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11 Best Brightening Moisturizers To Even Your Skin Tone

Consider these moisturizers to start you on your path to brighter and glowing skin.
Brand courtesy / Ahava
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Imagine there’s a product that recovers and hydrates the skin while lightening and fading discolorations at the same time. This is exactly what the best brightening moisturizers do, providing the perfect balance between replenishing and treating. Brightening moisturizers work so well because they are enriched with skin-lightening agents (think vitamin C or kojic acid) that target the root causes of hyperpigmentation and uneven skin tone. But as far as our love for moisturizers goes, they aren’t the most effective in addressing skin discolorations since they aren’t formulated to penetrate deep into the skin as serums do. As such, to get transformative results, use a more intense depigmenting treatment (like these vitamin C serums for hyperpigmentation) and apply your moisturizer of choice to support the brightening effects. Thank us later!

How we choose the products

We know that skin lightening and hyperpigmentation are serious businesses and products that address these concerns should be formulated with potent depigmenting agents to make visible changes. These agents are ingredients that decrease the pigment level (melanin) in the skin either by reducing the activity of the enzymes responsible for the pigment production (tyrosinase), sloughing off the already pigmented cells (exfoliation), or reducing the damage caused by the sun (antioxidants).[1][2]

Hence, to find the best brightening moisturizers, we have looked through products containing high concentrations of actives such as:

  1. Vitamin C (melanin suppressor, antioxidant)
  2. Kojic acid (melanin inhibitor, antioxidant)
  3. Azelaic acid (melanin suppressor, exfoliator, antioxidant)
  4. Retinol (antioxidant, melanin regulator)
  5. Glycolic or lactic acids (exfoliators)
  6. Niacinamide (melanin suppressor, antioxidant)
  7. Green tea (melanin inhibitor, antioxidant)
  8. Licorice extract (melanin suppressor, antioxidant)
  9. Resveratrol (melanin suppressor, antioxidant)

The best brightening moisturizers

Now, whether your goal is to fade unwanted hyperpigmentation, reduce dark spots look, or simply get a brighter and even complexion, the best brightening moisturizers featured ahead will help you a lot.

Best overall

Perricone MD Brightening Moisturizer SPF 30

Perricone MD Vitamin C Ester Photo Brightening Moisturizer

Brightening agents: Vitamin C

If there’s one good-for-all brightening face moisturizer that’s also ideal for all skin types, this is it. Perricone MD Vitamin C Ester delivers intense whitening effects thanks to tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate (a highly stable form of vitamin C) while shielding the skin against sun damage with SPF 30. It’s lightweight, oil- and fragrance-free, and skips harsh compounds such as sulfates and parabens so that anyone can use it, including oily and sensitive skins.

Best with exfoliators

SkinMedica AHA/BHA Brightening Cream

SkinMedica AHA/BHA Brightening Cream

Brightening agents: Glycolic acid, tartaric acid, malic acid, and vitamin C

Exfoliation is the foundation of brighter, radiant, and forever-young skin.[3] SkinMedica AHA/BHA Cream is one of the best brightening moisturizers, as it packs naturally derived glycolic acidmalic acid, tartaric acid, and salicylic acid to eradicate the pigmented cells buildup. There’s also ascorbyl palmitate (a stable form of vitamin C) that boosts radiance, while vitamin E provides an extra antioxidant shield. The cocktail of acids mixed with vitamin C not only enhances the skin tone and texture but is also very effective in tackling wrinkles, post-acne scars, and hyperpigmentation.

Best clean

Ahava Age Control Even Tone Moisturizer

Ahava Age Control Even Tone Moisturizer

Brightening agents: Vitamin C (ascorbic acid and ascorbyl glucoside), green tea, niacinamide.

This moisturizer is packed full of depigmenting actives including two sources of vitamin C, green tea and niacinamide, plus skin-soothing ingredients such as aloe vera, glycerin, and cucumber. This killer combination improves the skin’s appearance in all areas, delivering not only brightening benefits but a dose of moisture, minimizing dark spots look and evening out skin tone without irritating or drying the skin. 

Best for sensitive skin

Best brightening moisturizer for sensitive skin

Bliss Bright Idea Vitamin C Brightening Moisturizer

Brightening agents: Vitamin C, licorice extract, niacinamide, green tea

One of the best brightening moisturizers for sensitive skin comes from Bliss. The ingredient list is at least promising, with ascorbic acid on top of the list, followed by niacinamide, vitamin E, and green tea. They work to reveal the glowing, perfectly even skin of your dreams by increasing the body’s antioxidant defense and blocking the enzymes responsible for melanin production. Furthermore, the addition of tripeptide improves skin firmness by protecting collagen degradation, while glycerin, aloe vera, and ceramides ensure the product won’t cause irritations.

Best with SPF

best skin brightening moisturizer with spf

Neutrogena Bright Boost Moisturizer with Sunscreen

Brightening agents: Vitamin C, acetyl glucosamine

The hero ingredient in this moisturizer is acetyl glucosamine, a multi-tasking antioxidant shown to reduce discolorations by blocking the action of tyrosinase.[6] But there’s much more glucosamine can do. It stimulates hyaluronic acid synthesis, accelerates skin recovery, improves hydration, and decreases wrinkles — you’ve finally met your new skincare BFF. Besides, Neutrogena Bright Boost Facial Moisturizer boasts vitamin C, E, and glycerin for increased protection and moisture power, plus SPF 30, making it the best brightening moisturizer with SPF out there. And it costs no more than $21.

