6 Ingredients To Use To Brighten Your Skin

‘Bright skin’ is a term that gets thrown around a lot in makeup lingo – we all know (and love) the magic that a strategically placed highlighter or illuminating primer can do. That ‘lit from within glow’ is the end goal of every beauty look – but what if you want to get that glow without makeup? 

Good news for those suffering from dull, scarred, or uneven skin – there are plenty of ingredients that can help to reduce dark spots, fade pigmentation, and create an overall radiant complexion. By adding these ingredients into your routine, you can wake up with naturally radiant skin, instead of having to rely on makeup. 

These ingredients can be split into two categories – those that block melanin (pigment) from affecting cells (and leaving marks), and those that speed up cell turnover (fading existing marks and removing dead skin).  

Here’s the breakdown on the best skin-brightening ingredients and exactly how they work. 

Vitamin C

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Category: Prevents pigment 

How it works: Vitamin C keeps skin bright and clear by preventing inflammation and blocking pigment production. This stops skin from forming marks after trauma (e.g. post-acne pigmentation or sun damage) which gives the appearance of a dull, uneven complexion. 

Top tip: Use in the morning (vitamin C is an antioxidant so also offers skin defence against pollutants) and avoid mixing with retinol, AHAs, and BHAs.  

One to try: Rodial Vitamin C Brightening Cleansing Pads

Glycolic Acid

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Category: Speeds up cell turnover 

How it works: Glycolic acid works by breaking down the dead skin cells in the top layers of skin. As the dull, dead skin cells are removed, they are replaced by fresh, new ones. This makes the skin appear clearer and brighter, and over time helps to fade the appearance of scars and pigmentation. 

Top tip: Use in the evening after cleansing and before applying serums and moisturiser. Avoid using retinol or vitamin C immediately after. 

One to try: Mario Badescu Glycolic Acid Toner

Retinol

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Category: Speeds up cell turnover 

How it works: Upon application, retinol breaks down into retinoic acid, which increases cell turnover in the upper layers of skin and triggers cell regeneration in the base layers. As each renewed layer comes closer to the surface, skin appears brighter and clearer, and marks or scars increasingly fade. 

Top tip: Apply in the evening, avoid layering with AHAs, BHAs, and vitamin C, and always wear SPF the morning after application. 

One to try: Revolution Skincare Fine Line Correcting Serum 0.2% Retinol

Lactic Acid

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Category: Speeds up cell turnover 

How it works: Similarly to glycolic acid, lactic acid dissolves the upper layers of dead skin cells, kickstarting a process of renewal that means fresh new cells come to the surface and make skin appear brighter. Lactic acid has larger molecules that glycolic acid, so doesn’t penetrate as deeply and is less likely to irritate skin. 

Top tip: Use in the evening after cleansing and before applying serums and moisturiser. Avoid using retinol or vitamin C immediately after. 

One to try: Freck Cactus Cleansing Lactic Acid Toner

Azelaic Acid

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Category: Prevents pigment 

How it works: A natural skin brightener derived from wheat, azelaic acid has anti-inflammatory properties, so is particularly effective at treating redness and uneven skin tone caused by conditions such as acne, rosacea, and melasma. It cleverly only targets excess melanin, so won’t lighten healthy skin. 

Top tip: Azelaic acid also has antibacterial properties and helps to clear dead skin cells, so is an ideal ingredient in a skincare routine for acne-prone skin. 

One to try: The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%

Alpha Arbutin

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Category: Prevents pigment 

How it works: A safer (yet still very effective) alternative to hydroquinone (a popular skin brightening ingredient that has been banned in the UK), alpha arbutin is a natural ingredient that reduces skin’s melanin (pigmentation) production. It’s particularly effective at fading the appearance of dark spots left behidn by sun damage and breakouts. 

Top tip: use with vitamin C for maximum benefits. 

One to try: The Ordinary Alpha Arbutin 2% + HA