An Expert Guide To Banishing Tired-Looking Skin For Good

Illustrated by Olivia Santner
Dear Daniela,

I feel like I always look tired, even when I get enough sleep! It’s so annoying to always have people asking if I’ve been up all night, when I haven’t been. And then when I am actually tired, I feel like I look even worse! What can I do? I’m too young to be looking so tired.

Eleanor, 32
Oh, there is little 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 bronzed contour stamped on, and you’re not going to feel like it every single day!
I think words like 'refresh', 'revitalise' and 'rejuvenate' get bandied around a lot in skincare 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'.
A product can claim it’s going to revitalise 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 tantalising 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," suggested Dr Ewoma Ukeleghe, who runs the aesthetic clinic SKNDOCTOR. (I think it’s a kind of pick 'n' mix from that list, not all of them. Tag yourself, I’m dark circles and a dull complexion.)
Dr Ukeleghe continued: "Stress and lack of sleep can cause your body to produce extra cortisol just to keep you going, which affects every part of the body. On your skin, you’re looking at oiliness and breakouts, and an increase in inflammatory skin conditions. Also, often 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." Puffiness around the eyes, patchy redness and a sort of grey tone to the skin are all common with this.
Let’s start by looking at short-term solutions. Firstly, something cold and cooling will help to reduce puffiness and inflammation, and increase circulation to give you a healthy glow. Dr Ukeleghe suggested pressing a cold spoon under the eyes or using under-eye patches. I love the Patchology FlashPatch Rejuvenating Eye Gels, which I keep 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," added Dr Ukeleghe, who also recommended my favourite hyaluronic acid, La Roche-Posay Hyalu B5. Then it’s a case of adding some instant radiance to the skin. Dr Ukeleghe name-checked Glossier Futuredew and Kevyn Aucoin Glass Glow Highlighter, and I’m partial to Bobbi Brown Extra Illuminating Moisture Balm, which gives a really lovely soft-focus warmth.
Now, long-term solutions. "Two of the best ingredients to help brighten your skin are vitamin C and retinol," said Dr Ukeleghe. No, they’re not the flashiest 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.
My all-time favourite vitamin C is SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Serum but for a more purse-friendly option, Medik8 C-Tetra range is also brilliant. Likewise, if you’re new to retinol, start with something gentle, like Paula’s Choice Anti-Aging Retinol Serum. It has hydrating and emollient ingredients to help your skin tolerate the retinol, which can be harsh. Adding a gentle acid toner like Dr Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Ultra Gentle Peel Pads will also help exfoliate away dead skin for a more even skin tone, but don’t be tempted to use them every single day if you’re also using retinol and other acid treatments. 

One more thing! Microcurrent treatments are perfect if you feel that your skin is flat, which I often do when I’m tired. 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 top up whenever you like.
Good luck! And sweet dreams.
Got a question for our resident beauty columnist Daniela Morosini? No problem, qualm or dilemma is too big, small or niche. Email, including your name and age for a chance to have your question answered. All letters to 'Dear Daniela' become the property of Refinery29 and will be edited for length, clarity, and grammatical correctness.
Illustrated by Olivia Santner

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