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A Comprehensive guide to brightening serums for radiant skin

Dermatology experts share what you need to know about serums that can help you get brighter, glowy skin.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Sep 30, 2023 • 6 min read
Medically reviewed by Meredith Hartle, DO
Brightening Serum
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Sep 30, 2023 • 6 min read
Medically reviewed by Meredith Hartle, DO
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

Brightening serums have become a go-to skincare solution for those seeking a radiant and even complexion. These specialized serums are typically formulated with powerful ingredients that work to address common skin concerns such as dark spots and dullness. So how can you pick the best brightening serum for your skin? Keeping a close eye on a product’s ingredients will help!

We asked Curology’s team of licensed dermatology providers to unpack the benefits that brightening serums can bring to your skin. They’ll also share which ingredients to look for when you’re hoping to get glowy, radiant skin.

What are serums?

Cosmetic serums are formulations that typically contain a high concentration of active ingredients. 

You can use serums to address a wide range of skincare concerns. Whether your goal is to combat signs of agingimprove hydration, diminish hyperpigmentation, or enhance overall skin health, serums offer targeted solutions for a multitude of skin issues.¹

Serums are great at penetrating the skin thanks to their lightweight formulations. This enables them to target underlying skin concerns effectively. The rapid absorption of serums also ensures that the active ingredients reach the intended areas without leaving any greasy residue behind.²

Benefits of “brightening” serums

Sometimes, there can be too much melanin production or problems with its distribution, which can result in hyperpigmentation. This shows up as dark spots or patches on the skin. Skin brighteners are treatments that help regulate the production and distribution of melanin. They work to even out the skin tone, reducing the appearance of hyperpigmentation and giving the skin a more balanced look.³

Studies have shown that stable antioxidant formulations have promising effects on skin brightening, improving overall skin pigmentation.⁴ Furthermore, the use of skin-brightening cosmetics has shown statistically significant improvements in radiance and smoothness within just two weeks. By week four, noticeable enhancements were observed in hyperpigmentation, overall skin clarity, evenness of skin tone, and reduction in wrinkles.⁵

Types of brightening serum

Several different ingredients may be found in brightening serums. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that brightens the skin and protects it from UV-induced photoaging. Kojic acid inhibits the production of melanin, making it a popular ingredient in cosmetics for skin brightening. Niacinamide is another compound that helps even out the skin tone and has been proven effective in treating hyperpigmentation. Here’s what you should know about each.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C, known as ascorbic acid, is an antioxidant that not only brightens the skin but also helps protect it from the damaging effects of UV-induced photoaging.⁶

While taking vitamin C orally may not provide optimal skin protection due to challenges in delivering the right amount of antioxidants to the skin, applying vitamin C topically has been shown to be more effective in safeguarding the skin from photoaging.⁷

In a study, participants who used a product containing vitamin C (among other ingredients) for two weeks experienced an 18% improvement in facial brightness.⁸ This improvement continued to increase over time.⁹

Kojic acid

Kojic acid (KA) is a naturally occurring compound produced by fungi that has the ability to inhibit the activity of an enzyme called tyrosinase, which is involved in the production of melanin. KA is widely known for its diverse applications in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, agriculture, and food. In cosmetics, KA serves as a brightening ingredient in topical products.¹⁰

Niacinamide

There is another ingredient that helps brighten the skin by controlling how melanin, the pigment responsible for skin color, is transferred from skin cells called melanocytes to keratinocytes (cells that make up the outermost layer of the skin). This ingredient is called niacinamide.¹¹

Niacinamide is a well-known and widely recognized ingredient that helps even out the skin tone and is effective in treating various skin conditions, including hyperpigmentation disorders.¹² It has been extensively studied and is commonly used as a skin-lightening agent.

Treat your skin to a personalized routine

Incorporating a brightening serum into your skincare regimen can help you to get visibly brighter, more radiant skin. However, it’s important to choose serums with stable formulations and consult with a dermatology provider or skincare professional to determine the most suitable product for your specific needs and concerns.

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

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Curology offers personalized skincare based on your needs. By answering a handful of questions and taking a few photos of your skin concerns, our licensed dermatology providers can provide you with skincare options that are suited to your needs. Sign up for a 30 day trial* today!

FAQs

What does a brightening serum do?

Brightening serums can come with a range of benefits! Targeting dark spots and uneven skin tone promotes a more uniform complexion. Common ingredients in brightening serums may include vitamin C or niacinamide.

Is vitamin C serum for brightening?

Short answer: yes! Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant that not only visibly enhances skin brightness but also shields against the harmful consequences of UV-induced photoaging. This is done by stopping the production of melanin, which is what gives our skin its color.¹³

What serum helps address dark spots?

According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, vitamin C serum has been shown to reduce skin aging and dark spots. However, to get the best results, a dermatology provider can advise you on the most suitable serum for your skin. 

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don't have to: 

  1. Sasidharan, S. Formulation and evaluation of fairness serum using polyherbal extracts. International Journal of Pharmacy. (July 2014). 

  2. Sasidharan, S. Formulation and evaluation of fairness serum using polyherbal extracts. International Journal of Pharmacy. Ibid.

  3. Saeedi, M., et al. Kojic acid applications in cosmetic and pharmaceutical preparations. Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy. (February, 2019). 

  4. Draelos, Z.D., et al. A novel skin brightening topical technology. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology. (December 2020).

  5. Farris, P., et al. Efficacy and Tolerability of a Skin Brightening/Anti-Aging Cosmeceutical Containing Retinol 0.5%, Niacinamide, Hexylresorcinol, and Resveratrol. Europe PMC. (2016, July 1).

  6. Draelos, Z.D., et al. A novel skin brightening topical technology. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology. Ibid.

  7. Draelos, Z.D., et al. A novel skin brightening topical technology. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology. Ibid.

  8. Draelos, Z.D., et al. A novel skin brightening topical technology. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology. Ibid.

  9. Draelos, Z.D., et al. A novel skin brightening topical technology. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology. Ibid.

  10. Saeedi, M., et al. Kojic acid applications in cosmetic and pharmaceutical preparations. Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy. Ibid.

  11. Hakozaki, T., et al. The effect of niacinamide on reducing cutaneous pigmentation and suppression of melanosome transfer. Br J Dermatol. (July 2002).

  12. Shariff, R., et al. Superior even skin tone and anti‐aging benefit of a combination of ‐hexylresorcinol and niacinamide. Internal Journal of Cosmetic Medicine. (2022, February 1).

  13. Draelos, Z.D., et al. A novel skin brightening topical technology. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology. Ibid.

Meredith Hartle is a board-certified Family Medicine physician at Curology. She earned her medical degree at Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine in Kirksville, MO.

*Cancel anytime. Subject to consultation. Results may vary.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Meredith Hartle, DO

Meredith Hartle, DO

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