12 Tricks to Avoiding That Dreaded Winter Pallor

Updated: May 20, 2021

Winter white may be a hot wardrobe trend, but on your face? Not so much. Here's how to combat dull, pasty skin this season and take your complexion from ghostly to glowing.


Get rid of the dead stuff

The number one reason skin gets dull in winter? Buildup of dead skin cells. Cells naturally travel from the lowest layer of the epidermis to the top layer and then shed off to reveal a healthier, more radiant complexion. But as we age, the rate at which our cells turn over slows down—from every 14 days as a baby, to every 21 to 28 days as a teenager, to every 28 to 42 days at middle age, and to every 42 to 84 days over age 50. When the turnover rate slows, the top layer of the skin—the one we see, touch, and even agonize over—sticks around longer, dulling our complexion. To get back that youthful glow, we have to remove those dead skin cells regularly. “I recommend exfoliating at home on a weekly basis and combining it with a professional treatment, such as the BeautyRx Signature Tetrafoliant 30% Peel, every four to six weeks,” says Edelyn Collado, head facialist at The Ritualist. Your dermatologist and facialist can advise you about the best approach for your specific skin type and concerns.


Use the right cleanser

Ensure the regular sloughing off of dead, dull skin cells by using a gentle, exfoliating cleanser every day (or every two to three days, depending on your skin type), to remove dead cell pile-up and any flaky layers. “I first start with Elizabeth Arden Ceramide Replenishing Cleansing Oil to remove makeup and impurities,” says board-certified dermatologist Dendy Engelman, MD. “Then I’ll use an exfoliating cleanser, like Aveeno Positively Radiant Skin Brightening Daily Scrub, to target buildup.” If you’re using self-tanner, exfoliate lightly every two to three days. “This will prevent color build-up and ensure that your tan is always fading evenly,” says St. Tropez’s Skin Finishing Expert Sophie Evans. (Check out the face-washing mistakes you didn’t realize you were making.)


Don’t fear peels and masks

To supercharge your cell turnover, Dr. Engelman recommends using a pad with 5% glycolic acid, like Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel—two to three times a week (depending on skin sensitivity)—to enhance cell turnover and eliminate that dry, dull appearing skin. “Glycolic acid, derived from sugar cane, is the smallest acid in size, meaning the molecule can get deep into the skin,” Dr. Engelman says. “It’s very effective in breaking down skin cells and the removal of dead particles.” Or grab a mask! Depending on your skin type, you can remove grime and dead skin with a detoxifying mask, like Tata Harper Resurfacing Mask. Use once a week for normal skin—or up to three times a week for oily and blemish-prone complexions. Don’t miss the 10 face masks for all your fall skin concerns.


Get your vitamin C

Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is an antioxidant that’s renowned for its skin-brightening, free radical-fighting, and radiance-boosting abilities. To keep your complexion from looking sallow, add a vitamin C serum to your daily skincare routine. Try Dermalogica C-12 Pure Bright Serum, a silky treatment that brightens, lightens skin pigment, and improves skin clarity, and a more budget option, InstaNatural Vitamin C Serum, which brightens skin and helps prevent lines, wrinkles, and discoloration. Here’s how to make your skin glow naturally this winter.


Don’t forget to moisturize

Your skin faces harsher, drier weather in the winter, so moisturizing is a must, especially after all that regular exfoliating. If you skip this step, Dr. Engleman warns, you can can weaken the skin barrier and trigger inflammation. Opt for a nourishing formula, like Edible Beauty No.4 Vanilla Silk Hydrating Lotion. Added bonus: It’s formulated with Australian rosella extract (a natural source of AHAs), which boosts natural cellular turnover.


Try facial massage

Facial massage helps boost circulation and bring oxygen-rich blood to the skin. “This is one of the most important aspects of a good professional facial,” Collado says. “But you can also incorporate it into your daily routine by applying your serum and moisturizer with upright strokes, from the base of the neck to the forehead.”


Find the right self-tanner

Self-tanner is a savior of pasty winter complexions. But not all products are created equal. Finding the right formula for you can be the difference between sun-kissed and oompa loompa. “The best way to find the self-tanner that’s right for you is to patch test and see if you like the color and the formula,” says St. Tropez’s Sophie Evans. “Make sure to select an area that’s at least three centimeters by three centimeters, about the size of a large postage stamp. If the patch is too small, it can appear darker than it would normally,” Evans says. Most skin types, including oily complexions, do well with mousse formulas, like St. Tropez Tanning Essentials Self Tan Classic Bronzing Mousse. If your pores are enlarged, Evans recommends applying a light layer of non-oil based moisturizer beforehand. Or you can try a very lightweight formula, like James Read H20 Tan Mist, which is 96 percent rose water. “Dry skin types will love lotion and oil formulas because they hydrate and provide a very long-lasting tan (up to 10 days).”


Mix moisturizer and bronzing gel

For a super-simple way to add a little glow, mix a bit of bronzing gel, like Chantecaille Radiance Gel Bronzer or Jane Iredale Tantasia Self-Tanner and Bronzer into your daytime moisturizer. Apply it all over your face, under foundation. “This will add a sheer, subtle veil of warmth to your complexion,” says Laura Grillo, Bluemercury beauty expert.


Opt for a darker foundation

Makeup artists swear by this winter trick: Opt for a sheer foundation one shade darker than your actual skin tone. This will deepen your complexion and bring a bit of warmth to your face. It won’t look weird, we promise, as long as you make sure to blend around your jawline and neck. Avoid a full coverage formula, which can make you look like you’re wearing a mask.


Apply cream bronzer

Skin looking a bit sallow? After foundation, reach for cream bronzer, like Stila Convertible Color (try Cameila for a tropical glow), or liquid bronzer, like Cover FX Custom Enhancer Drops, which you can mix with moisturizer or apply alone for more intense color. Not only do creams and liquids tend to look more natural than powders, but they also help moisturize dry, winter-ravaged skin. Apply where the sun would naturally kiss your face—cheeks, temples, nose, forehead—for a healthy hint of color.


Sweep on highlighter

Apply a gold-toned highlighter, like Hourglass Ambient Strobe Lighting Powder, to the tops of the cheekbones, browbone, center of the nose and collarbone. “This will give you that lit-from-within glow,” Grillo says.


Give lips and cheeks a pop of color

Are your lips and cheeks looking particularly pale? Grillo recommends using a warm, rosy stain, like Bobbi Brown Pot Rouge in Rose, to enhance olive undertones and brighten up your look.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest