If you’re looking to make your skin glow and appear glassy and bright, read this first.

Whether it’s over text, DM, call or carrier pigeon, the question we’re asked most is “How do I get my skin to glow?” For most people, they’re referring to skin that is luminous in all the right places and looks totally poreless—no blemishes, visible fine lines or blemishes in sight. But it’s hard to define and you’ll only know it when you see it. It seems to come from eight hours of sleep, the perfect skincare routine, a balanced diet and a happy state of mind. To know more about how to get glowing skin, you’ll want to know why your skin might be looking decidedly dull and lifeless. 

What causes dull, glow-less skin?

You can blame free radicals for that. Polluted air, thanks to smoke, smog and dirt, creates free radicals that damage collagen production, stimulate pigment production and damage DNA cross-linkages in the skin. When your skin texture is uneven, it diffuses light instead of reflecting it, making it look dull. Another major culprit? Dead skin cells. When you don’t regularly slough off the layer of dead skin cells that come up to the surface, they sit like a grimy layer on top of the skin, and they don’t reflect light like newer, healthier skin cells do. A lack of hydration could be a cause too—when there isn’t enough water in the dermis and epidermis, it actually causes a decrease in the thickness of skin, which leaves you looking sallow and flat rather than bright and luminous. 

There’s a major difference between oily and dewy skin—in the first instance, the skin is bouncy, supple and has enough water to hold the skin cells up. In the second, skin is greasy, with oil production outweighing water retention. This is especially true if you’re stressed—higher cortisol levels increase sebum production, which shows up on your skin as a layer of shine (and not the lit-from-within kind). 

What skincare ingredients can you use to get glowing skin?

First, exfoliate. When you get rid of all the grime and dead skin cells, your healthy new ones can get to work. You can use scrubs with sugar or small granules that’ll physically get rid of the skin cells, or you can use peels like alpha, beta or poly hydroxy acids to break down the sticky bonds with dead skin cells and sweep them away. AHAs are water-soluble, so they break down the cement and remove them from the surface, while BHAs can go deeper into the skin to clear the pores out. Retinoids work similarly, accelerating cell turnover and breaking down the bonds to allow for newer, more active skin cells to be front and centre.

To fight free radical damage, antioxidants like Vitamin C and resveratrol are your best bet. They serve as a safety net to fight damage, which helps to preserve collagen and elastin in the process. 

Then, hydrate. Pat on humectants like hyaluronic acid or glycerin to drive moisture into the skin and then layer with an emollient-based moisturiser on top to prevent transepidermal moisture loss. These products create a transparent film on the skin’s surface, which pushes down skin cells and helps them lay flat to reflect light better.

Your PM routine is important here, because your skin is able to regenerate at night, so your skin cells are more receptive to the active ingredients you’re applying onto it while you sleep. Plus, there aren’t any environmental stressors to contend with at night, so the skin can really work to just recharge and repair itself.

Should glowing skin be your goal? 

We put glowing skin on a pedestal though—slathering tens of millions of hydroxy acids, retinoids and elixirs to brighten, tighten and smoothen the skin. Everyone wants to look like they’re permanently fresh off a vacation (healthy, radiant and shining in all the right places) but for most, that’s usually not true all the time. Glowing skin trends, particularly in the K-beauty and J-beauty world are all the rage (Jello or glass skin, anyone?) but it’s important to embrace skin the way it is—healthy most of the time, with the chance of an errant zit when things get stressful, busy or just different.