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13 Best Skin Brightening Serums for a Lit-From-Within Glow

Shine on.

brightening serums
Astrid StawiarzGetty Images

Maybe it's the lack of vitamin D, maybe it's the clogged pores from laying on my couch pillows all day, but my skin has this dull pallor I 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 convince me that I'm not slowly morphing into Nosferatu with every passing day working from home. 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, like Vitamin C-infused serums, 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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1
For Hyperpigmentation
Rapid Dark Spot Correcting Serum
Murad sephora.com
$72.00

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

2
For A Retinol-Alternative
Glow Cycle Retin-ALT Power Serum
Ole Henriksen sephora.com
$58.00

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. 

3
For Acid Freaks
Resurfacing AHA + BHA Serum
Tata Harper sephora.com
$88.00

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. 

4
For Acne Scars
Violet-C Brightening Serum
Tatcha sephora.com
$88.00

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. 

5
For Dull Skin
Hydra-Bright Alpha Arbutin Drops
Glo Skin Beauty gloskinbeauty.com
$54.00

Alpha arbutin, a plant-based alternative to hydroquinone, is a major radiance booster. And when combined with lactic and azeliac acid, we're talking a full reboot for your complexion. Apply a couple drops all over your face, or tap it onto problem areas for an extra exfoliating boost.

6
For Tired Skin
Baku Anti Aging Serum
Terraform terraformbrands.com
$75.00

It's morning. You look in the mirror. You've aged five years overnight, somehow. Terraform's exfoliating serum can help wind back the clock with wrinkle-reducing bakuchiol and reishi, an adaptogen that improves cell rejuvenation to even out your tone. 

7
For An Overnight Glow
PM Active12 Serum
Ambari ambaribeauty.com
$98.00

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. 

8
For A Daily Boost
C E Ferulic
Courtesy
SkinCeuticals skinceuticals.com
$100.00

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. 

9
For Mature Skin
Brightening Serum
iS Clinical dermstore.com
$130.00

This formula is all about control—controlling the exact right amount 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.

10
For Dry Skin
That JLO Glow in a Multitasking Serum
JLO BEAUTY amazon.com
$118.00

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. This serum from her new line does it all—hydrates, brightens, firms, the works— thanks to its nourishing Olive Oil complex. 

11
For Dark Spots
Bright Skin Licorice Root Booster-Serum
Eminence Organic Skin Care dermstore.com
$56.00

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.

12
For Prevention
Vitamin B3 Brightening Serum
PCA Skin dermstore.com
$115.00

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. 

13
For Sensitive Skin
Pure Shots Light Up Brightening Serum
Yves Saint Laurent sephora.com
$120.00

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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