Bye, hangover face. Hellooooo, gorgeous.
You don't need to be energy-drained from erratic weather or jet-lag or burning the midnight oil to wind up with tired skin. Telltale signs of an exhausted complexion—saggy, dull, dry, sallow, and wrinkled—mimic the look of sleep-deprivation but actually occur when the mitochondria (the energy centers of cells) run out of juice and need to be recharged. You can factor in stress, your age, and drinking too much alcohol, which can all drain the mitochondria's power, but the biggest culprit is environmental toxins. "Tired skin is on the rise because we live in a more polluted environment that's swarming with free radicals that damage skin," says Dennis Gross, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City. (Next up: Is Your Skin's Biggest Enemy the Air You Breathe?)
Skin cells have only so much energy. If there are harmful molecules in the atmosphere, cells use up all that energy fighting them off. Eventually, they become too fatigued and surrender. That's when damage occurs. Cells can also become too spent to bang out their daily to-do list, like building collagen and shedding dead skin, and then you get that dull, dry, drawn look. Fortunately, there's an ingredient out there that can erase each symptom. Try these top tired-skin cures.
How to Get Rid of Sagging and Wrinkles: Vitamin C
Every time you step outside, your face is assaulted by free radicals such as nitric oxide, carbon monoxide, and ozone. These toxins interfere with the production of cellular energy, and they damage the mitochondria, preventing cells from functioning normally. Vitamin C (a.k.a. L-ascorbic acid) is an antioxidant that's especially good at deactivating energy-sucking pollutants and has the added value of being able to increase collagen. It's a win-win: The more energy a cell has, the more collagen vitamin C can help to produce. (BTW it's never too early to protect your skin's collagen.)
Other potent free radical–fighting antioxidants include vitamin E, CoQ10, and even hydrogen. Research shows that hydrogen might act like an antioxidant, and its molecules are so tiny that they may be able to penetrate cells more effectively. You'll find them in Perricone MD H2 Elemental Energy Hydrating Booster Serum ($100, perriconemd.com).
Antioxidants like to gang up on free radicals too, so manufacturers often add more than one, as well as glutathione, an ingredient that protects antioxidants. "Think of glutathione as a battery recharger for antioxidants in the skin—when antioxidants lose their charge, glutathione adds it back," says Doris Day, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City. Once power is restored, antioxidants can go back to their work of neutralizing free radicals, repairing damage, and keeping your skin radiant. Get vitamin C and glutathione in PCA Skin C-Quench Antioxidant Serum ($75, pcaskin.com). (Here's the full guide on pollution-fighting skin care.)
How to Get Rid of Dry Skin: Chelators
In many areas of the country, tap water is packed with minerals (this type of H2O is referred to as "hard water"). When you wash your face, residue from mineral-rich water remains on your skin doing nasty things.
"Hard water is high in calcium, which takes your own natural oils and hardens them into a waxy buildup, causing skin to look dry and dull, and making pores appear bigger," says Dr. Gross. "Water softeners called chelators— which can show up on ingredient lists as phytic acid—act like little Pac-Men, engulfing the calcium and deactivating it." (Hard water can also contain potentially damaging heavy metals like iron, magnesium, and copper—and chelators take care of these too.) Slather on a product that has chelators built right in. Try Kate Somerville Clarifying Treatment Toner ($26, katesomerville.com), and as an added layer of protection, you can invest in a home water-softening system that utilizes chelation technology.
How to Get Rid of Dull Skin: Alpha Hydroxy Acids
Sleepy cells tend to shirk their cell turnover duties, meaning you're left with a buildup of dead skin that makes your complexion look dull and tired. "Exfoliate with an AHA, like glycolic acid or lactic acid, to slough off that top layer of skin, jump-start cell turnover, and boost collagen," says Francesca Fusco, M.D., assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in NYC. "AHAs really refresh and brighten the skin, and they help serums and creams absorb more efficiently." Her fave: First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Pads ($30, ulta.com), which are gentle enough for daily use.
How to Get Rid of Sallow Skin: Niacinamide
Applying niacinamide "is like giving the mitochondria a cup of coffee," says Dr. Gross. Niacinamide is a vitamin B3 derivative that stimulates cells to produce energy by acting as a wingman for another type of molecule (called NADH) that helps convert fat to energy. Niacinamide can be especially effective when it teams up with carnitine, a type of molecule that helps boost energy production by delivering long-chain fatty acids to the mitochondria, where they can be burned to generate power. Find the duo in Dr. Dennis Gross C + Collagen Brighten & Firm Vitamin C Serum ($78, sephora.com).
As an added benefit, niacinamide can help ward off (and even help reverse) a chemical reaction between protein and sugar called glycation. "When collagen (a protein) meets up with sugar molecules in your body, it can become damaged, leading to sallow, rough, wrinkled skin," says Dr. Day, who notes that UV rays, nicotine, and air pollution can also create reactions that stimulate the glycation process. (P.S. you need to worry about pollution damage on your hair too.)