The 3-Step Method a Derm Uses To Revive Dull Winter Skin—Just in Time for Spring

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As we leave the cold, dry days of winter behind, it's the perfect time to breathe some new life into our skin—and these between-seasons days are perfect for shedding off dead layers to get your glow back, just in time for spring. To do this, Ivy Lee, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in Pasadena, California, has the perfect three-step routine.

"Spring is such a wonderful season because it allows you to evaluate what you've been doing, how your skin looks, and what your current regimen is, and then see areas that you want to either target or improve and work on going forward for spring and summer," says Dr. Lee. When going after luminous skin, Dr. Lee says to focus on exfoliation, moisturization, and amped-up sun protection.

Experts In This Article

How to brighten dull skin in 3 steps

1. Focus on exfoliation

"If a patient's skin is lacking its usual glow and moisture, I usually have them focus on one gentle exfoliation," says Dr. Lee. She says to look for serums or moisturizers that use ingredients like salicylic acid, glycolic acid, or lactic acid to "exfoliate those dead skin cells that can make our skin look a little more shallow and not as luminous as it usually does."

Especially if exfoliating ingredients weren't in your routine over the winter, ease into using them. "I have people start off every other day," says Dr. Lee. "You just want to be a little cautious because it exfoliates and sloughs up the dead skin cells."

how to brighten dull skin
CeraVe Skin Renewing Nightly Exfoliant Treatment — $25.00

“This is a lovely new product by CeraVe,” says Dr. Lee. “It’s super affordable and I love the price point of it.” This exfoliating cream blends glycolic acid and lactic acid with moisturizing ceramides, hydrating hyaluronic acid, and brightening licorice root extract.

The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Exfoliating Peeling Solution, powerful glycolic acid
The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Exfoliating Peeling Solution — $8.00

If you want a more intensive option, Dr. Lee recommends this solution from The Ordinary. “I usually have folks leave on the product on their skin two minutes and then wash off and you can build up toward 10 minutes from there,” she says.

2. Reassess your moisturizer

When using exfoliants, you want to make sure you're replenishing your skin with a great moisturizer. Depending on your skin type and how you respond to the exfoliants, you may be able to use a lighter moisturizer than you used in the colder month—so it may be worth swapping your heavy cream for something with a lotion-y texture. Dr. Lee suggests ingredients like hyaluronic acid or ceramides. "Those ingredients are powerhouse ingredients that really help lock in moisture and really give you that natural glow," she says

how to brighten dull skin
La Roche-Posay Hyalu B5 Serum — $37.00

Dr. Lee loves this serum as a lightweight moisturizing option. If your skin isn’t super dry, you can likely get away with using this as your moisturizer and topping it off with SPF.

Avène Hydrance Light Hydrating Emulsion — $32.00

Dr. Lee is also a fan of this lightweight moisturizer from Avène for those who are prone to acne and clogged pores. However, if you want something thicker, you can grab the rich cream ($32) version. Both are made with Avène’s thermal spring water to soothe, soften, and calm the skin.

3. Amp up your sun protection

We all know we should be using sunscreen all the time, but it's especially important as we enter the warmer months and spend more time outside. Protecting your skin from UV rays can help you maintain supple and glowy skin. Plus, regular exfoliation can make your skin a bit more sensitive to UV rays. Although the derm-approved minimum is SPF 30, Dr. Lee says to look for SPF 50. "We don't probably use as much sunscreen as we should, and we don't apply it as often as we should," she says, so going for a higher number gives you an added boost of protection. When choosing a sunscreen, Dr. Lee recommends mineral ingredients such as zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, and iron oxide.

EltaMD UV Physical Broad-Spectrum SPF 41 Sunscreen, how to brighten dull skin
EltaMD UV Physical Broad-Spectrum SPF 41 Sunscreen — $34.00

EltaMD is one of Dr. Lee’s favorite brands for mineral sunscreens. “One of my favorite ones is the UV Physical,” she says. “It has zinc and titanium. It’s also got some mild linoleic acids and thioctic acids, which are antioxidants that are helpful.” It also has a mild tint to help the sunscreen blend without leaving a white cast.

SkinCeuticals Physical Fusion UV Defense SPF 50
SkinCeuticals Physical Fusion UV Defense SPF 50 — $35.00

This SkinCeuticals sunscreen contains iron oxides, one of Dr. Lee’s favorite sunscreen ingredients. “Iron oxide is one of these ingredients that I’m encouraging people to look into because it also helps protect our skin from visible light,” she says. “And that’s important especially if people have skin that is a little more sensitive to discoloration and getting either hyperpigmentation or a condition called melasma.”

Get even more exfoliating options:

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