We all know (and love) what strategically placed highlighter or a touch of bronzer can do. That lit-from-within glow that products can instantly provide has been the focus of many articles and makeup lines—and for good reason. It can transform you into an effervescent goddess, distract from imperfections, and, perhaps most importantly, make it look like you really did get a full night of beauty sleep. But what if, instead of creating that glow with makeup, you could wake up with naturally radiant skin?
Enter brightening serums, your key to getting the perfectly toned, even skin that we all dream about. These powerful products often contain potent antioxidants, like vitamin C. These formulas can help diminish dark spots, refine skin texture, and create an overall luminous complexion. By adding this one step to your routine (after cleansing but before moisturizing), you'll never have to rely solely on makeup to hide imperfections and deliver the glow you want. With claims like these, it's no wonder that almost every brand has a stake in the brightening realm. To help you choose which serum will be your new holy grail, we've rounded up favorites for every price point. Team Byrdie loves these too, so rest assured that they're tried-and-true.
Keep reading to find out which brightening serums are the best of the best.
Alchimie Forever Pigment Lightening Serum
Good for sensitive skin
This serum is packed full of rejuvenating actives like hyaluronic acid and vitamins C and E, but it also includes a slew of skin-calming ingredients. This combination improves the skin's appearance on all fronts—evening out skin tone and reducing signs of aging, and delivering not only a brightening effect but a dose of hydration as well.
Benefits: Reduces uneven pigmentation, fine lines and age spots | Skin Type: Normal | Dosage: Twice a day | Size: 1 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Tata Harper Concentrated Brightening Serum
Evens out skin tone
At the higher end of the spectrum, Tata Harper's serum is considered to be one of the best. This lightweight serum is full of natural ingredients that promise to minimize the appearance of dark spots and impart a luminous look on the skin, and it's safe for even the most sensitive skin types. Yes, it's pricey, but only because it uses pure ingredients that really do work.
Benefits: Evens out discoloration, dark spots, and dullness | Skin Type: Dry | Dosage: Twice a day | Size: 1 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
The Ordinary Alpha Arbutin 2% + HA
Easy to apply
Great for sun damage
Has a sticky feel
Hyaluronic acid is a naturally occurring polysaccharide found in the human body. It acts as a cushioning and lubrication agent for our joints, nerves, hair, skin, and eyes. When used in skincare, it acts as a moisture binder, which means that it will attach itself to the water in the cells (while also attracting and holding water from the air) making them plump.
Coming in at under $10, this serum packs a huge punch without breaking the bank. It's formulated with a 2% concentration of alpha arbutin, a powerful skin brightener known for being gentler than its counterparts. “This is a naturally-occurring skin lightener that blocks the enzymes responsible for melanin production,” explains board-certified dermatologist Dr Ife J. Rodney, founder of Eternal Dermatology in Fulton, MD. The ingredient is supported by hyaluronic acid and slowly released for an enhanced delivery, which sets it apart from other brightening serums.
Benefits: Reduces the appearance of dark spots and uneven skin tone | Skin Type: All | Dosage: Twice a day | Size: 1 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
What Our Testers Say
"The Ordinary's Alpha Arbutin 2% + HA is a game-changer for hyperpigmentation, especially when used with a cohesive skincare routine." — Bianca Lambert, Product Tester
Skinceuticals C E Ferulic
Good for sensitive skin
Remains effective for 72 hours
Adds a glow
No list of our favorite serums would be complete without this offering from SkinCeuticals. We have sung its praises time and again. As its moniker suggests, it's a magical blend of vitamins C and E, plus ferulic acid in the formula that helps to transform and even skin tone both instantly and over time, leaving behind an impeccable glow. Dr. Rodney is a fan of this formula too, lauding the brand’s unique formula that maximizes the stability and efficacy of vitamin C and yields, “impressive results.”
Benefits: Protects against free radicals and aging | Skin Type: Dry, Normal, Sensitive | Dosage: Once a day | Size: 1 oz. | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Caudalie Vinoperfect Radiance Dark Spot Serum
Adds a glow
Evens out hyperpigmentation
Might not work fast enough for some
The secret to this cult-favorite serum is its active ingredient, viniferine, which comes from grapevine sap. This lightweight serum was recently named America's number one favorite product for evening skin, so you can rest assured that it's not lacking at all in efficacy.
Benefits: Tackles uneven texture, dark spots, and dullness | Skin Type: Normal, Combination | Dosage: Twice a day | Size: 1 oz. | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: Yes
What Our Testers Say
“Applying this serum day and night appeared to make an honest difference. Not only was my skin visibly more even-toned, it definitely had more of a glow.” — Gabrielle Dyer, Product Tester
Dr. Dennis Gross C + Collagen Brighten & Firm Vitamin C Serum
Adds a glow
Makes skin feel clear
Peels when makeup is applied on top
Vitamin C is an essential nutrient required for the growth and repair of tissues in all parts of the body, including the skin, but we cannot produce it on our own. For the skin, it helps to boost collagen, lighten discoloration, and fight free radicals.
