Rebecca Dancer is a beauty and lifestyle writer who obtained a print and digital journalism degree from the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California. She’s worked at and contributed to various print and digital publications, including Byrdie, Allure, Brides, Teen Vogue, Beauty Independent, Shape, SELF, and Women's Wear Daily.
When it comes to skin care goals, the word "glowing" seems to universally rank top of mind. So in the pursuit of a healthy, radiant complexion, we scoured the research, tapped experts, and looked to time-tested rituals to find the best-of-the-best advice: This list only includes things that work with a Capital-W.
Here, 24 proven—and natural—ways to maintain glowing skin:
Use a safe, mineral-based sunscreen daily.
A clean, mineral-based SPF should be applied daily, all year round. "Ultraviolet radiation is unequivocally carcinogenic," explains board-certified dermatologist Heidi Waldorf, M.D. "If you don't care about that, think vanity—UV rays are the primary cause of the texture and color changes of skin aging." To protect your skin, Waldorf recommends using a mineral-based sunscreen (look for active ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide) that is SPF 30 or higher and applying it as the final step in your skin care routine every morning. Because mineral sunscreen is a physical barrier, it should be applied as the last step before makeup: Any skin care actives you try to apply after won't penetrate.
Additionally—smart sun care goes well beyond SPF. Always be mindful of how much time you spend in the sun (read: don't sunbathe for sport) as well as wear hats and other protective clothing.
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The most abundant protein in your body—and your skin—is collagen. And, unfortunately, our natural reserves of this essential protein deplete as we age. Collagen supplements contain amino acids, which has been shown to promote our hair, skin, and nail health.* By ingesting the hydrolyzed collagen peptides, the supplement is absorbed by the body and then can support natural collagen levels by stimulating our cell's fibroblasts (or what makes collagen and elastin in the first place), thereby promoting a healthy, glowing, firm complexion.* This is backed by cold hard data too: The researchshows that these collagen peptides are able to support skin elasticity, hydration, and dermal collagen density.* If you want our favorite recommendations, check out our list for the best collagen supplements.
"I am not recommending a harsh scrub or cloth," explains board-certified dermatologist Nancy Samolitis, M.D., who lists exfoliation as one of her top tips for glowing skin. "Light exfoliation, with either a nonirritating acid cleanser or toner that dissolves dead skin cells on the surface, [will] lead to glowing skin." How so? Removing the outer layer of excess dead skin cells will help smooth skin texture, increase the absorption rate of your skin care products, and brighten up your complexion.
Take care of your gut.
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Research shows that underlying gut health issues can manifest on the skin in many ways, from blemishes to flushing. The connection even has a name: the gut-skin axis. Overall gut health is nuanced and complex, and it's important (for so, so many reasons) for everyone to take the time to learn how to care for and nourish your own unique gut flora. However, for the purpose of this article, here's a general guideline: Anything that's not healthy for your gut (i.e.: sugar, processed food) can lead to gut microbial imbalance and trigger oxidative stress and inflammatory processes, not just in the gut, but throughout the body. Over time, left unchecked, these imbalances can also manifest as skin issues. Also, see: Here's why you should heal your gut if you want clear skin.
Incorporate healthy fats into your diet.
"Healthy fats like those found in nuts, flaxseed, and avocados can help to replenish your body's ability to make healthy and strong cell membranes, [which] can protect against environmental damage by restoring the skin barrier," Samolitis explains. Waldorf agrees, explaining that "not eating adequate healthy fats can cause the skin and hair to be dry, and increasing these fats in the diet may help in certain skin conditions characterized by excessive dryness." Other healthy-fat foods to know for glowing skin include salmon, chia seeds, olive oil, and whole eggs.
Keep your skin microbiome balanced.
Just like the gut, a healthy, balanced skin microbiome is essential to maintaining healthy, balanced skin. These microscopic bacteria keep skin hydrated and supple, fight off free radicals, stave off outside offenders, and even protect against harmful UV rays. Keep yours in check by avoiding harsh soaps and scrubs, which can strip away the essential oils and bacteria that make up the skin microbiome. On the flip side, use skin care products that are formulated specifically to boost the skin microbiome, such as those that contain pre-, pro- and postbiotics (here's our list of the best products to support a healthy skin microbiome).
Apply skin care products right after bathing.
Perhaps one of the most essential components of healthy skin is moisture. In addition to a quality skin care routine, the timing in which you apply your products can affect moisture retention. Waldorf's top tip: Take to your skin care routine immediately after hopping out of the shower. "Applying a moisturizer daily on face and body after washing replenishes and seals in moisture," she says. "It is much better to maintain good skin than to try to catch up after skin is dry, inflamed, and uncomfortable."
Practice a facial massage routine.
Not only does it feel enjoyable, but facial massage can lessen tension and increase circulation, thereby helping to keep skin cells healthy and aiding in lymphatic drainage. Commit to a daily facial gua sha routine or use a jade roller. It only takes a few minutes a day, and the post-facial massage glow (courtesy of aforementioned increased circulation) will be so worth it.
