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12 Best Brightening Moisturizers To Even Your Skin Tone

Consider these best brightening face moisturizers to start you on your path to brighter and glowing skin.
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Brand courtesy / Ahava

Imagine there’s a product that recovers and hydrates the skin at the same time while lightens and fades discolorations. 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 while nourishing the skin.

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!

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How we choose the products

We know that skin lightening and hyperpigmentation are serious businesses, and products that address these concerns need to be formulated with potent depigmenting agents to make visible changes.

In general, 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]

To find the best brightening moisturizers, we have looked through products containing high concentrations of brighteners, such as:

  1. Vitamin C (melanin suppressor, antioxidant)
  2. Kojic acid (melanin inhibitor, antioxidant)
  3. Azelaic acid (melanin suppressor, exfoliator, antioxidant)
  4. Retinol (exfoliator)
  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, it’s this one. 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 skin folks and those with sensitive skin.

Best for exfoliation

SkinMedica AHA/BHA Brightening Cream

SkinMedica AHA/BHA Brightening Cream

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

Exfoliation is key to brighter, radiant, and forever-young skin, as it removes those cells that have been affected by excess pigment.[3]

As one of the best brightening moisturizers, SkinMedica AHA/BHA Cream combines naturally derived glycolicmalic, and tartaric acids with salicylic acid to provide a deep exfoliation that eradicates the buildup of old skin cells from the surface in order to allow new, healthy ones to take their place.

There’s also ascorbyl palmitate (a form of vitamin C) that boosts skin’s brightness and radiance, while vitamin E provides extra antioxidant protection. The cocktail of acids mixed with vitamin C not only enhances the skin tone and texture but is also very effective in combating wrinkles, post-acne scars, and hyperpigmentation. Finally, vitamin B5, squalane, aloe vera, and bisabolol are added to soothe inflammations and calm the skin.

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.

Ahava never goes wrong, and this brightening moisturizer is no exception, being one of its most-loved products for intensifying the skin texture and fading discolorations.

The moisturizer is packed full of depigmenting actives like two sources of vitamin C, green tea and niacinamide, which works as antioxidants and melanin suppressors[4], 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 ethyl ascorbic acid (a stable and very soluble form of vitamin C) 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.

This moisturizer is formulated with licorice extract, a powerful antioxidant and natural skin lightener that limits pigment formation.[5] Furthermore, the addition of tripeptide improves skin firmness by protecting collagen degradation, while glycerin, aloe vera, and ceramides ensure the high concentrated actives in this product won’t cause irritations.

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Best brightening moisturizer with SPF

best skin brightening moisturizer with spf

Neutrogena Bright Boost Facial Moisturizer with SPF

Brightening agents: Vitamin C, acetyl glucosamine

The hero ingredient in this moisturizer is acetyl glucosamine, a multi-tasking antioxidant shown to reduce discolorations and have depigmenting effects 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 glucosamine, the formula includes vitamin C, E, and glycerin, for increased protection and moisture power, plus it gives SPF 30. People with oily skin should consider this brightening moisturizer too, since it’s non-comedogenic and contains silica to keep the skin matte by absorbing excess oil. And it costs no more than $21.

Best for everyone

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, dark spots and illuminating skin’s appearance in as little time as possible.

It is also full of skin-loving ingredients such as vitamins B5, E, sodium hyaluronate, hyaluronic acid, omega-3, and omega-6 fatty acids. Their role is to maintain hydration and keep the skin barrier healthy, meaning fewer chances of sensitivity. More than that, omega-6 fatty acids are known to possess spot-fading and skin-lightening abilities by suppressing melanin production. So it actually delivers skin-transforming benefits.

Best for dry skin

Sunday Riley Vitamin C Cream

Sunday Riley C.E.O. Vitamin C Brightening Moisturizer

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

If you have dry, dehydrated, or problematic skin, reach for this brightening moisturizer by Sunday Riley. It’s one of the best brightening moisturizers for dry skin because it combines the hydrating and softening effects of shea butter, squalane, glycerin, and sodium hyaluronate with the depigmenting power of vitamin C, green tea, and turmeric extract. It not only contains vitamin C at the top of the ingredient list (aka high concentration), but there’s also Kakadu plum extract, which is a rich source of vitamin C with dark spot-fading properties.

With such a strong formula, you can say goodbye to hyperpigmentation, dark patches, uneven skin tone, and lack of radiance.

Best natural brightening moisturizer

Caudalie Vinoperfect Brightening Moisturizer

Caudalie Vinoperfect Instant Brightening Moisturizer

Brightening agents: Viniferine, niacinamide

Caudalie puts on the table one of the best natural 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 bright, radiant skin by regulating melanin levels, thought to be more potent than vitamin C. More reasons to try this moisturizer include niacinamide, vitamin E, squalane, and sodium hyaluronate. The formula is very effective for fading brown spots and lightening skin color, resulting in a luminous and dewy complexion.

Best with retinol

Kate Somerville Retinol Vitamin C Moisturizer

Kate Somerville +Retinol Vitamin C Moisturizer

Brightening agents: Vitamin C, retinol

This moisturizer is where vitamin C meets retinol, the glorified gold standard ingredient for anti-aging. Here, retinol stimulates cell turnover and removes the excess pigment in the skin, while vitamin C adds antioxidant protection and puts a stop to melanin production. In the meanwhile, hyaluronic acid and vitamin B5 (panthenol) pamper the skin with their water-binding capacities, adenosine soothes irritations, and vitamin E adds an extra layer of defense against sun damage. The purpose of Kate Somerville +Retinol Vitamin C Moisturizer is simple: to visibly resurface, firm, and brighten the skin while reducing the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines. 

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 simply 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. Thanks to its high-concentrated formula in retinol and retinal, the moisturizer does magic at restoring skin firmness and glow while reducing the look of deep wrinkles, fine lines, and other aging marks. The unique property of these two skincare powerhouses to promote cell turnover also aids in revealing a brighter and even skin tone. 

At the same time, resveratrol, an antioxidant that supports skin brightening by decreasing melanin synthesis[7], and NIA-114, a much potent form of niacinamide with skin-barrier strengthening and pigment-reducing abilities, deliver even more intense brightening effects. And you don’t even have to worry about irritations, as the moisturizer is full of skin-soothing ingredients.

After all, Strivectin products never disappoint!

Best with kojic acid

ProactivMD Ultra-Hydrating Moisturizer

ProactivMD Ultra-Hydrating Moisturizer

Brightening agents: Kojic acid, licorice extract, green tea, white mulberry extract, bearberry leaf

ProactivMD Ultra-Hydrating is one of the best brightening face moisturizers out there because it uses a complex of potent natural brighteners, including kojic acid, green tea, licorice, white mulberry, and bearberry leaf, to restore skin radiance and correct the appearance of hyperpigmented skin.

The addition of sodium hyaluronate, squalane, and bisabolol makes this moisturizer super gentle, even for those with easily reactive skin. It delivers transformative results in terms of skin lightening, whether it’s about dark spots, sun marks, or acne scars. Yes, yes, and yes!

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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