Sallow Skin: What Are The Causes? Can It Be Treated?

Written by Ramona Sinha

Is your skin looking tired these days? Has it lost its natural glow and radiance? Does it look a bit yellow and dull? If yes, the chances are high that you have sallow skin.

Don’t panic. The causes of sallow skin are not exactly internal. Certain external factors are responsible for this condition. Luckily, you can control these factors easily and prevent sallow skin. How? Read on to learn about sallow skin, what causes it, and ways to reverse it.

What Is Sallow Skin? How Do You Identify It?


Sallow skin refers to skin that has lost its natural radiance and turned pale or yellowish. Do not confuse it with olive skin tone, which is warmer and yellowish. Olive skin is healthy, while sallow skin looks tired and dull. It usually doesn’t look healthy.

As your skin ages, it might turn a bit dry, show signs of aging, such as fine lines and wrinkles, and maybe start losing its elasticity. However, sallow skin may not be a result of the aging process. It may be a sign of an underlying health issue and other external factors, which we have discussed later in this article.

How can you determine whether your skin is sallow or not? Look for the following signs:

  • It has turned brownish or yellowish (which is not your natural complexion).
  • You can see blemishes on your face.
  • Your skin becomes pale.
  • It is not supple.

In other words, your skin looks dull. Whenever you feel under the weather, you’ll always see it reflecting on your skin. Your face and skin look lifeless, right? It is the same when it turns sallow.

What makes your skin sallow? There are several external and internal factors behind it. Scroll down to find out.

What Causes Sallow Skin?

Medical And Internal Causes


1. Nutrient Deficiency

If you do not provide your body with enough vital nutrients, your skin can turn sallow. The skin cells need vitamins and minerals to maintain themselves and stay healthy. When they do not get the required nutrients, their ability to function properly declines and your skin starts looking tired and sallow. The common vitamin deficiencies that may affect your skin include:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin K
How To Manage

Eat the rainbow (not literally)! Include veggies and nutritious foods of all colors in your diet. Make sure you have a nutrient-rich and balanced diet. Include carrots, oranges, meat, seafood, broccoli, nuts, berries, dark leafy vegetables, and other plant-based foods in your diet. Your skin will start glowing in a few weeks. Also, consult a doctor to diagnose nutrient deficiency, based on which they might suggest supplements.

2. Anemia

Red blood cells are responsible for delivering oxygen to your cells and body tissues. Lack of RBCs in the blood results in anemia. When your body cells do not receive enough oxygen, your skin turns pale and yellowish and looks tired and sallow.

How To Manage

If you have acute anemia, you need to increase your intake of iron and vitamin B12. You also need to consume more foods with these nutrients. The doctor may even give you vitamin and iron supplements.

If you have chronic anemia, it might be due to other health-related issues, such as autoimmune conditions and kidney-related issues. Consult a doctor immediately for treatment. Once the situation is resolved, your skin will be back to normal.

Lifestyle And Other Related Causes


3. Smoking

Smoking is bad for your overall health and skin. Smoking can speed up the aging process and is one of the leading causes of premature skin aging. Smoking reduces collagen production in your skin and speeds up the production of tropoelastin and matrix metalloproteinases (MMP), which damage the matrix protein and elastic fibers (1). As a result, your skin may lose its sheen and glow and become sallow.

How To Manage

There is only one way to prevent smoking from damaging your skin – quit the habit. If you are finding it difficult to quit smoking, you may try therapies or try quitting it gradually. Try using alternative products that contain small amounts of nicotine and then stop it slowly. Once you quit smoking, you will see that your skin is turning normal.

4. Stress

Stress affects your mental and physical well-being. When you are stressed from within, it reflects on your skin. Stress affects your body in many ways, such as excessive weight gain or loss, lack of sleep, and dry and sallow skin. When you are stressed, your body releases a hormone called cortisol, which affects the skin’s natural barrier (2). Once the natural barrier of your skin is compromised, your skin turns dull and is prone to inflammation.

How to Manage

Stress management is an absolute necessity when it comes to protecting your skin. Try meditation, indulge in hobbies you like, meet your friends, spend time alone, exercise daily, and eat healthily. This will help in restoring your skin balance.

