How To Banish Tired-Looking Skin — Without Makeup

Illustrated by Olivia Santner.
There are few things more annoying than skipping makeup one day and then having people ask if you’re sick or something. Hello, no one wakes up with winged liner and contour stamped on — especially when most of our social interactions are taking place over Zoom right now — and you’re not going to feel like doing the thing every single day.
Words like "refresh," "revitalize," and "rejuvenate" get bandied around a lot in skin care for two reasons. One, we can all relate to feeling tired, run-down, and stressed, perhaps a lot more often now than we’d like; and two, you can’t really quantify an increase in "refreshed-ness."
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A product can claim it’s going to revitalize your skin, which is immediately appealing... to your internal feelings of tiredness and the tiredness manifesting on your skin. But can you really measure how rejuvenated you are afterwards? There are no clear markers. If you're using an oily-skin treatment, your pores may appear tighter. With a redness treatment, there might be an instant soothing property. The word "rejuvenate" is tantalizing enough to make you grab your wallet but loose enough to never really deliver. 
So what does "tired" skin actually look like? "I would describe tired skin as having dark under-eye circles, a dull complexion with rough texture or dry patches, and a sort of ruddiness to the skin," says cosmetic doctor Ewoma Ukeleghe, who runs London aesthetic clinic SKNDOCTOR.
Dr. Ukeleghe explains that stress and lack of sleep can force your body to produce extra cortisol just to keep you going, which affects every part of the body. For skin, that often translates to oiliness and breakouts, and an increase in inflammatory skin conditions. "If you’re running on empty sleep-wise, you’re probably also relying on sugar and caffeine to get through the day, and maybe not finding time to exercise, which can also increase inflammation," she adds. Puffiness around the eyes, patchy redness, and a sort of dull, grayish tone to the skin are all common with this.
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First, there are short-term solutions: Something cold and cooling will help to reduce puffiness and inflammation, and increase circulation to give you a healthy glow. Dr. Ukeleghe suggests pressing a cold spoon under the eyes or using under-eye patches, which you can store in the fridge for this exact purpose. "I’d also suggest a gua sha tool for de-puffing, and some hyaluronic acid for an instant bit of sculpting and plumping," she adds. Then it’s a case of adding some instant radiance to the skin — Dr. Ukeleghe recommends Glossier Futuredew and Kevyn Aucoin Glass Glow Highlighter.
As for long-term solutions, Dr. Ukeleghe says, "Two of the best ingredients to help brighten your skin are vitamin C and retinol." No, they’re not the buzziest, but they are some of the most consistently proven. Ignore anything about extracts from certain flowers or plants that only bloom in the night or survive at the tops of mountains — that’s all very well, but good ol’ vitamin C and retinol have the data to back themselves up. Vitamin C provides brightness to the skin, as well as giving you ongoing antioxidant protection, while retinol speeds up your cell renewal, helping to increase collagen production and shed dead skin.
If you want to go above and beyond, microcurrent treatments are perfect if you feel that your skin is flat. They use electrical currents to make your facial muscles contract (painlessly), which gives a toned and lifted appearance. The results only last a few days but get cumulatively better, so you could try having a treatment with a practitioner like Dr. Ukeleghe when things get back to normal. If you like the results, treat yourself to an at-home device like the NuFACE, so you can get that lifted look whenever the occasion — or sleepless night — calls for it.
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