If your glow’s got up & gone (raises hand), get it back by adding one of these new radiance-boosting additions to your skincare routine
From highlighters to radiant-finish foundations for dry skin, our make-up can be the perfect way to add an instant dose of luminosity to skin. But while make-up is temporary (even the most budge-proof formulas sadly come off with our evening cleanse), skin-brightening products can give us that elusive lit-from-within glow that lasts long after our cosmetics come off.
But what exactly are skin-brightening products? Think of them as pick-me-ups for dull skin to help it look healthier and more radiant. They’re all about giving skin its glow back by working above and below the surface. This could be by sloughing off dead skin cells (to reveal bouncy new cells underneath) or a build-up of product, supporting cell turnover or helping balance out tone.
Sounds just the ticket for helping to offset the effects of everything from pollution and environmental aggressors to general wear and tear from the stresses of modern-day life. Here’s our guide to the skin-brightening ingredients you need to know about – think of them as your antidote to helping fend off signs of fatigue – as well as some of the latest beauty launches for some must-add-to-basket inspo.
What are the best skin-brightening products?
While it’s important to look at the formulation of a product as a whole, there are some ingredients that are worth looking out for. Here’s the lowdown on the most common:
Vitamin C – an antioxidant that helps protect skin against free-radical damage, supports collagen production and the skin’s defences against environmental stressors. Vitamin C products often vary in their potency. As a general rule of thumb, serums deliver a more concentrated version, which is great if you’re looking to target specific issues such as uneven skin tone or firmness. It can also be found in other products, such as eye creams formulated for dark circles, as well as cleansers, micellar waters, toners, moisturisers and masks, to give your usual staples extra glow-giving benefits.
Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) – the most well-known AHAs are glycolic acid and lactic acid, which when applied topically, can help resurface the epidermis, enabling the rest of your products to penetrate more deeply. They can also help even skin tone, aid in collagen production and are a particularly good choice for those with dry skin. If you have sensitive skin, try a low percentage option or a gentler AHA such as mandelic acid (helpful for oily skin and congestion) as its larger molecular weight (compared to other AHAs) allows it to penetrate more slowly.
Beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) – BHAs are oil-soluble exfoliants and are a great choice for those with oily or combination skin or if your key concerns are blemishes and/or clogged pores. The most well-known BHA is salicylic acid which, like AHAs, helps with cell turnover and exfoliation.
Polyhydroxy acids (PHAs) – these exfoliating acids are particularly great for sensitive or dehydrated skin types as they attract moisture and their molecules penetrate more gradually than other exfoliating acids. Common examples are gluconolactone, lactobionic and maltobionic.
These, along with AHAs and BHAs, can be found in leave-on exfoliants that generally sit in between your cleanser and moisturiser, as well as masks. They can also be found in cleansers, which tend to offer a milder alternative for those who have more delicate skin. If you’re new to acids, try incorporating one into your routine once a week and see how your skin gets on. Be wary of overdoing it though as this can disrupt the skin’s protective barrier and lead to irritation.
Retinol – a derivative of vitamin A, retinol products can help take the edge off everything from the appearance of wrinkles to dark spots and sun damage. As well as helping support collagen and elastin production, retinol increases surface cell turnover. What’s more, it can help unclog pores, making it a good option for those who have blemish-prone skin.
If you’re new to a retinol product, it’s a good idea to go low and slow to keep skin irritation to a minimum (particularly if you’ve chosen a retinol serum). Opt for a low percentage option to begin with (0.01% to 0.03%), applying it once a week over a six-week period to see how your skin reacts. It can also be a good idea to layer it on top of a moisturiser (applied all over or on more delicate parts of the face, such as underneath the eyes and sides of the nostrils) to act as a buffer while skin gets used to it. To reduce the risk of sensitisation, avoid using it with exfoliating acids.
Niacinamide – a form of vitamin B3, niacinamide is an all-star all-rounder when it comes to skincare. As well as helping with texture and tone, it can help reduce the appearance of enlarged pores and supports the skin barrier (skin’s first line of defence against moisture loss and environmental damage). From niacinamide serums to moisturisers, it can be found in a range of products – plus, it plays nicely with a variety of other ingredients, including retinols and peptides.
Mineral and chemical sun filters – sun damage can cause skin to look dull and lead to pigmentation. Also, exfoliating acids and retinols may cause skin to become more sensitive to sunlight, making sun filters all the more necessary. Look for a product that offers broad-spectrum UVA and UVB protection.
What are the best skin-brightening creams and products to have on your radar?
From the new launches that are causing a buzz to the hero products you already love, we’ve rounded up 13 of the best radiance-boosting serums and most effective skin-brightening creams to provide some valuable shopping inspo. Whether it’s a micellar water with brightening benefits, a new vitamin C serum to target tone and texture or a retinol serum to help increase surface cell turnover, we’ve got a range of skincare bases covered.
For a new skin-brightening face wash
Try: Liz Earle Beauty Cleanse & Glow Transforming Gel Cleanser
• Size: 150ml
When it comes to cleansers, it’s safe to say that Liz Earle Beauty knows its stuff. Cleanse & Polish is a skincare staple for many, but this new arrival looks set to cultivate a cult following of its own thanks to its skin-brightening ingredients and chameleon-like texture. Its melting formula transforms from luxe gel to lightweight oil to milk, with micelles that gently help mop up everything from end-of-day dirt to make-up. Enriched with acerola cherry (which contains vitamin C), black bee honey and elderberry seed oil, it’s a great face wash swap when looking for help in adding that elusive luminosity to lacklustre skin.
