Skin Brightening vs. Skin Lightening: What’s the Difference? | LovelySkin

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Skin Care

Skin Brightening vs. Skin Lightening: What’s the Difference?

Skin Brightening vs. Skin Lightening: What’s the Difference?

Skin brightening and skin lightening—they’re the same thing, right? Not so much. Even if you’re hip on skin care lingo, it can be tough to differentiate between the two, but we’ve got you covered! Learn about the difference between lightening and brightening and how to determine what products best suit your needs.

What is skin brightening?

Do you remember that feeling you got the first time you ever used your favorite cleanser, serum or moisturizer? That “new product glow” you fell in love with was actually skin brightening! A bright complexion is radiant, youthful and fresh. As our skin ages, the structure of skin breaks down, skin cells turn over less frequently and skin loses its ability to retain water. Brightening products contain youth-enhancing ingredients to combat these concerns and bring skin’s natural vitality back. We consulted with Dr. Joel Schlessinger, board-certified dermatologist and CEO of LovelySkin, to discuss how to brighten skin.

“Brightening your skin is much easier than you’d expect because brightening products exist in unexpected places—including the sunscreen you should wear every day! With retinols, vitamin C and alpha hydroxy acids in so many products, these highly effective ingredients can brighten our complexions by increasing cell turnover and exfoliating, all the while improving our skin’s ability to produce collagen and elastin. Brightening your skin can happen when you add one of these essential ingredients to your regimen.”

Check out some of our favorite products for achieving a brighter, more radiant complexion:

LovelySkin LUXE Exfoliating Gel Mild 11%: This gentle yet powerful gel exfoliates skin with amino acids to diminish the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and large pores. Plus, it also contains vitamin C to boost collagen production and firm skin, leaving behind a brighter, more youthful complexion.

LovelySkin LUXE Exfoliating Gel Mild 11%

Obagi Professional-C Serum 20%: Maintain skin’s structure with this antioxidant-enriched serum that fortifies the complexion to keep dark spots and wrinkles at bay. This concentrated serum improves cellular turnover to promote a more radiant complexion while also maintaining hydration with hyaluronic acid.

Obagi Professional-C Serum 20%

PCA SKIN Facial Wash: Purify your complexion with this lactic acid- and willow bark-enriched facial cleanser that gently exfoliates while freeing pores of dulling debris. The refreshing cleanser keeps skin hydrated with aloe vera, so skin will never be left feeling tight or dry.

PCA SKIN Facial Wash

NIA24 Intensive Retinol Repair: Diminish the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and dark spots with this retinol- and Pro-Niacin-powered cream that smooths and firms the complexion while keeping skin nourished with peptides, hyaluronic acid and botanicals.

NIA24 Intensive Retinol Repair

What is skin lightening?

Skin lightening is much different than skin brightening, because lightening refers to the pigment in your skin. A product that “lightens” actually targets melanin, which gives skin its color, to diminish the appearance of dark spots and hyperpigmentation. Products that have the ability to lighten skin typically contain ingredients like kojic acid, alpha arbutin and alpha hydroxy acids, which are great for evening skin tone and diminishing the appearance of sun damage. Dr. Schlessinger says:

“Patients often ask how to lighten skin without resorting to lasers, and the answer is complicated. Lightening dark spots and hyperpigmentation takes patience and practice, and almost always requires the expertise of a dermatologist. However, there are a multitude of excellent products on the market that can provide relief.”

Check out some of our favorite, dermatologist-approved lightening products:

Obagi-C Fx C-Clarifying Serum: Lighten the appearance of dark spots, hyperpigmentation and other visible signs of aging with this arbutin-powered serum. The non-comedogenic formula is also boosted with vitamin C to protect skin against free radical damage, diminish the appearance of wrinkles and minimize discoloration.

Obagi-C Fx C-Clarifying Serum

SkinCeuticals Discoloration Defense: Target dark spots, post-acne marks and more with this powerful serum that uses potent ingredients to reduce visible skin discoloration. A powerful blend of tranexamic acid, kojic acid, niacinamide and HEPES helps even skin tone and texture for a more radiant complexion.

SkinCeuticals Discoloration Defense

SkinMedica LYTERA 2.0 Pigment Correcting Serum: Prevent and repair discoloration with this peptide-enriched serum that targets melanin production to diminish the appearance of dark spots and other hyperpigmentation. A potent combination of niacinamide, phytic acid, phenylethyl resorcinol and tranexamic acid correct discoloration with little to no irritation.

