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Editor-Approved Brightening Serums for Lit-From-Within Skin

Time to glow up.

milan, italy   september 25  a model is seen backstage ahead of the etro show during milan fashion week springsummer 2016  on september 25, 2015 in milan, italy  photo by s alemdargetty images
S. Alemdar

For the past few days, I've been waking up with the sun, eager to make coffee, take my supplements, and start my day. (I can't explain why, but I'm trying to roll with it while it lasts.) I head to the bathroom first thing, still groggy from sleep, to wash my face. I look in the mirror, poke in my contacts and... sigh. I don't look bad, per se, but I look more bleh than usual. Maybe it's the lack of vitamin D, clogged pores from laying on my couch pillows more often, or just general malaise, but my skin has this dull pallor I just haven't been able to shake. Clearly, my complexion is in need of a major tune-up to bring back a lively glow—one that will ensure my boyfriend that he's not trapped in isolation with Nosferatu. Brightening products, serums specifically, can add an illuminating boost to any routine regardless of your skin type. And if you're prone to dark spots, acne scars, or uneven skin tone, they can be especially helpful for bringing your skin back to baseline. After swapping favorite formulas with fellow editors for years and attending endless beauty launches, I've hoarded an arsenal of exfoliating formulas that help shed the dead skin cells and dry patches I'm prone to developing on my skin. Here, the very best formulas for bringing some much needed light back to a dull visage.

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For A Daily Boost
C E Ferulic
SkinCeuticals skinceuticals.com

For your consideration: the illuminating staple of beauty editors everywhere. Its powerful formula blends brightening L-absorbic acid (in other words, Vitamin C) and antioxidant Ferulic acid to neutralize the free radicals that damage skin and diminish your glow.  Sure, it smells like dirty hot dog water, but there's a reason skin pros re-up on their supplies over and over again. 

For Dark Spots
Bright Skin Licorice Root Booster-Serum
Eminence Organic Skin Care dermstore.com

If unwanted dark spots plague your complexion, licorice may be your stealthy new fixer. The plant, along with lactic acid and tara tree, lift discoloration without irritating even the most touchy skin.

For Acne Scars
Violet-C Brightening Serum
Tatcha sephora.com

Japanese Angelica Root extract is the secret ingredient in this serum, which has been used in Eastern herbal medicine to heal skin and improve the appearance of acne scarring for centuries. When combined with a whopping 20% vitamin C blend and fruit enzymes, it creates a gentle yet effective powerhouse that'll soften and smooth uneven skin. 

For A Retinol-Alternative
Glow Cycle Retin-ALT Power Serum
Ole Henriksen sephora.com

Retinol may be the gold standard for anti-aging, but it can often prove too strong for sensitive skin. That's why Ole Henriksen combined bukachiol, an plant-based alternative for the ingredient, with AHAs in its glow-bestowing serum. Its gentle exfoliating effects clears away dead cells that can clog up an otherwise clear face, and its subtle lavender shade neutralizes yellowness in your complexion to even tone. 

For Prevention
Vitamin B3 Brightening Serum
PCA Skin dermstore.com

This serum is skilled on both offense and defense: while the serum improves existing unevenness, it also inhibits melanogenesis—the formation of melanin in condensed areas that create those pesky dark spots. 

For Acid Freaks
Resurfacing AHA + BHA Serum
Tata Harper sephora.com

Harper's farm-to-face skincare might be natural, but it's also super effective. This daily serum contains AHAs, BHAs, and vitamin C-rich Kakadu plum and acts as a gentle peel to resurface and remove dead skin cells to improve luminosity. And no need to worry about makeup application afterward: a pump in the morning creates a smooth canvas for a full-face makeover. 

For Sensitive Skin
Pure Shots Light Up Brightening Serum
Yves Saint Laurent sephora.com

Marshmallow gives this gentle, lightweight liquid it's illuminating power. The plant is known for its hydrating, anti-inflammatory effects that add balance to the Vitamin Cg that packs an exfoliating punch. 

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