Best with vitamin C

Ole Henriksen C-Rush™ Brightening Double Crème

Ole Henriksen C-Rush Brightening Gel Crème

Brightening agents: Vitamin C (ethyl ascorbic acid, tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate, ascorbic acid), omega-6 fatty acid

We couldn’t make a list of the best brightening moisturizers without mentioning Ole Henriksen C-Rush Brightening Gel Crème. Since it’s powered by three potent sources of vitamin C, the moisturizer works like a charm at correcting hyperpigmentation and dark spots in as little time as possible. It’s also full of skin-loving ingredients such as vitamins B5, E, sodium hyaluronate, hyaluronic acid, and omega-3 fatty acids. Their role is to deliver a burst of hydration and keep the skin barrier healthy.

Best for dry skin

Sunday Riley Vitamin C Cream

Sunday Riley C.E.O. Vitamin C Rich Hydration Cream

Brightening agents: Vitamin C, green tea, turmeric extract, Kakadu plum extract

If you have dry, dehydrated skin, reach for Sunday Riley C.E.O. Vitamin C Rich Hydration Cream. It’s one of the best brightening moisturizers for dry skin because it combines the hydrating and softening effects of shea butter, squalane, and sodium hyaluronate with powerful brighteners such as vitamin C, turmeric extract, and Kakadu plum extract — a rich source of vitamin C with dark spot-fading properties. You can finally say goodbye to hyperpigmentation, dark patches, uneven skin tone, and lack of radiance.

Best natural

Caudalie Vinoperfect Brightening Moisturizer

Caudalie Vinoperfect Instant Brightening Moisturizer

Brightening agents: Viniferine, niacinamide

Caudalie puts on the table one of the best brightening moisturizers for all the organic skincare lovers out there. The star ingredient in this moisturizer is viniferine, a natural extract of grapevine sap that promotes a bright and radiant complexion by regulating melanin levels. More reasons to try Caudalie Vinoperfect Instant Brightening Moisturizer include niacinamide, vitamin E, squalane, and sodium hyaluronate.

Best with retinol

Kate Somerville Retinol Vitamin C Moisturizer

Kate Somerville +Retinol Vitamin C Moisturizer

Brightening agents: Vitamin C, retinol

The purpose of Kate Somerville +Retinol Vitamin C Moisturizer is simple: to visibly resurface, firm, and brighten while reducing the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines. Here, retinol stimulates cell turnover, eliminating the excess pigment, while vitamin C adds antioxidant protection and puts a stop to melanin production. In the meanwhile, hyaluronic acid and vitamin B5 keep skin hydrated with their water-binding capacities, adenosine soothes irritations, and vitamin E adds an extra layer of defense against sun damage.

Best for sun-damaged skin

Dermalogica Biolumin-c Gel Moisturizer

Dermalogica Biolumin-c Gel Moisturizer

Brightening agents: Vitamin C, licorice, green tea

Dermalogica Biolumin-c Gel Moisturizer is an amalgam of antioxidants mixed with hydrators, anti-irritants, skin-identical ingredients, and natural brighteners. It’s best for preventing hyperpigmentation in the first place but is just as good for treating sun-damaged skin and lightening existing discolorations — thanks to green tea, vitamin C, and licorice extract. This moisturizer is also something you’d want in the winter since it’ll get your skin on steroids with a blend of replenishing ingredients such as squalane, hyaluronic acid, Centella asiatica (cica), and allantoin.

Best for wrinkles

StriVectin Advanced Retinol Face Moisturizer

StriVectin Advanced Retinol Intensive Night Moisturizer

Brightening agents: Retinol, retinal palmitate, resveratrol, niacinamide

If your skin craves anti-aging and brightening formulas, then it asks for StriVectin Advanced Retinol Intensive Night Moisturizer. Since it contains retinol and retinal, it does magic at restoring skin firmness and glow while reducing the look of deep wrinkles, fine lines, and other aging marks. At the same time, resveratrol enhances skin brightness by decreasing melanin content and NIA-114 — a much more potent form of niacinamide — strengthens the skin’s barrier. The moisturizer does all that working the night shift so that you wake up to a bright and plumped complexion.

References
  1. Couteau C, Coiffard L. Overview of Skin Whitening Agents: Drugs and Cosmetic Products. Cosmetics. 2016; 3(3):27. https://doi.org/10.3390/cosmetics3030027
  2. Cheng AD, De La Garza H, Maymone MBC, Johansen VM, Vashi NA. Skin-Lightening Products: Consumer Preferences and Costs. Cureus. 2021;13(8):e17245. Published 2021 Aug 17. doi:10.7759/cureus.17245
  3. Rendon MI, Berson DS, Cohen JL, Roberts WE, Starker I, Wang B. Evidence and considerations in the application of chemical peels in skin disorders and aesthetic resurfacing. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2010;3(7):32-43.
  4. Hollinger JC, Angra K, Halder RM. Are Natural Ingredients Effective in the Management of Hyperpigmentation? A Systematic Review. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2018;11(2):28-37.
  5. Yokota T, Nishio H, Kubota Y, Mizoguchi M. The inhibitory effect of glabridin from licorice extracts on melanogenesis and inflammation. Pigment Cell Res. 1998 Dec;11(6):355-61. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0749.1998.tb00494.x. PMID: 9870547.
  6. Bissett DL. Glucosamine: an ingredient with skin and other benefits. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2006 Dec;5(4):309-15. doi: 10.1111/j.1473-2165.2006.00277.x. PMID: 17716251.
  7. Boo YC. Human Skin Lightening Efficacy of Resveratrol and Its Analogs: From in Vitro Studies to Cosmetic Applications. Antioxidants (Basel). 2019;8(9):332. Published 2019 Aug 22. doi:10.3390/antiox8090332
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