SkinMedica LYTERA 2.0 Pigment Correcting Serum

Jan Marini Luminate Face Lotion MD: Diminish visible signs of aging and discoloration with this alpha-arbutin-enhanced lotion that accelerates cellular turnover with retinol. The colorless formula promotes a more even, youthful complexion and is suitable for all skin types.

Jan Marini Luminate Face Lotion MD

AFA Brightening Gel: Minimize the appearance of discoloration in all skin types and tones with this revolutionary gel that exfoliates with amino acids and antioxidants. Ferula foetida root extract, which reduces the production of melanin, keeps skin even-toned and radiant. Plus, this brightening gel is suitable for use on the face, hands and body, making it great for use wherever skin is uneven or dull.

AFA Brightening Gel

Don’t forget that the number one way to prevent dark spots, hyperpigmentation and skin cancer is to wear sunscreen! Read more about the preventing dark spots on our blog.

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Highlights
  • Supports collagen production
  • Reduces fine lines, wrinkles and pores
  • Contains an 11% blend of exfoliating AFAs
Quick Shop +
$80.00
Staff Favorite
4.8 out of 5 stars
Based on 34 reviews
LovelySkin Exfoliating Gel Mild 11% LovelySkin Exfoliating Gel Mild 11%
LovelySkin LUXE Exfoliating Gel Mild 11%
Highlights
  • Prevents premature signs of aging
  • Promotes collagen production
  • Brightens a dull complexion
Quick Shop +
$107.95 was $127.00
4.8 out of 5 stars
Based on 545 reviews
Obagi Professional C Serum 20% bottle. Shop Obagi products at LovelySkin for top-rated Vitamin C serums. Obagi Professional C Serum 20% bottle. Shop Obagi products at LovelySkin for top-rated Vitamin C serums.
Obagi Professional-C Serum 20%
Highlights
  • Balances the complexion
  • Gently exfoliates to remove impurities
  • Hydrates and smooths skin
Quick Shop +
$33.00
4.7 out of 5 stars
Based on 71 reviews
PCA SKIN Facial Wash pHaze 1 PCA SKIN Facial Wash pHaze 1
PCA SKIN Facial Wash
Highlights
  • Encourages cell renewal with retinol
  • Fades fine lines and wrinkles
  • Improves sun damage
Quick Shop +
$110.50 was $130.00
Staff Favorite
4.6 out of 5 stars
Based on 37 reviews
NIA24 Intensive Retinol Repair NIA24 Intensive Retinol Repair
NIA24 Intensive Retinol Repair
Highlights
  • Hydroquinone-free
  • Reduces fine lines and wrinkles
  • Prevents future damage
10% Rewards Back
Quick Shop +
$107.10 was $126.00
4.7 out of 5 stars
Based on 48 reviews
Obagi-C Fx C-Clarifying Serum Obagi-C Fx C-Clarifying Serum
Obagi-C Fx C-Clarifying Serum (New Hydroquinone-Free Formula)
Highlights
  • Corrects sun damage
  • Brightens a dull complexion
  • Corrects dark spots
Quick Shop +
$98.00
4.4 out of 5 stars
Based on 85 reviews
SkinCeuticals Discoloration Defense SkinCeuticals Discoloration Defense
SkinCeuticals Discoloration Defense
Highlights
  • Hydroquinone-free
  • Controls melanin production
  • Diminishes dark spots
10% Rewards Back
Quick Shop +
$154.00
4.5 out of 5 stars
Based on 151 reviews
SkinMedica LYTERA 2.0 Pigment Correcting Serum SkinMedica LYTERA 2.0 Pigment Correcting Serum
SkinMedica LYTERA 2.0 Pigment Correcting Serum
Jan Marini Luminate Face Lotion MD Jan Marini Luminate Face Lotion MD
Jan Marini Luminate Face Lotion MD
Highlights
  • Actively lightens discoloration
  • Sloughs off dulling skin cells
  • Antioxidants promote a more youthful appearance
Quick Shop +
$99.00
0 out of 5 stars
Based on 0 reviews
AFA Brightening Gel AFA Brightening Gel

About the Author

Ashley is a content writer at LovelySkin and a self-declared beauty junkie. She enjoys reading and watching Harry Potter, spoiling her chihuahua (who is a proud Gryffindor), and trying out new products.

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