double skin’s strength while improving skin texture by up to 41 percent.* It also helps minimize the appearance of fine lines for a visibly more youthful appearance. It’s suitable for all skin types and can be used daily to promote radiant, healthy-looking skin.

Dull Skin Source #2:

Dryness and Dehydration

While the words “dry” and “dehydrated” are sometimes used interchangeably, they’re actually two different things. Dry skin is a skin type characterized by inadequate production of lipids. Dehydrated skin, on the other hand, refers to skin that lacks water. Both can cause the skin to appear lackluster, sallow, or dull. Dehydrated skin may also be more prone to sagging, wrinkling, and roughness—all of which can worsen the appearance of dullness.

How To Manage It:

Keeping skin well-hydrated requires following healthy skin habits (like drinking plenty of water) and following a proper skincare routine. In particular, moisturizing is critical, as it helps lock in hydration and promotes smooth, supple-looking skin.

To moisturize your skin and reduce dullness, reach for a lightweight daily moisturizer, like Clearly Corrective Brightening & Smoothing Moisture Treatment. This face cream contains white birch extract and activated C, as well as glycerin, an effective humectant moisturizer. The best-selling formula provides lasting, 24-hour hydration while helping improve skin’s texture and clarity. The gentle formula is suitable for all skin types and can be used daily to promote brighter, clearer-looking skin.

Since your eye area is a bit more delicate than the rest of your face, it needs special care. We recommend using a rich eye cream, such as the cult-classic Avocado Eye Cream, to keep this area hydrated. This Kiehl’s favorite contains a blend of effective moisturizers, including emollient avocado oil and shea butter. The intensely-hydrating formula immediately improves under-eye texture while helping reduce the appearance of dark circles and puffiness over time. Use it daily to hydrate and brighten tired, dull-looking eyes.

Dull Skin Source #3:

Uneven Skin Texture

If you moisturize regularly but still find your skin looks dull, an uneven skin texture may be to blame. As we briefly mentioned above, unevenness can make skin appear dull because textured skin can’t reflect light as well as smooth, uniform skin. A rough or uneven skin texture can result from several factors, ranging from dead skin cell buildup to acne and even dryness. Using skincare products designed to help address the underlying causes of unevenness can help improve the appearance of dull, lackluster skin.

How To Manage It:

One of the best ways to reduce roughness and improve your skin’s overall texture is to incorporate exfoliants—either physical, like face scrubs, or chemical, like acids—into your regular skincare routine. Exfoliating helps remove dead cells from your skin’s surface and promotes a smoother, more uniform appearance.

For gentle exfoliation, try swapping out your current face wash for a mild scrub, like the best-selling Clearly Corrective Brightening & Exfoliating Daily Cleanser. This facial cleanser stars pearlstone, a natural exfoliant derived from volcanic ash. It helps cleanse the skin to remove dead cells, dirt, and other buildup that can result in a dull-looking appearance. It also helps refine the skin’s surface for smoother, visibly brighter-looking skin.

After cleansing, reach for a brightening toner to soothe your skin and remove any leftover residue or excess oil. For dull skin, we recommend Clearly Corrective Brightening & Soothing Treatment Water. This gentle toning liquid with illuminating minerals immediately soothes and hydrates while imparting the skin with a subtle, healthy-looking glow. This daily toner helps diminish the appearance of dullness for a visibly clearer, more even-looking appearance with continued use.

Dull Skin Source #4:

Pollution and Sun Exposure

As we mentioned above, external factors are the primary driver of visible skin aging. Sun exposure and pollution are both major culprits responsible for dull, lackluster-looking skin. Here’s why: Exposure to UV radiation and pollution result in the formation of free radicals (otherwise known as reactive oxygen species). These damaging molecules can alter your DNA, trigger pigmentary changes, and affect your skin’s production of necessary compounds like collagen and elastin. In other words, they speed up how quickly your skin shows the visible signs of aging, including dullness.

How To Manage It:

As with nearly all things in skincare, prevention is key. Of course, it’s impossible to prevent all sun exposure or limit your exposure to pollution—especially if you live in a city. However, incorporating antioxidants into your skincare routine can help neutralize the damaging free radicals that result from these external factors, therefore limiting how much they can damage your skin.

To nourish your skin with essential antioxidants, we recommend incorporating the best-selling Daily Reviving Concentrate into your daily routine. This antioxidant face oil defends skin against damaging free radicals and revitalizes dull skin for a fresh, glowing appearance. It’s non-comedogenic and suitable for all skin types, so it won’t clog your pores or worsen blemishes. Of course, antioxidants alone won’t protect your skin from UV radiation: For that, you need sunscreen. Try Super Fluid Daily UV Defense 50+, which provides lightweight, broad-spectrum protection against the sun’s damaging rays. The unique formula is suitable for all skin types and absorbs quickly, leaving behind a matte, weightless finish.

As an added defense against environmental aggressors that can cause dullness, wash your face thoroughly morning and night to remove any impurities lingering on your skin. We recommend using the cult-classic Ultra Facial Cleanser to keep your skin clean and healthy-looking. This best-selling cleanser with olive-derived squalane cleanses the skin without stripping away its natural oils for a clean, balanced appearance.

Dull Skin Source #5:

Lack of Sleep

If you’ve ever pulled an all-nighter only to be greeted by the sight of grey, dull-looking skin the next morning, you’re probably well aware of how quickly sleep deprivation can impact your skin’s radiance. Your body repairs itself while you sleep, and this process is perhaps most evident in the skin. Studies show that even just one night of sleep deprivation is associated with a loss of elasticity and more prominent wrinkles. Similarly, skin’s transparency, luminosity, and texture—in other words, overall radiance—was found to be significantly reduced after just four nights of little sleep.III In short: Sleeping well is essential for vibrant, healthy-looking skin.

How To Manage It:

In addition to getting enough sleep (experts recommend between seven and nine hours per night for the average adult), using skincare designed to help restore your skin overnight can help diminish dullness and enhance your skin’s overall appearance. We recommend the best-selling Midnight Recovery Concentrate, which helps replenish your skin while you sleep, which is when it is most susceptible to repairing itself from daily stressors and aggressors. In just one night, this Kiehl’s favorite boosts hydration and helps reduce the appearance of fine lines. With regular use, it improves skin’s texture and helps firm the skin for a youthful, radiant appearance.

*Based on a four-week clinical study of 58 participants tested in urban and polluted environments. Skin strength index = A composite average score of skin suppleness, plumpness, and resiliency.
**We consider ingredients to be naturally-derived if they retain more than 50 percent of their molecular structure after being processed from a natural source.

I. Rodan, Katie et al. “Skincare Bootcamp: The Evolving Role of Skincare.” Plastic and reconstructive surgery. Global open vol. 4,12 Suppl Anatomy and Safety in Cosmetic Medicine: Cosmetic Bootcamp e1152. 14 Dec. 2016, doi:10.1097/GOX.0000000000001152
II. Flament, Frederic et al. “Effect of the sun on visible clinical signs of aging in Caucasian skin.” Clinical, cosmetic and investigational dermatology vol. 6 221-32. 27 Sep. 2013, doi:10.2147/CCID.S44686
III. Jang, Sue Im et al. “A study of skin characteristics with long-term sleep restriction in Korean women in their 40s.” Skin research and technology : official journal of International Society for Bioengineering and the Skin (ISBS) [and] International Society for Digital Imaging of Skin (ISDIS) [and] International Society for Skin Imaging (ISSI) vol. 26,2 (2020): 193-199. doi:10.1111/srt.12797

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