What Does Brightening Serum Do?

Brightening serums, also known as lightening serums, are a little misunderstood since they’re often confused to be skin whitening products simply because of the wording in their names. Today, let’s break down what brightening serum does and what you can expect from the best brightening serums.

Brightening Serums – How They Work

A brightening serum is just that: a type of serum used to either brighten your skin in general by helping to improve the appearance of dullness, or to target specific dark spots. At their core, brightening serums are a type of “skin brightener”, which is a catchall term for all kinds of skin lightening (not whitening) products.

All skin brighteners, including face serums, are products aiming to help with various forms of uneven skin tone through some extent of lightening. 

For instance, hydroquinone is one of the most well-known skin brightening agents, but recent health concerns have led most brightening serum manufacturers to avoid using it in their formulas. 

In its place, more natural ingredients like arbutin/alpha arbutin (hydroquinone's naturally derived cousin), potent antioxidants like ferulic acid, vitamin C (ascorbic acid) and vitamin B3, and acids like kojic acid, hyaluronic acid, lactic acid, and glycolic acid, have all been used instead to produce more naturally-derived skin brightening effects, and to great results.

A lot of brightening serums also incorporate moisturizing and hydrating ingredients like glycerin to help improve overall skin health and further boost the long list of benefits that the best brightening serums have to offer. 

Brightening serums are "thin" skin brighteners and are ideal for oil-prone skin types. They're typically quite easy to rub into the skin and can be absorbed quickly, as well. Depending on the exact brightening serum, you may experience additional benefits, which we'll get into below.

Benefits of Brightening Serum

First and foremost, brightening serum can, of course, brighten your skin. The way it does this will vary from product to product.

For instance, some brightening serums can make your skin a little more vibrant by directly inhibiting melanin production or by targeting inflamed spots, while other brightening serums may increase cell turnover rate – in other words, they make your skin replace dead skin cells with new, younger, and more radiant skin cells more often. This also results in younger-looking skin across the board. 

For this reason, even younger folks may desire to use a brightening serum for anti-aging support even if they don't already have apparent signs of aging like fine lines or dark spots. Aging spots are one of the number one reasons to consider using a brightening serum. 

Some topical serums can be applied directly to dark spots, acne scars, sun damage, blemishes, or other localized discolorations on the skin. The ingredients can then tackle the things causing the discolored skin and return it to its natural skin color.

Of course, all this begs the question – does brightening serum actually give you a lighter skin tone? 

Not in the way you imagine.

For a brightening serum to actually work that way, it would have to contain many more bleach-like components. Even more importantly, such products are usually not good for the skin, and often come with a host of negative side effects. In the U.S., skin-whitening products aren't really popular, anyway.

The brightening described above refers more to general radiance or youthful color. Brightening serums can make your skin look younger, healthier, and more vibrant regardless of skin tone. Think of the resulting brightening more like a newfound glow. The complexion-boosting benefits are often the best part of using a brightening serum.

Another good reason to consider a brightening serum is that many products can improve the elasticity of your skin. That’s because lots of brightening serums contain retinol or collagen, both of which can help your skin maintain its youthful shape and appearance for longer.

For others, brightening serums may be effective for evening out skin tones. Lots of people have different splotches of color across their faces – these are mild discoloration zones where your skin tone might look a little different from place to place. Applying a topical brightening serum could help you even your skin tone and produce a more uniform tone across the board.

Ingredients to Target

As with virtually all skincare products, you should always prioritize brightening serums that use natural ingredients instead of harsh chemicals. These are better for your overall skin health and for the long-term benefits they can provide.

A great example of an ideal brightening serum is Suki Skincare’s Even-Tone Brightening Serum. This product uses only natural ingredients like flower oils, licorice root extract, and other plant-based powerhouses for ultimate nourishment. The resulting serum can help with your overall complexion and can improve uneven skin tone.

Potential Ingredients to Avoid

As mentioned, you should always try to avoid brightening serums that make use of hydroquinone. This is a dedicated bleaching agent and can cause serious negative side effects, particularly for those who have darker skin tones. Double check the ingredients for parabens, too, as they are sometimes used to help preserve natural ingredients but unfortunately come with unpleasant side effects. 

How to Use Brightening Serum

The great news is that brightening serum is pretty easy to incorporate into an existing facial skincare routine.

  • Start by applying toner and following the rest of a full skincare routine.
  • After applying toner, apply some of your brightening serum to your face. Only one or two drops is necessary for your whole face, or you can apply a drop to any specific spots of discoloration.
  • Rub the serum into your skin using your fingertips.
  • Then, use a moisturizer to seal in water and help hydrate your face.

You can use brightening serums either at the beginning or end of the day. Nighttime users may want to combine their brightening serum with Suki Skincare’s Moisture-Rich Brightening Mask, which can support the effects of the brightening serum along with providing a host of other benefits like soothing and moisturizing the skin, and contains several antioxidants that fight free radicals and may reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation or redness.


Overall, brightening serums can be effective if used correctly, and if you use natural-based products, even those with sensitive skin can benefit (though don't be afraid to consult with your dermatologist if you have concerns about adding this to your routine!). Brightening serums are especially excellent for reducing the appearance of aging spots and helping to improve skin health and the appearance of a more even skin tone. Consider these serums if your skin is naturally splotchy, or if you want to boost your exfoliation efforts for even more radiant results!





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