Glow is the middle name of global beauty culture today – whether it’s Amanda Gorman reciting ‘The Hills We Climb’ at the US Presidential inauguration, Halsey performing at her next concert, or BTS walking the red carpet in LA at the billboard music awards, public figures sport radiant skin at every turn. Social media’s favourite skincare aesthetic seems to be standing in bright sunlight, and the 2017 Korean glass skin trend saw everyone trying to achieve an impossibly glossy sheen on skin to give the appearance of plump, soft skin too.
But of course, there’s a reason - It’s because soft, moisturised and glowing skin is a sign of great skin health. (Also, who doesn’t want to look luminous?) Although expert use of a highlighter can help you get this glow, achieving it skin-deep can have benefits including skipping foundation easily. Gulf News spoke to specialist dermatologists, to find out the pathway to skin brightening, in 10 simple steps:
Unlike skin lightening, which works to remove pigment to address hyperpigmentation and dark spots, skin brightening works to restore the natural glow of skin.
Step 1: Cleanse and exfoliate to slough off dull-looking dead skin cells and dirt
“Every day, millions of dead skin cells shed off from our body, which can give a flaky and dull appearance to our skin,” says Dr Prathima Munichandrappa, specialist dermatologist at Zulekha hospital, Dubai.
She explains that new skin cells come from the basal layer of the skin’s three main layers, travelling up to the surface or stratum corneum on a journey that takes around a month. When they reach – the existing skin cells shed. Exfoliation helps to remove these, but should be done judiciously, as over exfoliation can cause a damaged skin barrier – exacerbating dullness.
Exfoliation is the key to boosting cell turnover. Whether physical (scrubs) or chemical (acids) - exfoliation removes dead skin cells and encourages the regeneration of new cells. A combination of both is best.
Exfoliation also plays another crucial role – that of boosting cell turnover, or the rate at which new skin cells replace older skin cells, a process that keeps your skin healthy and smooth but becomes slower past a certain age.
“Exfoliation is the key to boosting cell turnover. Whether physical (scrubs) or chemical (acids) - exfoliation removes dead skin cells and encourages the regeneration of new cells. A combination of both is best,” says Dr Parul Dixit, specialist dermatologist at Prime Medical Center, Ajman.
According to Dr Munichandrappa, normal or combination skin can be exfoliated around twice a week, those with dry skin can try it once or even every alternative week, while if you have oily skin, you can get away with more frequent exfoliation. As always, be cautious.
Step 2: Moisturise to protect the skin barrier
Now that your skin is clean, It’s time to deeply hydrate your skin to maintain elasticity, reduce water loss and ensure healthy, soft skin.
Dr Dixit says, “A moisturiser is meant to keep our face hydrated, and to act as a protective layer for our skin.” You would need to moisturise routinely, with a moisturiser suited to your skin type. Now, what’s that?
There are actually three types of moisturisers, explains Dr Dixit.
Emollients: These work by infusing the skin layer with lipids or fatty substances to make your skin softer such as aloe vera gel, ceramides, shea butter. These include ointments, gels and lotion.
Humectants: These are ingredients that attract water into the skin and hold it there – improving its water retention function. Examples are glycerin, ceramides and hyalauronic acid. Dr Dixit says, “If you're using skincare products that predominantly contain alcohol or soaps that dry up your skin, then you should look into humectant moisturizers.” They work for all skin types.
Occlusives: “These moisturisers actually act as a physical barrier for your skin while preventing water loss,” says Dr Dixit. Examples are oils and petroleum jelly, and tend to be heavier and better suited for dry skin.
Dr Munichandrappa says, “For people who have oily skin, it is better to use water-based gel because it’s non-greasy and lightweight.” The label non-comodogenic can help too as that means the product will not clog your pores. For dry skin, she recommends ceramide-based creams that have a mix of oil and water-based ingredients, for normal skin, she says that any type is fine but also pay attention to whether your skin tends more to the oily or dry side. Always look for moisturisers free of parabens and other irritants.
Inadequate hydration can cause a number of skin issues, including dryness, cracked skin and even sometimes overproduced sebum for oily and combination skin – which can lead to a little too much glow, with a blinding light-reflecting forehead and nose (spoken from experience, unfortunately).
Step 3: SPF to prevent ageing sun damage
Undisputedly essential, despite what Tiktokers who ‘sunscreen contour’ have to say. Once your skin is clean and moisturised, it requires a shield to either reflect off or transform damaging UVA and UVB rays into harmless chemicals. When those rays reach your dermis, they can cause damage, ageing, tans and an increased risk of skin cancer. Think you don’t have to worry when indoors? Most UVB rays can easily sail through windows – there is no escape.
Sun damage can also cause your skin to appear dull so as Baz Luhrmann says – wear sunscreen. Here’s a full guide to SPF.
Step 4: Eat a well-balanced diet including antioxidants aplenty
Part of what makes our skin age is oxidative stress , and this is where the power of antioxidants come into play. Dr Munichandrappas explains, “Melanin has a very high concentration of Reactive oxygen species (ROS or free radicals). Antioxidants go and bind to them and reduce their concentration.” Ultimately, this helps makes our skin brighter.
Dr Dixit adds, “Antioxidant foods help in eliminating free or toxic radicals from our body and boost our immunity. Hence, antioxidant intake through a well-balanced diet with fruits and vegetables can be helpful.”
