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)
This iconic concealer is super smooth, insanely creamy and packs some long-lasting, full coverage. While it’s definitely on the higher-priced side, the combination of great coverage and a nondrying formula ensure that you’ll get tons of use out of your one purchase. Particularly if you struggle with dryness or fine lines, the hydrating formula will help ensure that you don’t get any of the dreaded patchiness or flaking that can happen with other not-so-great concealers.
Nars Radiant Creamy Concealer ($30; sephora.com)
An absolute cult favorite, this creamy concealer is a staple in so many people’s makeup bags for good reason. It provides a perfect level of medium coverage, so you won’t end up looking cakey or having to spend tons of time blending out a thick product. It’s long-wearing, a breeze to blend and all around a really perfect concealer to have — whether you’re going for dolphin skin or any other radiant makeup look.
The next step is to add some dimension and warmth back into your complexion. Phillips opts for the Westman Atelier Face Trace Cream Contour Stick to carve out the face, and the Nudestix Nudie Matte in Sunkissed to add back some warmth and natural glow.
Then, she applies a velvety powder blush to the apples of the cheeks for that pop of color. Two of her go-to brands are Pat McGrath Labs and Tom Ford. Another option would be to stick with a cream or liquid blush for an even dewier look. Some of our liquid favorites include the Soft Pinch Liquid Blush from Rare Beauty and the BeachPlease Lip + Cheek Cream Blush from Tower 28.
Westman Atelier Face Trace Cream Contour Stick ($48; sephora.com)
“I really love using this contour stick to add dimension to the face,” shares Phillips. “This creamy contour stick has clean, soothing ingredients that blend effortlessly into the skin.”
Nudestix Nudies Matte Blush & Bronze ($34; ulta.com)
To add warmth, Phillips uses this multitasking stick in the shade Sunkissed (a coral bronze color) on the cheeks and “anywhere the sun would naturally hit” for a glowing, bronzed effect. You can also use this product on your eyes or lips for a sleek, monochromatic makeup look.
Pat McGrath Labs Skin Fetish: Divine Powder Blush ($38; sephora.com)
This super-soft powder blush is a breeze to blend and features a unique velvety finish that makes it a favorite among everyday makeup wearers and professional makeup artists alike. Reviewers rave about how high quality this blush is (no surprise given the brand’s iconic reputation), and it boasts a 4.8-star rating from over 550 reviews.
Tom Ford Cheek Color ($67; cosbar.com)
Another velvety option, this blush from Tom Ford is perfect for all types of makeup wearers. From those who prefer a hint of color to those who want serious payoff, the formulation is all about prioritizing comfort and buildability. The result is a super-versatile, practical blush perfect for glowing, radiant looks.
Rare Beauty Soft Pinch Liquid Blush ($20; sephora.com)
Liquid blushes have skyrocketed in popularity. They’re a simple way to achieve a ton of color payoff without having to use a lot of powder, which makes them perfect for dewy makeup looks. A teeny-tiny bit of this product goes an extremely long way, so don’t be afraid to start out with just a little bit. It’s available in two different finishes — a radiant and matte option. Though for the dewiest of dolphin skin looks, we’d recommend sticking with the radiant formulation.
Tower 28 BeachPlease Lip + Cheek Cream Blush ($20; tower28beauty.com)
Similar to liquid blushes, cream blushes are seemingly everywhere nowadays. They distinguish themselves by being super quick and easy to apply, and easy to build up to your ideal level of pigmentation. This tinted balm is seamless to blend and has a natural, luminous finish that pairs perfectly with dolphin skin — you’ll never have to worry about looking dry or cakey.
A key product when it comes to achieving the dewy, almost wet look of dolphin skin is a cream highlighter. And though it’s probably not a staple in most makeup bags, it’s a game changer when it comes to achieving that natural-looking glow without layering on powder.
Phillips starts out with the Marc Jacobs Glow Stick, which she applies using her fingertips. Henney opts for the Tom Ford Shade and Illuminate Cream Face Palette, which includes both a cream contouring shade and a cream highlighter. After cream, Phillips follows up with a powder highlighter to add that extra glow. Specifically, the Tom Ford Sheer Highlighting Duo in Reflect Gilt or the ByMe. Sheer Brilliance Highlighter, both options that “add the perfect amount of reflective luster to the skin,” she shares.
Another option when it comes to maximizing the wet look of dolphin skin? Gently tap a facial oil (Henney recommends the La Mer Renewal Oil) onto the top of your cheekbones. If you’re worried about looking greasy or shiny, Henney shares that it’s all about placement. She suggests applying products like oil or highlighters to very specific parts of your face — like the top of the cheekbones, the center of your nose and on your Cupid’s bow.
Marc Jacobs Glow Stick ($21, originally $42; marcjacobsbeauty.com)
This sheer, cream highlighter leaves a “uniquely mist-like radiance” on the skin, which is flattering to both warm and cool complexions. And unlike other highlighters, it leaves a fresh-looking sheen on the skin — as opposed to a glittery finish that isn’t always the most natural-looking. Phillips recommends targeting the product on the high points of your face — specifically the top of your cheekbones and down the bridge of your nose. Then, blend until the product has completely melted into your skin.
Tom Ford Shade and Illuminate Cream Face Palette ($88; sephora.com)
Unlike traditional cream contour sets, this highlighting shade in this duo is more sheer, which makes it perfect for achieving that wet, dolphin skin look. “It gives the most stunning finish on the skin,” shares Henney, “super shiny and glossy.” And though the price is a bit steep, you’ll also get a super-creamy contour shade, which is perfectly suited for this makeup look and nearly any other.
Tom Ford Sheer Highlighting Duo and Eye Palette ($84; sephora.com)
This duo features a shimmering rose and yellow-gold highlight that can be worn separately or mixed together. And though it’s not the most affordable, reviewers rave that nothing compares to this highlighter — especially when it comes to a radiant, wet glow. It’s not glittery, and can be swiped on for a subtle shine or built up into an intense, wet-looking sheen.
ByMe. Sheer Brilliance Highlighter ($24; mybeautybrand.com)
These highlighters are made with a light-reflecting mica that leaves a beautifully luminous and iridescent finish. They’re easy to build, are formulated with natural oils for a smooth and seamless application and have that swoon-worthy powder-to-cream finish — which is just what you want when it comes to this trend.
6. Finishing touches
As a last step, Phillips lightly dusts the Laura Mercier Translucent Loose Setting Powder onto areas of the face to reduce unnecessary shine. As a general rule of thumb, you’ll want to apply these to any areas you didn’t highlight — since applying a setting powder over a cream highlighter or oil-based product would just mattify it. Instead, focus applying to areas of the face you would avoid emphasizing with highlighter like your forehead, T-zone or chin.
Laura Mercier Translucent Loose Setting Powder ($39; sephora.com)
According to Phillips, the key to dolphin skin is hydration, seamless blending and knowing where to add powder and where to let your skin shine. A translucent setting powder like this one is key to balancing the coveted radiance of dolphin skin without looking like a greasy mess. It helps to “set your makeup while allowing your highlighted areas to glisten and gleam,” Phillips shares.