There’s no shortage of beauty trends and viral makeup tips online. But every so often, we’ll discover a look or trend that just makes perfect sense for the moment we’re in. And in an age where “your skin but better” reigns supreme, folks are opting for lip balms over lipstick, and natural, bushy brows are all the rage — it’s no wonder dolphin skin is showing up all over Instagram.
What is dolphin skin?
“Dolphin skin is a beauty term that’s being used to describe a glistening, hydrated, ‘fresh out of the water’ makeup look,” explains Mary Phillips, a professional makeup artist who’s worked with celebs like Jennifer Lopez, Bella Hadid and Kendall Jenner. “Dolphins are known for their smooth, plump, reflective skin, so I think it’s a perfect, fun way to describe this aesthetic.”
While a quick Instagram search may lead you to believe Phillips invented the trend, she doesn’t take credit for coining the term. Nevertheless, she’s “beyond flattered” that her signature dewy look has taken on a name and life of its own. “I’m so excited to see the dolphin skin look trending and getting so popular,” Phillips shares, “because I’ve always found youthful glowing skin that just enhances one’s own natural beauty to be timeless.”
Ahead, we’ve consulted various beauty experts on how to achieve dolphin skin. From the products they swear by to the techniques they use on their own clients, here’s everything you need to know.
How to achieve dolphin skin
Unlike other skin care trends like “glass skin” or “cream skin,” dolphin skin is just as much about skin care as it is about strategic makeup application and placement. The result? A super-luminous, dewy and multidimensional look that utilizes both skin care and makeup techniques.
1. Skin care
One of the most important steps when it comes to achieving dolphin skin is in making sure your skin is healthy and hydrated. “Skin care does not need to be complicated,” shares Dr. Rachel Maiman, a New York City-based board-certified dermatologist. “But it should include key ingredients to optimize the rate of cellular turnover.” Why? Turns out cellular turnover is one of the key factors when it comes to radiant skin.
“Exfoliation, through chemical or physical means, removes excess keratinocytes,” she explains, “which in turn stimulates cell turnover, resulting in a more polished, smoother, translucent surface.” Starting out with a nightly retinol or retinoid cream, like the Skinbetter AlphaRet Overnight Cream or the Drunk Elephant A-Passioni Retinol Cream, is a perfect first step into a regular skin care routine all about achieving that radiance.
Once you have a nightly retinol, you can start to introduce other chemical exfoliants to your skin, explains Maiman. Some products she recommends include the Exuviance Performance Peel AP25 and the Isdin Night Peel.
Daily SPF protection is a must when using exfoliants (and in general) — something that both Maiman and Phillips agree on. “This is absolutely essential to maintaining smooth, radiant and luminous skin,” explains Maiman, who recommends using a daily sunscreen containing a minimum SPF of 30.
Perhaps the biggest secret to radiant, healthy-looking skin? Getting enough sleep, eating a well-balanced diet and exercising regularly. As Maiman explains, these are all ways to increase and improve your blood flow, help your skin repair and rebuild, and reduce inflammation — factors that will have a dramatic impact on the health and appearance of your skin. Phillips completely agrees. “I’m a true believer that living a well-balanced lifestyle and using the right skin care regimen will help keep your skin looking and feeling its best,” she shares.
Skinbetter Science AlphaRet Overnight Cream ($125; skinbetter.com)
“This night cream is technically a retinol,” shares Maiman, “but I love it because of the combination of retinol with lactic acid — both of which are potent anti-aging ingredients.” The formula of this overnight cream is chemically stable, nonirritating and ideal for new retinol users, explains Maiman. Since the formulation keeps your skin hydrated, it also reduces the risk of potential irritation.
Drunk Elephant A-Passioni Retinol Cream ($74; sephora.com)
If you’re looking for a retinol cream you can use alongside your favorite moisturizer, this option from Drunk Elephant is a fan fave. Its formulation includes 1% vegan retinol and a whole host of superfood-rich ingredients that help target dark spots, signs of aging and the overall firmness of your skin.
Exuviance Performance Peel AP25 ($79; ulta.com)
Maiman calls this product a “powerhouse of an at-home peel.” Not only does it feature a 25% blend of alpha hydroxy acids (or AHAs), it also includes ingredients like glycolic acid, mandelic acid and gluconolactone — an exfoliant that results in a smoother and brighter complexion. She recommends using this peel twice a week, due to that high concentration of glycolic acid.
Isdin Night Peel ($38; amazon.com)
This peel is “an effective and synergistic combination of glycolic, tartaric and malic acids,” explains Maiman. And as such, it “stimulates gentle exfoliation and delivers a glow with very low risk of irritation,” she adds. Plus, it’s gentle enough to be used daily!
Glossier Invisible Shield ($25; glossier.com)
Truly a sunscreen perfect for those who hate wearing sunscreen, this lightweight, gel-like option from Glossier is perfect for layering under makeup. It’s transparent, not greasy at all and even sports a subtle citrus scent that’s so much more pleasant than standard sunscreens.
Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen (starting at $20; supergoop.com)
This sunscreen is so good it can even double as a makeup primer. In addition to being totally invisible, lightweight and scentless, it leaves a velvety finish that’s more serum-like than lotiony, which is perfect for those who don’t want to risk looking greasy or shiny throughout the day.
2. Skin prep
When it comes to prepping your skin ahead of makeup application, it’s all about moisture and hydration. Especially since dolphin skin makeup relies on the layering of hydrating and illuminating products, you’ll never have to worry about being too dewy.
“I always start with the Tatcha Luminous Dewy Skin Mask,” shares Tobi Henney, a professional makeup artist who has worked with celebs like Megan Fox, Jessica Alba and Jennifer Lawrence. Phillips likes to apply a hydrating treatment before any makeup. Specifically, she recommends the Vintner’s Daughter Active Botanical Serum, La Mer Renewal Oil or SkinMedica HA5 Rejuvenating Hydrator. These products will work to smooth your skin, boost its radiance and keep it hydrated throughout the day — all crucial factors to achieving that glow from within once you start applying makeup products.
Then, it’s time to moisturize. Phillips opts for La Mer’s Crème de la Mer, while Henney recommends the Augustinus Bader Rich Cream. As an added step to amp up the glow, we’ve been loving the Lilah B. Aglow Golden Priming Oil — a super-luxe, nongreasy facial oil that sets your face up perfectly for makeup.
Tatcha Luminous Dewy Skin Mask ($45; tatcha.com)
Face masks can be a fun and relaxing way to prep your skin ahead of makeup application. This silky soft option from Tatcha delivers a whole suite of oils and extracts that leave your skin super smooth and perfectly dewy with just one use. Henney raves that it “creates the most incredible skin.”
Vintner’s Daughter Active Botanical Serum ($185; nordstrom.com)
Phillips isn’t the only celebrity makeup artist who swears by this serum — it also showed up in our roundup of beauty splurges totally worth their price. Packed with 22 of what the brand calls “the world’s most nutrient-rich botanicals,” this product is sure to leave your skin nourished, restored and totally primed for a perfectly dewy, radiant makeup look.
La Mer Renewal Oil (starting at $140; nordstrom.com)
If you love a good glow, facial oils are the perfect product to layer underneath your makeup. This option from La Mer will keep your skin incredibly soft, smooth and glowing. And not only can you massage it onto your face, you can apply it to your neck, décolletage and other parts of your face and body for a subtle, gorgeous yet natural-looking glow.
SkinMedica HA5 Rejuvenating Hydrator ($178; dermstore.com)
This facial serum sports a blend of five different types of hydrators that provide your skin with eight continuous hours of hydration. While it’s pricey, reviewers note that a little goes a long way, and the application is velvety smooth. If you suffer from dryness, a serum with hyaluronic acid (like this one) is a total game changer.
La Mer Crème de la Mer (starting at $95; nordstrom.com)
Phillips recommends applying this super-luxe cream by warming up a pea-sized amount in between your fingertips and then gently pressing the product into your skin. And though it’s pricey, reviewers believe it’s worth every penny. With a 4.6-star rating from nearly 6,000 reviews, folks rave that this cream truly restores your skin to its healthiest, most hydrated and most youthful-looking.
Augustinus Bader The Rich Cream ($170; sephora.com)
This super-hydrating moisturizer features a patented ingredient called TFC8 — a blend of amino acids, vitamins and molecules — that’s clinically shown to reduce wrinkles, fine lines and hyperpigmentation. Henney calls this “the best moisturizer for an all-over skin glow” and a perfect option for when it comes to achieving that bouncy, dolphin-like skin.
As far as your base goes, stay away from anything matte. You’ll want to stick with dewy foundations and lightweight, blendable products — since it’s all about enhancing your natural skin and not covering it up.
After moisturizing, Phillips suggests applying a light layer of a hydrating foundation evenly onto your face and neck — starting from the center of your face and then blending outward for a soft and dewy, even complexion. Henney recommends the Armani Luminous Silk Foundation.
It’s at this point that Phillips recommends adding concealer under the eyes or onto any areas with blemishes or imperfections for extra coverage. Two of her favorite products include the Clé de Peau Beauté Concealer and the Nars Radiant Creamy Concealer, both of which “have a smooth texture and great blendable coverage.”
Armani Luminous Silk Perfect Glow Flawless Oil-Free Foundation ($64; sephora.com)
Henney shares that she loves this foundation, which is perfectly glowy and radiant (as the name suggests). This product packs the best of both worlds — a natural, dewy finish and a great level of medium coverage. You don’t need to worry about packing on more product; just building this up gradually and wherever makes sense for your skin will do. Plus, it’s available in 40 shades — one of the widest ranges we’ve seen available for such a beloved product.
Clé de Peau Beauté Concealer Broad Spectrum SPF 25 ($73; nordstrom.com)