How To Brighten Your Skin Without Makeup

Most of us have an issue or two (or three) that gets in the way of seriously radiant skin. Dullness, dryness, and uneven tone — we're looking at you. Sure, regular facials can create a goddess-like glow, but even if you can manage to bankroll them, who has the time? And, while highlighter, the ultimate dewy-skin hack, can work wonders, it can also melt, taking your glorious glow with it. What you need is a less-complicated strategy to turn up your skin's dimmer switch — one that can be done at home.

With that in mind, we grilled top derms to learn which highly effective habits have the biggest impact on skin’s luminosity. And, since you want the coveted glow sooner rather than later, we also got the scoop on the best skin-care products, like Olay Regenerist Luminous Facial Oil, to deliver some instant, glowy gratification. Your present (and future) face is suddenly looking a lot brighter.

Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Exfoliate The Easy Way

Why it works: In a perfect world, your skin turns over every month or so, shedding old cells to make way for a fresh batch. Unfortunately, this process doesn’t always run smoothly and your glow can seriously suffer. “When dry, dead skin builds up, it can give your complexion a gray, dull look,” says Mona Gohara, MD, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale University.

Luckily, an exfoliating cleanser will reboot your skin, pronto. Pick a formula that contains salicylic or glycolic acid, recommends Jessica Wu, MD, Los Angeles dermatologist and author of Feed Your Face. In addition to clearing pores, “These chemical exfoliants dissolve and loosen the bonds between dead skin cells,” she says. No need to go overboard here — once or twice a week after your nightly cleanse gets it done. Afterward, apply moisturizer to prevent irritation.

Note: If that’s too irritating for your skin, a scrub with gentle beads is a mild alternative, says Gohara.
Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Always Wear SPF

Why it works: The sun not only increases your risk of developing skin cancer, but it can also totally screw up your glow. Sun exposure makes any existing marks (freckles, acne scars, or melasma) worse and sets you up for hyperpigmentation problems in the future. “Ninety percent of the signs of visible aging come from unprotected UV exposure,” says Gohara. So, in addition to wrinkles, sun damage triggers issues like brown spots and blotchy, uneven skin tone that can slowly surface over time.

Happily, you can get your daily dose of glow protection by wearing a moisturizer that contains sunscreen. Look for a formula with SPF 30 to 50 including both titanium dioxide and zinc oxide to get broad-spectrum UVA protection. And, pick a formula that suits your skin type — oil-free if you are acne prone or moisturizing if you’re dry — so that you have no excuses not to use it.
Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Stop Stripping Your Skin

Why it works: You could be washing your glow down the drain, literally. Strong formulas like acne cleanser and regular bar soap contain detergents that can strip away your skin’s reserve of natural oils, ceramides, and fatty acids. Without them, your face loses its healthy luster.

Make the switch to a gentle cleanser. A mild, pH-neutral wash will remove the day’s worth of dirt and makeup without leaving your face tight, dry, or flaky. And, if you do have oily or acne-prone skin, a non-medicated foaming or gel cleanser is a gentle alternative to manage breakouts.
Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Get Enough Sleep

Why it works: Dark circles aren’t the only telltale sign of sleep-deprived skin. After an overnight Netflix binge, our skin looks sallow, drab, and downright sad. Here’s why: Sleep naturally lowers cortisol, your body’s stress hormone. When you miss out on pillow time, your cortisol levels stay elevated, says Gohara. This affects blood circulation and decreases blood flow to your skin. In other words: Buh-bye, radiance. And, if that isn’t bad enough, cortisol breaks down collagen and elastin, the proteins in your skin that keep it springy and plump.

So, do yourself and your skin a huge favor: Go the F' to sleep, already. You need anywhere from seven to nine hours to wake up fresh and dewy. “Studies show that skin is more hydrated after a good night’s sleep,” says Wu. “Also, in deep sleep, your facial muscles relax, so you wake up looking more refreshed.” Nighty night.
Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Apply A Facial Oil

Why it works: When your skin is moisturized, it instantly appears more radiant, and facial oil is particularly useful in this regard. “It seals in moisture and controls flaky patches, which creates a smooth surface so more light bounces off your skin,“ says Wu. Also worth noting: Oils give your face a shiny-in-a-good-way finish that looks more natural than a radiance cream or primer infused with reflective pigments. Look for one that contains a blend of natural oils like Olay Regenerist Luminous Facial Oil, which has a total of nine, including coconut, grape-seed, and jojoba.

To use, apply the product directly to dry, clean skin. Don’t worry, you won’t end up looking like a greaseball or exploding in zits. “Oils won’t necessarily clog your pores, [but if you are acne-prone,] natural oils are better than mineral oil, which can make some people break out. And, only apply oil to dull or dry patches,” advises Wu.
Olay Regenerist Luminous Facial Oil, $25.99 Buy
Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Moisturize From The Inside Out

Why it works: Remember the fat-free diet fad? Besides just being the worst, one of the side effects was dry, flaky, and irritated skin. That’s because your body needs enough fat to maintain moisture levels in your skin. And, no, fries don't count. Feeding your skin healthy fats makes it naturally plump and dewy: “Omega 3 fatty acids keep your skin supple,” says Wu. You can find them in superfoods like salmon, almonds, and flaxseed.

Water is another important piece of the dewy-skin puzzle. Quenching your thirst with plenty of H20 and eating fruits and veggies will keep your skin hydrated and help flush out toxins. Wu recommends drinking half an ounce of water per pound of body weight daily or one ounce per pound if you exercise and strenuously sweat.
Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Treat Yo' Self To Antioxidants & Retinol

Why it works: The basics (washing your face before bed, moisturizing, wearing sunscreen, etc.) will get you pretty far, but why stop there? Especially when there’s more you can do at home to boost your glow?

Next, step up your skin protection by layering a treatment or serum that contains an antioxidant like vitamin C underneath your daily SPF. Antioxidants protect your glow by getting rid of free-radical damage from UV light, says Gohara. At night, use a retinol cream to boost collagen and cell turnover to keep your complexion plump and slough off dead, pigmented skin.

Smooth, radiant skin? You've totally got this.