No animals were harmed in the creation of this look.
No, you didn't read the headline wrong. The latest beauty trend to hit the scene is inspired by the ocean's friendliest animal: dolphins. And while we remain privy to each and every beauty trend no matter how wild they may seem, this one definitely had us scratching our heads.
As you may have guessed, given the name, the goal of dolphin skin is to give the complexion a smooth, glowing, glossy appearance, says Geneva Stockdale, aesthetician and founder of The OC Esthetician. When compared to glass skin—which dominated the industry in 2017 and heavily relies on skin care—dolphin skin is more makeup-centric, using products that yield a wet effect and the strategic placement of liquid and powder highlighters for some added dewiness.
Below, we answer every question you may have about dolphin skin, including what skin prep is involved, how to layer products to achieve the trend, and if it's even possible (or advisable) to attempt on those with oilier skin types (spoiler alert: the answer is yes). Ready to own dolphin skin? Our experts break down everything you need to know below.
What Is Dolphin Skin?
Whereas glass skin focuses more on evening out pigmentation variations for skin that reflects light evenly, dolphin skin is all about using products that are multi-dimensional to create luminous, hydrated skin, says Kim Baker, makeup artist and founder of Glamazon Beauty. It involves layering makeup of varying textures, expertly tailoring your chosen products according to your specific skin type, for illuminated—not greasy—skin.
If you're prone to oil or enlarged pores and this sounds off-putting, Robert Sesnek, a celebrity makeup artist for Catrice Cosmetics, says you, too, can get in on the trend; it's all about being smart with your skin prep and highlighter placement.
Step One: Prep the Skin
When it comes to getting dolphin skin, exfoliation is key, says Stockdale. "Exfoliation involves sloughing off the surface layer of the skin, which can include dead skin, dirt, and debris," she says. "By removing the top layer in a methodical way, according to your skin type, you can increase the skin's overall brilliance." Opt for chemical exfoliants over physical exfoliants, as these can be too abrasive, especially for sensitive skin types. For those with dry skin, Stockdale recommends using a gentle chemical exfoliant (think lactic acid, glycolic acid, or mandelic acid), as these aid in increasing cell turnover. Oily skin can use all of the above or salicylic acid, an ingredient that works to dissolve oil and debris that's living inside your pores.
If you have dry skin, indulge in a hydrating face mask post-exfoliation. Stockdale says to hunt down plumping, skin-quenching ingredients—like aloe and hyaluronic acid—and to avoid products with fragrance and dyes as these can potentially irritate the skin and hinder your dolphin glow.
The final step before moving on to makeup application is moisturizing your skin. Opt for a lightweight water-based moisturizer if you have oily skin, says Stockdale, while dryer skin can layer a balm or oil on top of water-based products to lock in hydration.
Step Two: Apply Your Makeup
Now that the skin is prepped, it's time for makeup. Unless you have oily skin, Sesnek says to steer clear of matte foundations. (Remember: You can still layer your glow-inducing products over a matte base to achieve dolphin skin.)
When it comes to highlighter, Sesnek says that normal to dry skin types can get away with layering a powder on top of a cream. If the skin is oily, he recommends sticking to powder, as it won't accentuate the look of your pores. Plus, powder will last much longer then cream with this skin type, he notes.
You'll want to apply the highlighter on areas where the sun would naturally hit, says Baker, such as the top of the cheekbones and down the center of the nose, as well as on the ball of the nose, the brow bone, lightly flicking right above the arch of the brow. For oilier skin types, avoid applying highlighter to your forehead, and have a light hand when applying to your cheekbones, as Sesnek says you can rely on your natural oils to eventually shine through. Finish off with a light misting of a glowing setting spray.
On the same level of importance as the products you use is the application technique you adopt when seeking dolphin skin. Sesnek recommends alternating application by utilizing a sponge, a brush, and your fingers for each layer. "For example, I'll use a foundation brush to buff foundation into the skin, a sponge for cream blush, and my fingers for cream highlighter," he says. This allows all the products to melt into the skin for an overall glow.
Shop Our Picks:
Oily skin gets a proper cleanse thanks to apricot seed powder in this deeply purifying exfoliator. Unlike most rinse-off exfoliators, this one works best when left on for five minutes. Skin is left hydrated, soothed, and free of dead skin cells.
For lasting hydration that'll keep your dolphin skin going, try this facial moisturizer from Alo. Its hero ingredient alma—a vitamin C-rich superberry that instantly brightens the skin—is paired with aloe, avocado oil, and marula oil for nourished skin that's ready to take on layers of makeup.
Tired skin, rejoice! Finally, a solution to that dull, lackluster complexion. To give your skin the brightening it needs, Osea's marine-infused illuminator is a solid option. Made with hyaluronic acid to help the skin retain moisture as well as mineral peptides for plumping, your skin will be left more even, smooth, and glowy.
If there were ever a product we didn't want to live without, this priming oil from Lilah B. would hit the very top of the list. Beyond the fact that it's a three-in-one multitasker that acts as a serum, moisturizer, and primer, it imparts a glow so strong that it's even apparent under the most full coverage of foundations.
Sesnek notes that most liquid, creamy, and wet products have a short lifespan due to product breakdown. That's where this fluid foundation comes into play—it's lightweight yet long-wearing, and effectively blurs pores and smoothes out uneven texture.
A sheer wash of powder highlighter is all an oily skin type needs to achieve dolphin skin, and this one from Pur delivers. Rather than offering a blinding highlight, the Afterglow powder gives skin a natural, healthy-looking glow thanks to its hydrating, antioxidant-rich formula.
Now you can achieve a summer glow year-round with this 24k gold fleck-infused highlighter stick from Persona Cosmetics. Shea butter and jojoba oil work to soften and protect the skin's moisture barrier while squalane prevents your skin from losing all that hard-earned hydration.
To finish off your dolphin skin look, Sesnek recommends spraying your complexion with a refreshing mist. This one from Catrice is unique in that it not only gives the skin a glow using ultra-fine shimmers, but it also prolongs the wear of your makeup.
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