Maybe it's the lack of vitamin D, perhaps it's the clogged pores from laying on our couch for far too much of the day, but our skin has a dull pallor we haven't been able to shake. Whatever the cause, our complexions need a major tune-up to bring back a lively glow—one that will convince us that we're not slowly morphing into Nosferatu with every passing day. Brightening products, brightening serums specifically, can add an illuminating boost to any routine regardless of your skin type. And if you're prone to dark spots, (opens in new tab) acne scars (opens in new tab), or uneven skin tone, the best skin-brightening serums can be especially helpful for bringing your skin back to baseline.
After swapping favorite formulas like Vitamin C-infused serums with fellow editors for years and attending endless beauty launches, we've amassed a skin-brightening arsenal that helps shed the dead skin cells and dry patches (opens in new tab) that often develop on our skin. If you can relate, keep scrolling for the very best radiance-boosting formulas to restore some much-needed light back into a dull visage.
Dark spots can be distracting when applying makeup, and if you have a ton, you might need more than just a spot treatment. Murad's all-over glycolic acid serum helps speed up cell turnover and sheds away the surface cells that make you look less radiant.
FOR ACNE SCARS
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 CULT-LOVED FORMULA
Sunday Riley's products come with a cult following—Good Genes (opens in new tab), we see you—and the brand's C.E.O. brightening serum is no exception. It's mega-lightweight, sans a tacky feel that soothes skin upon application. And, expectedly for a beloved Vitamin C product, it combats dullness and pigmentation while supporting natural cell turnover for glowy-AF skin.
FOR BRIGHTENING & TIGHTENING
Loss of firmness is no match for Drunk Elephant's daytime serum. This clean yet ultra-potent formula is packed with antioxidants and fruit enzymes, including pumpkin ferment and pomegranate extract that perk up your skin with a zing-like feel akin to biting into a tangy lemon.
FOR MEDICAL-GRADE VITAMIN-C
If you're a L-ascorbic acid enthusiast, Obaji's medical-grade formula is a concentrated dosage of the good stuff to help lighten dark spots, reduce the appearance of pigmentation, and encourage collagen and elastin fiber growth. It deeply penetrates and sinks in fast, so you can comfortably layer products during the day sans build-up.
FOR MATURE SKIN
This formula is all about controlling the exact right amount of exfoliation that will lift dark spots and even tone without overdoing it. A potent blend of kelp extract, antimicrobial mushroom extract, and de-clogging white willow bark makes this a clinical-strength addition to your medicine cabinet.
FOR A RETINOL-ALTERNATIVE
Retinol may be the gold standard for anti-aging, but it can often prove too strong for sensitive skin. That's why OleHenriksen combined bakuchiol, a plant-based alternative for the ingredient, with AHAs in its glow-bestowing serum. Its gentle exfoliating effects clear 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 LUXE RADIANCE
Dr. Barbara Sturm's formulas are incredibly gentle but hardworking as ever. This brightening serum does more than create a radiant complexion by reducing visible signs of pigmentation (which it does in spades). It refines skin tone and texture for a smoother and tighter look and feel. Plus, it reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles—seriously, this stuff is magic.
FOR ACID FREAKS
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 DULL SKIN
Alpha arbutin, a plant-based alternative to hydroquinone, is a serious radiance booster. And when combined with lactic and azelaic acid, we're talking a complete reboot of your complexion. Apply a couple of drops all over your face, or tap it onto problem areas for an extra exfoliating boost.
FOR TIRED SKIN
It's morning. You look in the mirror. And somehow, you've aged five years overnight. Terraform's exfoliating serum can help wind back the clock. How? With wrinkle-reducing bakuchiol and reishi, an adaptogen that improves cell rejuvenation to even out your tone.
FOR AN OVERNIGHT GLOW
CBD is the sleeper ingredient in this bedtime formula. A blend of resurfacing acids and natural retinol alternative bakuchiol work to smooth out your skin's texture, while a potent dose of cannabidiol reduces inflammation to quell inflammation and prevent redness.
FOR A DAILY BOOST
For your consideration: the illuminating staple of beauty editors everywhere. Its powerful formula blends brightening L-ascorbic 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 DRY SKIN
Who among us wouldn't want J.Lo's skin? The answer is no one, and now, we can get one step closer to our impossible goal. Thanks to its nourishing Olive Oil complex, this serum from her new line does it all—hydrates, brightens, firms, the works.
FOR DARK SPOTS
If unwanted dark spots plague your complexion, licorice may be your stealthy new fixer. The plant lifts discoloration with lactic acid and tara tree without irritating even the most hypersensitive skin.
This serum is skilled on both offense and defense: while it improves existing unevenness, it also inhibits melanogenesis—the formation of melanin in condensed areas that create those pesky dark spots.
FOR SENSITIVE SKIN
Marshmallow gives this gentle, lightweight liquid its illuminating power. The plant is known for its hydrating, anti-inflammatory effects that balance the Vitamin Cg that packs an exfoliating punch.
Laura Lajiness Kaupke (opens in new tab) is a freelance writer and editor covering fashion, accessories, fine jewelry, and lifestyle topics, including beauty, home, fitness, and travel. You can see her work across various outlets, including VOGUE, Harper’s BAZAAR, ELLE, Glamour, Town&Country, InStyle, Esquire, Women’s Health, Brides, Refinery 29, Coveteur, The Zoe Report, Popsugar, Byrdie, WWD, Footwear News, Well+Good, The Editorialist, among other titles and brands. Laura has worked in the fashion industry for over 11 years and held senior fashion editor positions at Popsugar and The Zoe Report, with additional experience as a copywriter and fashion publicist.
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