Brightening, firming, and anti-aging, this serum does it all. Dr. Dennis Gross's answer to the brightening craze is this highly potent serum that helps to support collagen and fights sun damage with vitamin C. We love that it's formulated without any unwanted minerals or heavy metals, so you can feel good about using it every day for maximum effect.
Benefits: Evens out skin texture and dullness | Skin Type: Oily, Combination, Normal | Dosage: Once a day | Size: 1 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Chantecaille Blanc Gardenia Brightening Essence
Adds a glow
Doesn't clog the pores
Has a sticky feel
This offering from Chantecaille uses a blend of plant stem cells and botanical extracts in the formula to brighten and even skin. Ingredients like green decaffeinated coffee gently exfoliate the skin while water lily extract soothes and prevents further damage, resulting in a product that not only sounds indulgent but also delivers enviable results.
Benefits: Evens out discoloration and dark spots while firming and brightening | Skin Type: Dry | Dosage: Daily | Size: 1.05 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Klairs Freshly Juiced Vitamin Drop
Gentle for sensitive skin
Firms the skin
Packaging causes oxidation
When it comes to skincare, we trust Korean brands to bring us the latest and greatest. This serum is no exception. It uses vitamin C to fade spots and keep skin firm and youthful. While it doesn't compromise on quality, it does come in at a very affordable price. And to top it off, it was awarded the Soko Glam 2015 Best of Beauty Award. What more could you ask for?
Benefits: Tackles UV rays, uneven texture, irritation, scars, and brown spots | Skin Type: All | Dosage: Once a day overnight | Size: 1.18 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
No product can better help you achieve the glowing, even skin of your dreams than a brightening serum. Vitamin C is one of the best brightening ingredients you can use; it’s the star of the show in several of our favorite formulas, including the Alchemie Forever Pigment Lightening Serum and the derm-beloved SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic. Alpha-arbutin is another great natural lightener, you can find it in The Ordinary Alpha Arbutin 2% HA, a super affordable and effective pick. And if you want a serum that really can do it all, try the Dr. Dennis Gross C+ Collagen Brighten & Firm Vitamin C Serum, which does exactly what the name suggests.
What to Look For In a Brightening Serum
Rodney says this is one of the best brightening ingredients out there. It’s both a powerful protective antioxidant, but also works to inhibit the production of tyrosinase, an enzyme needed for melanin (AKA pigment production).
These help to slough off dead, discolored cells, revealing healthy, more even-toned skin underneath, Rodney explains.
Rodney also likes this natural ingredient, which helps reduce brown spots by slowing down melanin production in target areas.
According to our Diversity Pledge, 15% of products in our newly-published market roundups will feature Black-owned and/or Black-founded brands. At the time of publishing, we were not able to find any brightening serums from a Black-owned and/or Black-founded business. If you know of one we should consider, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will evaluate the product ASAP.
When should I use brightening serum?
Always check the label of your products to see what the manufacturer recommends. But depending on the type of brightening serum you’re using, you can typically use it up to two times per day: in the morning and at night. That said, products that contain actives such as alpha hydroxy acids should typically be used only once per day or less often, as they can potentially over-dry and irritate the skin. If your brightening serum doesn’t contain any exfoliating or drying ingredients, it’s probably safe to apply twice per day.
Can I use brightening serum under makeup?
Usually you can. Many brightening serums work well under makeup. You can use a brightening serum as a primer, as some may help makeup apply more evenly and look smoother. And it goes without saying, but always apply your makeup after you have completed your entire skincare routine. But you might want to skip using a brightening serum under makeup if your product contains potentially irritating ingredients that can cause initial redness.
Who should use brightening serum?
Brightening serum that doesn’t contain any exfoliants should be safe for most, if not all, skin types. With brightening serums that do contain chemical exfoliants, you’ll first want to make sure that those ingredients are a fit for your skin type. All skin types can generally benefit from a brightening serum, as they’re designed to make skin appear smoother and more glowing. There are many serums that also address signs of aging.
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Sarkar R, Arora P, Garg KV. Cosmeceuticals for Hyperpigmentation: What is Available? J Cutan Aesthet Surg. 2013;6(1):4-11. doi:10.4103/0974-2077.110089
Zduńska K, Dana A, Kolodziejczak A, Rotsztejn H. Antioxidant Properties of Ferulic Acid and Its Possible Application. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2018;31(6):332-336. doi:10.1159/000491755
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