Exfoliation, Hydration, and More Tenets of Glowing Skin, As Revealed by Derms and Makeup Artists

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Trendy makeup looks may come and go, but luminous skin can be forever. “Everyone wants glowing, healthy, radiant skin,” proclaims Harold Lancer, MD, a board-certified Beverly Hills dermatologist whose patients include Victoria Beckham and Jennifer Lopez. “It’s a physical and emotional state of being.” To achieve a youthful vibrancy, it’s important to remember that what you do for your complexion is as important as what you don’t do. Our daily habits — including how much sleep we get, diet choices, booze, and smoking — along with exposure to the elements (i.e. sun and pollution) can make or break the difference between skin tone that’s luminous and skin that’s lackluster. 

To ensure you’re doing all you can to accomplish the former, we chatted with the pros to find out the tricks of the trade. Read on for the dermatologist-recommended skin treatments that yield instant radiance, along with the best glowing skin secrets from top makeup artists. 

The Doctors’ Orders:

Exfoliate every day: “Glowing skin is essentially what everyone is looking for in one way or another — it’s a very frequent request from my patients,” says Dennis Gross, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. He explains that when dead cells begin to build up on your skin’s surface, a dull complexion ensues. Plus, over time, cellular turnover slows down: “After [about] the age of 25, the dead skin sits [on the surface] for longer periods of time,” explains Dr. Gross. 

The best solution is to buff it away with exfoliation. For “instant radiance,” Dr. Gross recommends an in-office chemical peel (learn about all the different types of professional peels here). More intense than what you’ll find in the beauty aisle, a physician-administered peel has the power to (safely) strip away the top layer of dead skin, allowing new, younger cells to show through. What’s more, chemical peels jumpstart the cell turnover process to stimulate the growth of new collagen. (When collagen breaks down, it causes skin to look dull, and also become less firm.) “It’s a very important factor in radiant skin,” says Dr. Gross. 

Dr. Lancer concurs. In his practice, M-PeelTM is his most requested treatment. Using hydroquinone, along with retinoic, kojic and azelaic acids, the peel removes dead skin to even out tone and improve texture. When choosing to go the chemical peel route, expect a week of healing in the form of red, peeling skin.

[Editor’s note: Hydroquinone has not been FDA-approved. Talk to your doctor before starting any treatment with it. Retinol shouldn't be used by women who are pregnant, considering getting pregnant, or nursing. Please consult with your doctor before use.]

Consider a laser: Laser treatments are another option for building collagen. Many of which can improve skin tone and texture with noticeable results — and minimal downtime. In his practice, Dr. Gross is a fan of SublimeTM laser, which combines light energy with radiofrequency energy. In tandem, they heat the deep layers of skin to activate collagen production while leaving the surface layer intact (thus, no recovery time required). “It stimulates collagen growth and enhances radiance instantly,” he says. For the best outcome, he recommends three, approximately 30-minute sessions spaced four to six weeks apart.

Try these topicals: Incorporating vitamin C into your skincare routine is a guaranteed complexion brightener. “Vitamin C is a powerhouse ingredient that tackles numerous skin concerns,” says Dr. Gross. “It reduces inflammation, [balances] uneven skin tone, and promotes collagen production.” Try slathering on Dr. Dennis Gross® Skincare C+ Collagen® Brighten & FirmTM Vitamin C Serum ($78) daily to help fade away dark spots and prevent fines lines and wrinkles. 

Another heavy hitter to look for in your skincare product is glycolic acid. According to Dr. Lancer, this alpha hydroxy acid deeply exfoliates to resurface skin for an even texture. He suggests using it in conjunction with hyaluronic acid (HA) to keep your newly-exfoliated complexion hydrated (which will help it appear plump, dewy, and, yes, radiant). Try adding an exfoliator like the Lancer® Caviar Lime Acid Peel ($90) into your rotation once or twice a week — in addition to glycolic acid, it contains fruit enzymes and lime extract to promote a smoother, brighter complexion. Then, seal in moisture with the HA- and shea butter-packed Dr. Brandt® Skincare Hyaluronic Facial Cream ($72) (read our editor’s review of this nourishing formula here).

