A major component— and signal— of healthy skin is a natural glow. But causes like lack of sleep, stress, age, and even what you eat can rob your complexion of its radiance. Transform skin that looks dull and tired to luminous and glowing with expert tips and product picks from Good Housekeeping Institute Beauty Lab scientists and dermatologist experts on how to make your skin glow naturally, no matter how much time you have: months, one or two weeks, overnight, or even minutes!
- Cleanse regularly
Key to luminous skin: clearing your “canvas” by thoroughly removing debris like dirt, oil and pollution particles that can clog pores and cause dullness. Wash your face morning and night by massaging in a small dollop of face cleanser lightly with fingers in circular motions, working from the inside of the face out for full coverage, says GH Beauty Lab Senior Chemist Sabina Wizemann.
Try our best-tested face wash for boosting radiance, Fresh Soy Face Cleanser, for daily use, and do a deeper cleanse weekly by applying your face wash with a facial cleansing brush, like Beauty Lab test winner and GH Seal star ProX by Olay Advanced Facial Cleansing Brush System.
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- Exfoliate your skin
“One of the best ways to brighten skin and boost its glow both immediately and long term is by exfoliating,” Wizemann says, yet nearly half of GH readers skip it, our survey found. “The process removes skin’s outer layer of dead cells so its surface is smoother and clearer and reflects light.”
Apply either a physical exfoliant, like a face scrub, two to three times per week or a chemical exfoliation, such as a face peel once per week for sensitive or dry skin and three times maximum for other skin types, she suggests. Try the Beauty Lab’s top-tested skin-brightening face scrub, Acure Brightening Facial Scrub, or peel, Philosophy The Microdelivery Triple-Acid Brightening Peel, which also evens skin tone, 71% of testers reported.
For more radiance, follow with a layer of moisturizer, like the GH Seal star Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel, and shield skin with broad-spectrum SPF 30+ facial sunscreen or day cream, as exfoliation makes it more prone to sun damage, including dark spots. GH Beauty Lab test-winning L’Oréal Revitalift Bright Reveal SPF 30 also contains glycolic acid, a gentle exfoliant, as well as brightening vitamin C.
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- Look for brightening skin care ingredients
In topical skin care treatments like serums and moisturizers, look on the packaging
for terms such as “brightening” and “skin tone-evening,” and ingredients like vitamin C, “an antioxidant that brightens skin by blocking an enzyme that produces pigment,” says GH Beauty Lab chemist Danusia Wnek. Our favorite vitamin-C packed skin care is No7 Early Defense Glow Activating Serum.
Niacinamide (vitamin B3) “slows pigment production to lighten dark spots,” Wizemann says — our Beauty Lab test winner SkinCeuticals MetaCell Renewal B3 is packed with it. Resorcinol and alpha-arbutin, break down pigment for a more even skin tone, says Cynthia Price, M.D., a dermatologist in Phoenix. She suggests SkinBetter Science Even Tone Correcting Serum Face.
Daily application of these star brighteners can illuminate your complexion over time: Effects can be visible within a few weeks, with optimal results in about three months.
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- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
“Lack of hydration makes your complexion dull and even accentuates wrinkles,” says Jeanine Downie, M.D., a dermatologist at Image Dermatology in Montclair, New Jersey. “Apply a topical moisturizer morning and evening to replenish hydration.”
The best type to choose? “Our testing shows that face lotions and creams are generally more hydrating than oils, serums, and other formulas,” explains GH Beauty Lab Director Birnur Aral, Ph.D. “They’re emulsions (blends of oil and water components) that carry hydrating ingredients into skin’s top layers, helping it hold moisture.”
To rehydrate the skin barrier, try GH Seal star Olay Regenerist Micro-Sculpting Cream, which increased skin hydration by 50% over 24 hours in Lab testing. For a fast fix, apply a hydrating mask, such as Beauty Lab test winner Skin Laundry Hydrating Facial Mask, which boosted skin moisture levels by 25% in minutes.
- Use shimmery lotion to boost glow
Good news: You can also get a glow instantly. The new category of skin care and makeup hybrid products called “glotions” combine the hydrating benefits of a moisturizer with the radiance-boosting effects of highlighter.
These formulas contain humectant ingredients, such as glycerin and hyaluronic acid, that draw moisture into skin to immediately make it appear plump and smooth, Wnek explains, mixed with finely milled minerals like mica that reflect light to give skin an instant but subtle allover glow.
To apply, do as makeup artists do: Smooth one on as you would a face lotion before makeup, wear alone for a natural look or tap a dot on the high points of your face, such as the tops of your cheekbones and underneath the arches of your eyebrows, to get a touch of no-makeup radiance. Try the Beauty Lab’s picks, below.
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- Eat antioxidant-rich food
Yes, what you eat can have an effect on your skin’s glow. Load up on grapes, berries and nuts like pecans and walnuts, which are rich in polyphenols such as ellagic acid and resveratrol. “Preliminary research has linked this type of antioxidant combats free radicals to help protect skin cells from UV damage like hyperpigmentation,” says GH Nutrition Director Jaclyn London, M.S., R.D. Aim to incorporate them into your diet daily in meals, like breakfasts, salads, or desserts, or alone as a snack.
- Know when to call a dermatologist
To tackle stubborn skin hyperpigmentation issues such as large or numerous dark spots (from sun damage or other causes) and melasma for long-lasting clarity, visit a board-certified dermatologist, who can recommend the best options for you. These can include prescription topical products, in-office treatments like professional facial peels, microdermabrasion and lasers, or a combination of therapies, says Pearl E. Grimes, M.D., clinical professor of dermatology at UCLA in Los Angeles.
“For sun damage, like dark spots and pigmentation from acne scars, lasers such as broadband light and intense pulsed light are very effective,” Dr. Price says. “Procedures like microneedling, an intensive form of exfoliation, as well as a series of chemical peels, work best for melasma.”