Dr Dixit and Dr Munichandrappa recommend antioxidant rich foods such as carrots, citrus fruits, mixed nuts, berries, avocado, grapes, nutmeg, kale, broccoli, spinach and green tea.
Step 5: Use retinol (or bakuchiol)
A giant in the skincare industry - retinol has been proven to stimulate cell turnover, thicken skin, boost collagen production which increases elasticity and also strengthens the protective function of the epidermis. This means it also reduces water loss, and improves the hydration function of skin.
Experts recommend your mid-twenties as a great time to start on the potent ingredient, as that’s when your collagen production usually starts to slow down.
However, most retinol is derived from animal-based sources, and if you are vegan, there are options such as vegan, synthesized retinol. A 2018 study published the British Journal of Dermatology designated the plant-based derivative bakuchiol as a promising alternative to retinol as well.
Dr Munichandrappa says, “It is found to be a functional analogue of retinol (which means it has similar physical, chemical properties and undertakes the same pathways on our skin) – and without causing the intolerance typically associated with it.”
2. Unhealthy diet
3. Lack of sleep
5. Exposure to UV rays
7. Smoking tobacco
8. Not removing makeup or accumulated dirt before sleeping
Step 6: Vitamin C
Vitamin C has become a famous skincare staple for protecting against sun damage, stimulating collagen synthesis and production of surface lipids to enhance the protective function of skin.
Dr Dixit says, “Vitamin C offers many benefits including the potential to make collagen, and is used to keep skin youthful and plump, heal wounds, maintain and repair damaged skin and cartilage.”
It is also known to inhibit melanin synthesis and is used for treatment for hyperpigmentation. As for its antioxidant properties, according to a 2004 study by the Journal of Cosmetic dermatology, the skin reaches much higher levels of antioxidants that can be achieved by taking them orally and also stays longer within the skin as it cannot be washed or rubbed off.
Dr Munichandrappa says, “It is effective as a brightening agent as well – it basically has antioxidant property and reduces reactive oxygen species in melanin.”
However, she warns that those with dry skin have to be especially careful, as although it is normal to have irritation initially on application, they can also develop rashes. She adds, “The best way is to start with a very low concentration and gradually build up concentration.”
Dr Prathima Munichandrappa, specialist dermatologist at Zulekha hospital, Dubai says, “There is a high chance of irritation because both tends to cause dryness. With normal or dry skin, they tend to get irritation if using simultaneously. One option would be to start with one of the agents - let the skin get used to it, and once it settles down after a few weeks, then they can start with lower vitamin C concentration.” Then, use retinol at night and Vitamin C in the morning along with liberal amounts of moisturiser.
She adds, “I would say it would be okay to use just one. Efficacy would increase a little bit, but the risk of irritation will outweigh the benefits of using both simultaneously. “
Step 7: Get healthy sleep for skin regeneration
“During sleep is when the whole body regenerates – the brain, muscles, everything. The skin also does the same thing,” says Dr Munichandrappa. She explains that blood supply increases to the skin, and the layers regenerate for skin cell turnover – but this takes a back seat if we don’t wash off accumulated dirt and make up from your face.
During sleep is when the whole body regenerates – the brain, muscles, everything. The skin also does the same thing.
In fact, a 2015 study by US-based researchers published in the Clinical and Experimental Dermatology journal by the British Association of Dermatologists, showed that chronic poor quality sleep is associated with faster skin ageing and decreased skin barrier function.
If you were curious, what happens if you don’t wash your skin for one night? There’s your answer - Dr Munichandrappa says, “It’ll clog pores and not help the skin to regenerate.”
Step 8: Maintain a clockwork routine
Skincare, as you would know by now, is all about consistency. Even if you don’t complete all the intricate steps - just cleansing, moisturising and sunscreen in the morning and at night, the same minus SPF, is the solid foundation you always need.
To complement that, schedule in your exfoliation sessions so you do one or two every week depending on your skin requirements, and, and most importantly – pay attention to your skin.
Dr Dixit says, “Exfoliating our skin, moisturising twice a day, using a hydrating serum and face mask and applying a retinol product may all help replace dull looking skin with healthy skin.”
Step 9: Consider collagen
Finally, you can also consider taking collagen supplements. Collagen is the fibre that gives our skin its elasticity and studies have shown that oral collagen supplements can aid in skin elasticity, hydration and collagen density.
Dr Dixit says, “Collagen is what keeps our skin from sagging, giving us that plump, youthful look. Our body naturally makes collagen but this production decreases with age. Because we lose collagen as we age, along with a healthy diet, collagen supplements help in balancing our collagen. “
Dr Munichandrappa adds, “Collagen can help in skin brightening.”
Step 10: Hydrate!
Keeping our skin glowing boils down to adequate cleansing, exfoliation, moisturising and SPF. Although Vitamin C and retinol have been proven to be effective as well, always check for irritation and start at very low concentrations to let your skin adjust.
However, sometimes dullness can be caused by skin damage, for example – overexfoliation that has compromised skin barriers and reduced its hydration function, or ingredients that have irritated or sensitized your skin. According to Dr Moutusi Audhya, Dermatology Specialist at Dubai-based Aster Day Surgery, in such cases, it’s best to cut back on all active ingredients in your routine, do not exfoliate, and instead stick to cleansing, hydration and sunscreen – as told to Gulf News in earlier interview. As soon as possible, consult your dermatologist on the next steps.