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The Science Behind Skin Glow

Here at Birchbox, we know more than a thing or two about faking glowing skin with makeup (witness this video). But what does it take to be naturally radiant? How does exercise factor in? Does drinking eight glasses of water a day really make a difference? We ask the experts to, ahem, illuminate what’s scientifically proven to brighten your complexion.


Working out on the regular can make your skin look younger—but it’s not because sweating clears out your pores. That flush you get after going for a run or taking a Zumba class is a result of increased blood flow—and it’s temporary. The sweat itself doesn’t do anything to flush your sebaceous glands (the pores that can make skin look dull and rough when they’re clogged or too large), according to Dr. Mary Lupo, a board certified dermatologist practicing in New Orleans. However, a recent study found people over 40 who exercise regularly have skin composition more similar to 20- to 30-year-olds than sedentary people their own age. The takeaway? That initial flush won’t influence glow in the short term, but regular exercise might keep skin looking young in the long run.

Sun Protection

That post-beach glow you get? It’s actually sun damage—and damaged skin will be anything but radiant down the road. “I tell every patient of mine that if you want healthy skin, you need an SPF 30 in your daily regimen,” says Dr. Eric Schweiger, a dermatologist and founder of Schweiger Dermatology in New York. For daily broad spectrum protection, try Supergoop!® City Sunscreen Serum or COOLA SPF 30 Matte Finish Cucumber for Face. And to protect your face from the rays and get a natural glow, apply Caudalie’s Vinexpert Radiance Day Cream SPF 15, which contains viniferine, a compound that boosts your skin’s luminosity over time.


Those green-juice toting celebs might be on to something. “One of the most important things you can do to keep a youthful, glowing appearance is to eat foods that provide your features with optimal nutrition,” says Lisa Drayer, MA, RD, author of The Beauty Diet. A few groceries Drayer recommends for radiant skin: Produce packed with vitamin C—oranges, broccoli, brussels sprouts, red peppers, and kiwis—which spurs the production of skin-plumping collagen. Veggies high in beta-carotene like carrots, sweet potatoes, and spinach help skin stay smooth and soft. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish like salmon and trout as well as walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds help skin retain moisture, and prevent dryness, redness, and even acne. And the antioxidants in dark chocolate moisturize and soften skin, too. Sugar, on the other hand, can latch onto the collagen in our skin, eventually leading to wrinkles. Sorry, cronut lovers.


We’ve heard time and again that chugging extra water will give our skin a dewy appearance. But, it turns out, there isn’t data to back that up. “I don’t see any evidence that drinking water makes a difference,” says Schweiger. “It definitely doesn’t hurt, but it’s not going to bring back the glow to your skin.” So unless you’re seriously dehydrated, slugging H20 doesn’t have a big influence on your complexion.


Just as drinking water won’t freshen your face, consuming alcohol won’t necessarily make it dull. Rather, whether (and what) you choose to imbibe depends on your skin type. If you have rosacea, inflammatory acne, or psoriasis, “the less you drink, the better,” says Lupo. Alcohol’s high carb content can exacerbate the inflammation at the root of those conditions. But for those with dry, combination, normal or oily skin, a glass of red wine may provide skin-brightening nutrients. Its polyphenols and antioxidants have been shown to reduce inflammation and disappear dark spots. Just stick to one glass (not three!).


Sufficient shut-eye is vital for glowing skin. When you sleep, your body neutralizes harmful free radicals, which damage cells, aging and discoloring skin. Lack of zzz’s can also exacerbate stress, Lupo says—and with it, conditions like skin itching and inflammation. How you sleep matters too. “Sleeping on your face compresses the skin and decreases circulation to it,” which can make your complexion appear more wrinkled—and duller—over time, explains Lupo. Snooze on your back for more youthful complexion.

Fake It Till You Make It

These lifestyle tweaks will set you on the road to that healthy glow, but it may take a while for your complexion to catch up with the new, well-rested, well-nourished, sun-protected you. In the meantime, apply Caudalie Polyphenol C15 Anti-Wrinkle Defense Serum morning and night to brighten skin while fending off free radicals. Top it off with glow by dr. brandt™ ruby crystal retinol hydracrème, which is formulated to reflect light and give skin—yes, you guessed it—a gorgeous glow.

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