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best skin brighteners

Top Skin Brighteners: Everything You Need to Know

Hotter temperatures and intense conditions - looking at you, intense dryness and humidity - mean that heavy makeup is a no-go. And, to be honest, you probably wouldn’t want to cake on the foundation even if it didn't melt right off your face!

Layered makeup in the summer months can clog pores and exacerbate existing skin concerns (and nobody has time for that).

That’s why our philosophy is to have skin so bright and clear that you won’t need any war paint to start your day!

Here are the top skincare ingredients to get that fresh-from-the-beach glow.

Vitamin C

vitamin c skin brightener
For all skin types

Best for:

  • Brightening complexion
  • Preventing signs of aging
  • Fighting free radical damage

Ingredient tips & tricks:

Vitamin C does a few great things for your skin:

  • Fights against free radicals caused by environmental pollutants
  • Stimulates your natural collagen production
  • Brightens skin tone
  • Fights and prevents acne
  • Reduces dark spots or hyperpigmentation

That said, some forms of vitamin C can actually cause irritation and be difficult to tolerate. If your skin is sensitive, we recommend that you start with SAP (the form found in Cloud Whip).

This is the most stable form of vitamin C, meaning that it will never oxidize or decrease in effectiveness with time. It also easily penetrates the skin, unlike ascorbic acid - the form that most brands use - which is not easily or effectively absorbed.


For all skin types

Best for:

  • Treating acne scars
  • Regulating sebum production
  • Reducing oiliness

Ingredients tips & tricks:

If your skin tends to be sensitive to traditional brightening ingredients - or if the rest of your skincare regimen incorporates powerful actives - we recommend that you try niacinamide. It’s a form of vitamin B3 that can comes from foods such as meat, fish, milk, eggs, green vegetables and grains. It’s easily absorbed by the skin and works by gradually lightening pigment over the course of a few months.

Niacinamide is also one of the few ingredients that can reduce inflammation and sebum (oil) production, which can balance oily complexion and minimize acne.

As it’s well tolerated by most people, niacinamide can be used twice a day every day by most (use it with vitamin C to get maximum benefits from both of these powerhouse ingredients).

Glycolic Acid

For all skin types except extremely sensitive

Best for:

  • Exfoliation
  • Deep acne or breakouts
  • More vibrant, luminous skin

Ingredients tips & tricks:

If you’re dealing with more profound acne or hyperpigmentation disorders, then consider glycolic acid. This AHA - usually derived from sugarcane - is known to soften skin, decrease sebum, and increase circulation and collagen.

Glycolic acid is generally recognized as the most effective AHA because it’s the smallest molecule of the bunch and therefore the most easily absorbed into the skin.

It also contains phytic acid, which aids in skin clarity and brightness.

The best news? Glycolic acid is one of the few brightening ingredients that you can find in many different forms: as a chemical peel, moisturizer, toner, and as a cleanser ingredient.

A great glycolic cleanser like Bright Side cleanses the skin of dirt, oil, and debris while sloughing away dead skin and pore-clogging impurities. This can help you consistently and mildly address dull skin, acne, and other blemishes.

Licorice Extract

For all skin types

Best for:

  • Fighting inflammation and puffiness without causing irritation
  • Those that want a more natural brightening option
  • Those looking for antioxidants in their brightener

Ingredients tips & tricks:

Licorice has three primary components - glycyrrhizin, liquirtin, and glabridin - that all work to fight hyperpigmentation, acne scars, and melasma. 

Glabridin, in particular, suppresses the overproduction of melanin and keeps your skin from developing pigmentation in response to sun exposure. Licorice can also protect the skin from the harmful and damaging UV radiation.

Licorice extract works by mimicking tyrosinase, the enzyme that allows for the production of melanin, and “fakes it out” so that the actual enzyme is never actually produced - pretty cool! You can try it for yourself in our Soulmate brightening treatment.

The herb also contains over 300 different compounds that possess anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-microbial, and antitumor properties.

Kojic acid

For all skin types, except sensitive

Best for:

  • Melasma
  • Major hyperpigmentation issues

Ingredients tips & tricks:

This brightening ingredient is extracted from various fungi, particularly Aspergillus. It usually comes from mushrooms, though it can also be created during the sake brewing process from fermented rice.

Like licorice, kojic acid works by inhibiting tyrosinase, the enzyme that causes dark spots. As a result, kojic acid has been known to effectively fade stubborn melasma and most types of hyperpigmentation.

That said, it can be more irritating than other options on the list, particularly if it’s used in conjunction with retinoids, AHAs, or vitamin C. So if you have sensitive skin, look for a product with a lower percentage of kojic acid (around 1%) and make sure that the rest of your routine is soothing, hydrating, and free of strong actives.


For all skin types

Best for:

  • Mixing with other strong ingredients
  • Morning and night usage

Ingredient tips & tricks:

Also known as alpha arbutin, this is the ingredient that most rivals hydroquinone, the most popular (and problematic) skin brightener. In fact, it’s often known as “the natural hydroquinone” because of its similar chemical composition - minus all the risks and side effects.

At its most basic, arbutin is a molecule extracted from the bearberry plant. It also works by inhibiting tyrosinase - but it’s much more gentle on the skin than other comparable ingredients.

For this reason, it can be used in combination with more potent products and on sensitive skin.

Azelaic Acid

azelaic acid skin brightener barley wheat

For all skin types. 

Best for:

  • Boosting cell turnover
  • Treating hyperpigmentation, melasma, and redness
  • Fighting acne, even if you have sensitive skin or rosacea

Ingredient tips & tricks:

Azelaic acid is a dicarboxylic acid that is made from products like barley and wheat. It can be considered more of a chemical exfoliant - similar to glycolic acid - than an outright skin brightener. This gentle, stable, leave-on exfoliant can be applied topically to unclog pores and even out skin tone.

Over time, it works to diminish the appearance of blemishes, fade acne marks and discoloration, and refine the skin’s texture and surface.

When it comes to skin brightening, this ingredient destroys melanocytes, the skin cells that produce melanin. It also has anti-bacterial properties (which makes it good at calming acne and inflammation) and is considered safe to use during pregnancy.

If you want to get the full benefits, look for products that contain at least 10% azelaic acid. Luckily, these are available over-the-counter.

Happy brightening!