You can count wrinkles, but radiance is harder to define—you know it when you see it, and when you don’t.
Vancouver dermatologist Dr. Frances Jang says many factors determine whether your skin looks bright and radiant, but a lot of what we perceive comes back to physics. Smooth, uniform surfaces reflect light better than uneven ones, and that’s what our eyes interpret as luminosity.
What causes skin to become uneven? “One part of it is aging, which we can’t change,” Jang says. “This is related to cell turnover. Youthful skin cells travel from the bottom layer of skin to the top and mature over the course of a month. For older skin, that takes longer. The natural exfoliation of the outer layer of skin doesn’t happen as effectively, so we get this roughness that can make skin look dull.” Aging also reduces collagen and elastin production, so the middle layer of skin becomes less plump and therefore less smooth. Dehydration can also make the skin’s surface uneven.
The concept of “brightening” has nothing to do with skin tone. “The focus is very much on healthy and even skin—uniformity, whatever that base colour may be,” Jang says. That means reducing contrasts in skin colour by fading freckles and sunspots, telangiectasia (spider veins), melasma (patches of darker pigmentation), and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (melanin production in response to skin damage, such as after a pimple heals).
SkinCeuticals’ Discoloration Defense uses tranexamic acid to improve skin tone, kojic acid to brighten all over, and niacinamide, a form of vitamin B3, to work on redness, dark spots, and acne. For an occasional boost, Sulwhasoo’s Concentrated Ginseng Brightening Spot Ampoule is designed to be used in addition to serum to reduce hyperpigmentation and melasma.
A good sunscreen (along with a wide-brimmed hat) is the most important item in any skin-care regimen.
Exfoliation can also boost skin-cell turnover and remove dullness. Washing with a linen face cloth, warm water, and a cleanser might be enough for some people, or skin-care essences can be used twice a day after cleansing and before serum. Shiseido’s Eudermine Activating Essence, which has been around since 1897, now has exfoliating 4MSK, kefir extract to encourage the skin to make its own hydrating hyaluronic acid, and yuzu extract, said to boost blood circulation in the skin.
Jang’s favourite ingredient for exfoliation with added benefits is retinol. “It’s the big secret for me,” she says. “With long-term use, we see enhanced collagen production, and even over-the-counter versions can make skin healthier and appear more radiant and luminous.” She says it can be irritating, but most skins can acclimate if it’s introduced slowly. A new launch designed for sensitive skin is Jouviance’s Restructiv 3D-Retinol+ multi-action cream, which has retinol, bakuchiol (a plant extract that is less irritating than retinol but works in a similar way), and antiaging peptides. If you can’t tolerate retinol, you still need moisturizer. Dermalogica’s Phyto Nature Oxygen Cream promises a smoother and more luminous appearance, with visible results in a week.
Lack of radiance can also be caused or exacerbated by sun exposure. On top of making skin tone uneven, Jang says, sun damage can also worsen effects of aging such as collagen loss and slower skin turnover. A good sunscreen (along with a wide-brimmed hat) is the most important item in any skin-care regimen. The best is one you’ll use consistently—one that feels comfortable and gives you a finish that you like. Clé de Peau Beauté’s UV Protective Cream SPF 50+ has a combination of chemical sunscreens, plus multiple plant-based extracts intended to slow collagen degradation and moisturize skin.
For added protection against UV rays, Dr. Roni Munk, a dermatologist in Montreal, recommends an antioxidant serum in the morning. “When the sun penetrates skin, it creates free radicals,” he explains. “Vitamin C and other antioxidants like glutathione and vitamin E quench those and prevent them from affecting the DNA.”
Several in-clinic treatments help increase radiance. Hyaluronic acid microinjections are good for immediate glow. “What’s nice is there are newer-generation products that last up to nine months,” Munk says. “A lot of my patients will do that once a year. It’s a very easy and quick way to improve skin quality.” Laser and IPL (intense pulsed light) treatments even out the complexion. “These will lessen pigmentation and redness, reduce pore size, and improve evenness in the skin.”
Read more from our Summer 2023 issue.