Beware of the elements: You’ve heard it a million times: the sun is bad for your skin. But, in case you forgot, we’ll remind you again. “[A] leading cause of collagen breakdown are UVA/UVB rays,” warns Dr. Gross, who recommends layering on a physical sunscreen daily. We like Drunk Elephant® Umbra Sheer® Physical Daily Defense Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 30 ($34), which is loaded with 20 percent zinc oxide to block sun damage.

Dr. Lancer likes to tell his patients to take it one step further. “Beyond daily sunscreen, you should practice sun avoidance,” he advises. “Sun damage contributes to fine lines and wrinkles and hyperpigmentation, which can give the appearance of dull skin.” The sun is at its strongest between the hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (even if it’s overcast!), so try your best to stay inside during those hours. You can also invest in a special sun-shielding visor to help block those damaging rays.

The sun isn’t the only environmental factor that’s leaving our complexions susceptible to damage: In recent years, research has shown that smoke and smog are another cause of skin aging. Here’s why: Free radicals in the air can start to poke holes in your collagen, says Dr. Gross, which, in turn, allow more debris to congest your skin. Since free radicals are unpaired electrons, they work to balance themselves out by pairing with unpaired electrons in our skin. The result is dead skin cells that lead to dullness. Using pollution-focused skincare, like Dr. Barbara Sturm® Anti-Pollution Drops ($145), can help ward off these effects.

Top makeup and skincare tips for glowing skin from celebrity makeup artists:  

Take time to prep: “I spend more time prepping the skin than applying makeup,” reveals makeup artist Gina Brooke, who’s worked with Madonna. The reason is, when skin is properly hydrated, makeup goes on more smoothly and you need less of it, which means your natural skin can show through. That begins with cleansing: When washing your face, it’s important to choose an option free of chemical foaming agents (like sodium lauryl sulfates). According to Brooke, these strip waxes and oils from your skin, ultimately disrupting moisture levels and inhibiting your glow. We’re fond of Glossier® Milky Jelly Cleanser ($18) — it includes rosewater, vitamin B5, and comfrey root extract to help boost hydration.

To tighten and smooth her client’s complexions, Brooke is a fan of a pre-makeup oxygen facial from IntraCeuticals®. Its blend of antioxidants and hyaluronic acid helps create flawless skin, she says. In addition, she recommends exfoliating at home once a week to remove dead skin that can clog pores. Her top pick is Boscia® Luminizing Black Charcoal Mask ($34). “Be sure to apply a generous layer to your skin and let it dry,” advises Brooke. “You will be amazed at what you’ll find once you gently pull the mask off your skin.”  

Pick the right products: According to Daniel Martin, celebrity makeup artist (and the man responsible for Meghan Markle’s wedding day beauty!), it takes precision and great products to pull off a glowing complexion. First, look for a foundation that promises radiance rather than a matte formula. The latter tends to cover skin more opaquely, making skin appear flat. 

Try Dior® Forever Skin GlowTM ($52), and consider applying it with your fingertips rather than a traditional tool. “The heat from your hands melts the product onto the face, creating a radiance you don’t get from a brush,” explains Martin. He completes the process by pressing a sponge into the skin “to blur out any edges or streaks” left behind from his hands. 

If you tend to rely on powder to set your look, Martin advises using translucent powder in the T-zone and around the nose only. This will minimize shine without over-powdering and dulling skin. To create the illusion of even more luminosity, highlighter can help. Brooke prefers formulas with a golden base — such as Becca® Shimmering Skin Perfector® Pressed Highlighter in Champagne Pop ($38) — which she claims flatters all skin tones. For those hesitant to try shimmer, Martin likes applying Honest Beauty Magic Balm ($13) to the tops of cheekbones and the cupid’s bow. Unlike glimmer-y options, oil-based products like this one add instant radiance to create a glow that doesn’t look like makeup, he says.

Drink enough water: Staying hydrated is crucial for keeping skin plump and glowy; dehydrated skin is dull, and that’s something you can fight from the inside out. Avoid overconsumption of coffee and alcohol, and above all, don’t smoke — it robs the skin of oxygen. “The most common skin issues I’ve come across when people come to me for makeup are dehydrated or dry skin,” adds Brooke. In addition to a tall glass (or eight) of water, Martin recommends using a topical face mask like Clark’s Botanicals® Dual Charcoal Detox Brightening Mask + Exfoliating Treatment ($58). Not only does it wipe away dead cells and brighten skin, but it helps fight the effects of environmental pollution, too. Complexion perfection, indeed. 


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