For a new micellar water with brightening benefits
Try: Garnier Micellar Vitamin C Cleansing Water
• Size: 400ml
Thanks to its brilliant ability to remove all remnants of after-work make-up, Garnier’s original micellar water has fast become our go-to when it comes to an effective (yet gentle) pre-cleanse step. At 400ml, it provides plenty of product for your pennies (as does the rest of the Garnier Vitamin C range), but the addition of a vitamin C derivative to this new launch gives it an extra edge. The micellar water is recognised by the British Skin Foundation and Allergy UK due to its soothing formula and suits a range of skin types.
For a brightening vitamin C toner
Try: No7 Radiance+ Vitamin C Glow Toner
• Size: 200ml
Toners, particularly vitamin C toners, can be a great choice if you’re looking for something that feels especially lightweight. This energising tonic fits the bill perfectly thanks to its formula containing 2% vitamin C and a beta hydroxy acid to help brighten and smooth. Those with oily or combination skin with occasional blemishes or blackheads will particularly love it.
For a gentle skin-brightening exfoliator
Try: The Inkey List PHA Toner
• Size: 100ml
This exfoliant is great for those looking for a milder, non-drying option for sloughing off dead skin cells. As well as 3% PHA, it contains 3% niacinamide and aloe barbadensis leaf juice to help smooth skin texture and moisturise.
For a high-strength exfoliating acid
Try: No7 Laboratories Resurfacing Peel 15% Glycolic Acid
• Size: 30ml
This high-strength, five-minute wash-off treatment is just the thing for dealing with everything from dead skin cells to impurities and pollutants. An effective exfoliating acid upgrade for those who are already used to using one (those who aren’t may want to start with something less potent), it leaves skin looking smoother, more radiant and refined.
For a new vitamin C serum for glowing skin
Try: Olay Vitamin C + AHA24 Day Gel Serum
• Size: 40ml
This new vitamin C brightening serum could be a great addition to your routine if you’re looking to address dullness and uneven skin tone. As well as ethyl ascorbic acid, a stable form of vitamin C, it contains niacinamide and lactic acid to help with tone and texture in one fell swoop. It’s also lightweight and fast absorbing, making it great for layering with your morning and evening moisturisers.
For a brilliant (but bank balance-friendly) vitamin C serum
Try: The Inkey List Vitamin C
• Size: 30ml
If vitamin C’s already a key part of your skincare routine, this option could be next on your must-try list. Containing 30% pure L-ascorbic acid, it not only provides support for your skin’s defences against environmental damage, but helps tone down hyperpigmentation and dullness. And, at just under £8, it won’t break the bank! Bonus.
For a blemish-control retinol serum
Try: CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum with Ceramides & Niacinamide for Blemish-Prone Skin
• Size: 30ml
Looking for a retinol serum that’s suitable for blemish-prone skin? Add this to your skincare regime. This exfoliating formula has been carefully designed to reduce the appearance of post-acne marks, while nourishing niacinamide and essential ceramides get to work, protecting the skin’s natural barrier. Use only in the evening and always follow with SPF protection in the daytime.
For a radiance-boosting retinol serum
Try: Boots Ingredients Retinol Serum
• Size: 30ml
This pick proves you needn’t spend big for a brighter complexion. As well as retinol, it’s been formulated with hydrating glycerin, calming bisabolol and other goodies to help improve elasticity and help skin look more rested when sleep is scarce.
For a brightening serum that targets dehydration and hyperpigmentation
Try: Eucerin Anti-Pigment Dual Serum
• Size: 30ml
It isn’t just this serum’s double-chamber bottle that makes it stand out, but its use of Thiamidol, a patented ingredient that helps tone down hyperpigmentation. What’s more, it contains short- and long-chain hyaluronic acid to help reduce roughness and dehydration, leaving skin softer looking, as well as more supple and even.
For a skin-brightening kit
Try: The Ordinary The Bright Set
• 1 x 50ml Squalane Cleanser
• 1 x 30ml Caffeine Solution 5% + EGCG
• 1 x 30ml Ethylated Ascorbic Acid 15% Solution
• 1 x 240ml Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution
For a complete radiance-boosting ritual, The Ordinary has you covered with this fantastic four-piece set. Its gentle Squalane Cleanser is a great choice for parched skin while the caffeine eye serum is ideal for dialling down puffy eyes. Uneven skin tone? Try its Ethylated Ascorbic Acid 15% Solution, which contains a hard-working vitamin C derivative to help with dullness. If your skin’s used to an exfoliating acid, the brand’s Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution could be your next must-try for helping to restore luminosity and clarity. We recommend using it in the evening once or twice a week to begin with and seeing how your skin gets on.
For a new skin-brightening cream
Try: Olay Vitamin C + AHA24 Day Gel Face Cream
• Size: 50ml
• Exclusive to Boots
If you’re looking to supercharge your moisturiser, opt for this instead of the serum in the range. Rich yet airy, hydrating and brightening, it helps perk up dull skin and keeps it soft and supple, from morning until evening.
For a hydrating and skin-brightening sunscreen
Try: La Roche-Posay Hyalu B5 Aquagel SPF30
• Size: 50ml
No glow-getting regime is complete without a sunscreen to protect skin from sun damage (especially when using actives that may make it more sensitive to UV rays). If the chalky texture and telltale white marks have put you off SPF in the past, this pick’s a revelation thanks to its hydrating gel formula and skin-softening ingredients. It’s a game changer.