Top 5 skincare ingredients to treat dull skin

Hannah Wilson


“Glowing complexion” has become a bit of a buzzword in the skincare industry in recent years, and that’s because we all want it. But dewy, healthy, radiant skin isn’t so easy to come by. More often than not, everyday life can take its toll on our skin and leave it looking tired. 

If you’re finding your complexion is more dull than dewy and more grey than glowing, we may have the answer. There are ingredients out there which can buff, cleanse and hydrate the skin to leave it re-energised and radiant. But, with all those lengthy ingredients lists and scientific names, how do you know which ingredients to use? We’ve rounded up the top five you should be looking out for. 

The best ingredients for dull skin are: 

  1. Glycolic acid 
  2. Vitamin C 
  3. Hyaluronic acid
  4. Salicylic acid 
  5. Glycerin 

Looking for which exact products can help? We’ve covered our top products for dull skin here.

Looking for free, professional advice from a Skin Expert now? Tap the button below to book your free video skincare consultation.


Before we dive into what these ingredients can do for your skin, here’s what’s going on behind that dull complexion. 


What is dull skin? 


woman looking into mirror


Dull skin is exactly what it sounds like, skin that looks dull, lifeless and grey. Instead of the glowing healthy complexion we all strive for, you may be finding your skin is looking a little flat and tired. 

Dull skin can be caused by: 

  • A buildup of dead skin cells 
  • Dehydration 
  • Poor diet and lifestyle 
  • Your environment—like pollution, dry air or cold temperatures 
  • Sun damage 
  • Using the wrong products 

Read more about what causes dull skin here.



The best ingredients to treat dull skin 


When your skin has lost its glow, the first thing you can do is switch up your skincare routine and invest in some products with these skin-brightening ingredients. 


Glycolic Acid 


Most of the time, dull skin is caused by a buildup of dead skin cells on the surface of the skin. This is why exfoliating the quickest way to brighten your complexion. One must-try exfoliating ingredient is glycolic acid. Glycolic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that works to break down dead skin cells and the bonds between them so they can easily come off. If skin is looking grey and tired, glycolic acid could help slog off the layer that’s hiding the natural glow beneath. You’ll most often see glycolic acid in exfoliators and serums, but you can also spot it in masks and cleansers, too. 

Who’s it for? Glycolic acid is most effective for those with normal to oily skin. That’s because it may be too harsh an ingredient for those with dry or sensitive skin. However, people with dry skin may still be able to use glycolic acid if they introduce it slowly and start with wash-off products rather than glycolic acid products you leave on overnight. 


ZO Skin Health Exfoliation Accellerator


Product to try:  ZO Skin Health Exfoliation Accellerator

Vitamin C 


Vitamin C is great for many things including brightening the skin and promoting a dewy glow. This ingredient battles free radicals and other damaging pollutants that can cause discolouration. It helps skin heal, evens out the skin tone and corrects any blemishes and dark patches left behind by sun damage. If you’re finding your dull complexion is caused by hyperpigmentation or even signs of aging, vitamin C could be the answer. Look out for vitamin C in serums, masks and moisturisers. 

Who’s it for? Most skin types can use Vitamin C. The ingredient can be found in different concentrations usually ranging from 10% to 20%. If you’ve got dry or sensitive skin, stick to 10% vitamin C products and for those with oily or combination skin, 20% will be more effective. 15% products are the middle of the road choice for if your skin isn’t overly sensitive but not overly oily. For high concentrations of vitamin C, it is safest to get some expert advice beforehand to check that the product is right for your skin.


ZO Skin Health Vitamin C Self Activating


Product to try: ZO Skin Health 10% Vitamin C Self Activating

Hyaluronic Acid 


Another main cause of dull skin is dehydration, so hyaluronic acid is a must. This hydrating ingredient is known for its moisture-boosting qualities, namely its ability to attract and hold onto 1000 times its weight in water. Once in the skin, this moisture plumps it up and refreshes it for a healthy dewy complexion. For those with dry, dehydrated and rough skin, hyaluronic acid should be the first ingredient you try to moisturise and brighten. Look out for hyaluronic acid in serums and masks for a powerful dose of hydration. 

Who’s it for? Just like Vitamin C, hyaluronic acid is a gentler ingredient that most people will be able to tolerate. It’s especially beneficial for those with dry skin or dry patches, but those with oily or normal skin can still see the moisture-boosting benefits, too. 


AllSkin Med Light Anti-Ox Moisturising Complex


Product to try: AllSkin Med C Radiance Gel

Salicylic Acid 


Salicylic acid is another type of acid to keep an eye out for. This beta hydroxy acid (BHA) exfoliates away dead skin cells and unclogs pores of trapped dirt and oil. It’s a great ingredient for those with oily skin, hyperpigmentation and those who are prone to breakouts. As salicylic acid can help to deep cleanse the skin and clear up all these concerns, it’s a go-to for those looking for a glowing complexion. If you’re finding your dull skin is down to an oily look or blemishes, this ingredient may be for you. Salicylic acid can be found in everything from masks to serums, cleansers to toners. 

Who’s it for? Salicylic acid is ideal for those with oily skin or those with acne. Normal skin types can still see some benefits, as can those with dry skin, but you should proceed with caution if your skin is sensitive or prone to irritation as the stronger ingredient may cause redness and itchiness. 


ZO Skin Health Oil Control Pads


Product to try: ZO Skin Health Oil Control Pads



Just like hyaluronic acid, glycerin is another hydrating ingredient that draws moisture from the air and pulls it into the skin. It’s also been known to lighten discolouration, so it’s great for those whose dull skin is affected by hyperpigmentation or looks discoloured. Glycerin can also help to soften the skin. This not only improves the look and feel of it, but it makes exfoliation much easier meaning you can buff away dullness with ease. 

Who’s it for? As its main feature is hydration, glycerin is another ingredient that those with dry skin should look out for in particular. It’s even suitable for sensitive skin, too. However, it can also help all skin types get a hydrating boost when needed. Even oily skin types can see benefits from this moisture-boosting ingredient without leaving the skin feeling overly greasy. 


ZO Skin Health Brightalive Skin Brightener


Product to try: ZO Skin Health Brightalive Skin Brightener


Next steps  


Now you know a little more about which ingredients can help banish dull skin, it’s time to decide on the products to use. Whether you need help deciding on one or two new products to try or advice on reworking your entire skincare routine, why not turn to an expert? 

Our team at Face Dr is on hand with free online consultations. One of our experts can analyse your skin and listen to your exact concerns before making tailored recommendations. We only recommend products—and ingredients!—we know will deliver results. 

Plus, we can help you build the ideal routine and offer tips and tricks on how exactly to use these products. As skincare is so much more than the ingredients, it’s all about what you do with them every single day, our team can help you get it right. We can help you plan the perfect routine designed to brighten, revitalise and get your complexion glowing. 


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