5. Sleeplessness

Spending a sleepless night once in a while is fine. However, if it is chronic, you have got a problem. When you sleep, your skin repairs and restores itself. Lack of sleep will hamper the healing process of your skin. As a result, it will turn sallow and dull. It is important to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep to maintain your overall health.

How To Manage

Maintain your sleeping time. Go to bed at the same time every day. Avoid watching TV or browsing through social media and working with electronic gadgets before going to bed. If possible, try aromatherapy or take a warm shower before bed or indulge in any relaxing activity (like listening to music) before bedtime.

6. Take Care Of Your Skin

A poor skin care routine can also make your skin sallow. From washing your skin properly to exfoliating regularly, you need to follow a basic skin care routine every day. Scroll down to find out how you can prevent sallow skin by following a proper skin care routine.

How To Prevent And Treat Sallow Skin


1. Wash Your Face Properly

Most of us hardly spend a minute on washing our face every day. Unless you wash your face thoroughly, no other step is going to benefit your skin. This is crucial to remove dirt, pollution, oil, and makeup from your face. Once you are back home, cleanse your makeup with oil and wipe it with a wet cotton pad. Then, take a mild cleanser and rub between your palms to generate lather. Spread the lather on your skin and massage gently for a minute. Wash it off.

2. Exfoliate Once Or Twice A Week

Create a schedule and exfoliate your skin with a physical or chemical exfoliator right after washing your face. Layers of dead skin cells make your face look dull and sallow. Exfoliating removes all dead skin cells that accumulate on your skin.

3. Follow Up With A Toner

Wipe your face with a cotton pad and toner. Toning your skin removes the leftover dirt and impurities after washing. You should never skip toning as it prepares your skin for the next steps.

4. Apply A Moisturizer

Once you have toned your face, apply a moisturizer. This is important to lock in the moisture and keep your skin hydrated. If you skip this step, your skin will not get the moisture it needs and may look sallow.

5. Apply Sunscreen

Follow this step before going out in the morning. UV rays can severely damage your skin. They speed up the aging process, dry your skin, cause wrinkles and marks, and eventually make it sallow and dull. Apply sunscreen with at least SPF 30 or more.

6. Use Topical Vitamin C

Do this at night. Vitamin C serums and concentrates protect the skin surface from external damage and minimize the signs of aging, damage caused by free radicals, dark spots, and pigmentation. Here are a few products you may try:

7. Use Topical Retinol

Use it at night. Retinol can address a wide range of skin care issues. It reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and improves skin texture and tone. Consult a dermatologist before you start using retinol. Depending on the skin type and issues, they will determine the percentage of retinol required. You may try any of these products:

8. Choose Makeup Wisely

If you love makeup, be careful while picking your favorite products. Read the labels and check the ingredients before applying on your face. Make sure that the makeup you are using is oil-free and non-comedogenic. Otherwise, it might clog your skin pores and make your skin look dull.

Once you start the process, do not expect overnight results. Your skin might take a few weeks to renew itself. If you see no changes in your skin after several months, consult a doctor. It might be due to an underlying health issue, and unless that is resolved, your skin will not get back its lost glow.

Sallow skin requires thorough care. Even though your skin has a mechanism to take care of itself, it needs your help to keep it in good shape. If you have sallow skin, you have to be diligent with your skin care routine and revise your lifestyle choices.


Articles on StyleCraze are backed by verified information from peer-reviewed and academic research papers, reputed organizations, research institutions, and medical associations to ensure accuracy and relevance. Check out our editorial policy for further details.

Recommended Articles:

Was this article helpful?
The following two tabs change content below.
Ramona is a journalist-turned-content writer. She holds a Master’s degree in English Literature and has been writing for the digital world for over five years. She specializes in writing for Skin Care. She has done a certificate course titled ‘Dermatology: Trip To The Skin’, offered by Novosibirsk State University. She believes that beauty begins with a good skin care regimen and is on a mission to eliminate all toxins from her routine. She helps and guides readers in selecting products and ingredients specific to their skin type/issue. When Ramona is not working, her books and passion for music, good food, and traveling keep her busy.