Eat antioxidant-rich foods.
"The more colorful, the better," Samolitis says. "My favorites are dark, leafy greens and berries." Indeed, fruits and vegetables are considered the best sources of antioxidants. Some antioxidant-packed foods to incorporate into your diet include blueberries, kale, spinach, and—bonus—dark chocolate.
Exercise increases blood flow throughout the body, thereby bringing vital oxygen, nutrients, and minerals to the skin. Bottom line: Working out leads to brighter, better-looking skin.
Use vitamin C.
One of the best topical ingredients for glowing skin, plain and simple, is vitamin C—which works on all skin types to even out and brighten tone. The research to back up these claims is sound and vast: Vitamin C can promote balanced pigmentation, protect against environmental aggressors, brighten skin tone, and promote collagen and elastin production.* Bottom line: It's key for glowing skin.*
Don't pick your skin.
As a general rule of thumb, once your products are applied, keep your (most likely dirty) hands off of your face. "Picking at the skin—pimples, infections, or just itchy areas—causes worsening of the problem and ultimately can [lead to] infection and scars," Waldorf says.
It's not a myth: Drinking enough water is essential for overall skin health. Staying adequately hydrated keeps your skin moisturized, healthy, and, you guessed it, glowing. That's not to mention all of the other endless benefits of drinking enough H20. While eight (8-ounce) glasses per day is the general guideline, water intake isn't one-size-fits-all, so listen to what your body needs.
Use a retinoid or retinol alternative.
"Whether your skin does better with over-the-counter retinols or prescription-strength retinoids, this ingredient is top of my list to promote healthy, glowing skin," Samolitis says. "First, it actually repairs DNA damage from the sun and environment and can even be protective against precancerous skin lesions. Second, it keeps the top layer of skin from building up and looking dull by promoting accelerated skin cell turnover."
If you decide retinols are not for you—for whatever reason—consider bakuchoil, a natural topical alternative that yields the same results.
Get regular facials.
We know, we know—this is not always feasible. But if it's in your budget, getting regular facials is one of the best ways to maintain a healthy, glowing visage, Samolitis says. Ideally, aim for one facial per month, which falls in time with your skin cells' natural renewal cycle.
Avoid potentially irritating foods.
You already know what they are: foods that are packaged, processed, and high in sugar, as well as dairy. "Excess sugar, dairy, and processed foods can cause inflammatory processes in the skin, leading to breakouts," Samolitis explains. If you can only commit to eliminating one of these no-no foods, make it processed sugar, as recent research has confirmed the link between high-sugar foods and acne, as well as general head-to-toe inflammatory issues.
Obvious but, for so many reasons, worth restating: Smoking has detrimental effects on your body from head to toe—skin included. Whereas glow is concerned, "smoking restricts the oxygen supply to the skin, increases the buildup of damaging free radicals and increases the risk of some skin cancers," Waldorf explains.
Indulge in a face mask.
In our opinion, face masks shouldn't even be considered an indulgence—you should apply these regularly. To maximize glow, opt for hydrating face mask ingredients like hyaluronic acid, sodium hyaluronate, and vitamin E.
Strengthen your skin barrier.
Itchy, flaky, dry skin? Your skin barrier is likely compromised. Strengthen it by using moisturizers and cleansers that are formulated with ceramides, an essential component of the skin barrier (that can be stripped away by things like overcleansing).
Get your beauty sleep.
Yet another important reason to prioritize sleep: Inadequate or disturbed sleep can wreak havoc on your skin. Research has shown that poor sleep quality can contribute to increased signs of skin aging (fine lines and wrinkles) and compromised skin barrier function. As with water, eight hours is the standard rule of thumb for sleep, but always listen to your body.
Keep your makeup—and makeup tools—clean.
Makeup brushes, bags, and sponges are basically breeding grounds for the proliferation of bacteria, dead skin cells, oil, and grime—all of which can seriously hinder your quest for glowing skin. So, keep things sanitary! Clean your makeup tools regularly, ideally every other week.
Keep things lukewarm.
One of the most common face-washing mistakes: using the wrong water temperature. Rinsing your complexion (and hair) with water that's too hot can strip your skin barrier of its natural oils, which can dry out the skin and lead to a compromised barrier. Too-cold water won't get the job done and might leave dirt and makeup on your skin. So when it comes to cleansing, stick to water temperatures that are lukewarm.
Easier said than done, we know, but feelings of chronic stress can seriously damage your skin—and even trigger a host of issues, including autoimmune pathways. All the more reason to commit to a proper self-care routine, whatever that may look like for you (although may we suggest a few aforementioned tips such as making time for face masks, facials, exercise, and beauty sleep).
Need we say more? Keeping skin moisturized is one of the quickest tickets to a glowing complexion. Don't skimp on daily moisturizer, even if you have naturally oily skin, and invest in ingredients that are proven to hydrate (like peptides, electrolytes, and ceramides).
If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking medications, consult with your doctor before starting a supplement routine. It is always optimal to consult with a health care provider when considering what supplements are right for you.