What Does Brightening Actually Mean?

We use a lot of different words to describe our ideal skin. While ones like clear, glowing, and even are easy to identify, there’s one word that is used quite often that many of us don’t necessarily understand: brightening.

Some people think it refers to skin lightening (which it definitively does not) while others think it means a type of highlighting. It’s such an important part of healthy looking and feeling skin, that we thought it was time to clear up the confusion once and for all.

From which skin tones it works best for to the must-have products and ingredients, here’s everything you’ve ever wanted to know about brightening.

Ok, so what exactly is it?

“Brightening is the removal of dead skin cells to reveal the newer, glowing skin cells below,” says dermatologist Dr. Robb Akridge. “The term is commonly associated with the aspirational, healthy appearances of the skin and having a radiant, ‘lit from within’ glow.” Essentially, bright skin = new healthy cells that make your complexion look radiant, while dull skin = built-up dead skin cells that can make your face look tired.

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Wait, what do you mean ‘tired’?

When our skin collects dead layers of skin it gives off the appearance of uneven texture and dry skin. “Most often, what causes a dull complexion are dead skin cells on the surface of the skin not falling off at a fast-enough rate,” says Dr. Akridge. “Unfortunately, as we age, the skin cell turnover at the surface slows and causes dullness.”

How do I get rid of that dead skin?

The key to brightening is gentle exfoliation to strip away dead skin cells, reinvigorate your face, and boost cell turnover so that you are left with flawless skin. Integrating a brightening product into your regular routine can help jumpstart cell turnover and reinvigorate skin for a youthful glow at any age. This will help everything from overall skin tone to ensuring your makeup looks seamless rather than flaky.

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What brightening ingredients are best for my skin type?

Be it a treatment, cleanser, or serum, all brightening products have one thing in common — exfoliation. While physical exfoliators like scrubs can get the job done, we’re not big fans of them because many can cause micro scratches that irritate or sensitize the skin. Chemical exfoliators are best. Some of the most popular are acids like glycolic, kojic, and lactic; vitamin C; and fruit enzymes like pineapple.


When we were developing our new Pineapple-C Bright Serum, we knew we wanted it to be the ultimate skin-brightening treatment, which is why we included all three types of dead-skin dissolving and glow-revealing ingredients. It features three types of vitamin C, natural alpha-hydroxy acids, and exfoliating bromelain enzymes. The super-gentle (yet incredibly effective) brightener transforms skin immediately and long-term, meaning you’ll see a change after your very first use and the results will only get better as you continue. It is also incredibly versatile, meaning you can add it to your usual routine without worrying about it being too harsh or feeling sticky.

And, if that wasn’t enough, the vitamin-C rich pineapple juice that makes up the base of the serum is bursting with antioxidants. It protects against free radicals, which are a key cause of aging and it promotes natural collagen production that plumps up skin and reduces inflammation. Sign us up for all of that.

“You don’t want products too harsh for your skin, but you don’t want products that aren’t exfoliating enough to make your skin bright,” says Dr. Akridge. “You will know if the product is too harsh after several days of using it.”

Can all skin tones use brightening products?

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Many people assume that brightening is something only for those people with light skin. Not true: Since brightening isn’t about lightening the skin, but rather uncovering a natural glow, every skin tone — from the fairest of the fair to the deepest ebony — can benefit from a brightening product. The ingredients won’t affect your natural coloring, but rather make your skin look its healthiest, clearest, most radiant best.

When will I start seeing results?

Normal cell turnover is around one month, so while you’ll see fresher-looking skin right away, for the full brightening transformation you’ll have to stick with it for a few weeks. “One thing I have noticed is that some people are impatient and end up trying to scrub and rub away those cells only to inflame their skin,” says Akridge. A tenet of K-Beauty is treating your skin gently and kindly which is especially important when you are integrating a new brightening product.

Be patient and don’t overuse acids or damage your skin in an attempt to speed up the process. “When using any exfoliator or brightening product, the epidermis becomes thinner, so I recommend using moisturizing products after brightening products which either seal in water (e.g. a rich cream) or products containing hyaluronic acid to hydrate the skin by trapping water,” says Dr. Akridge.

How do I add a brightener to my routine?

We made Pineapple-C Bright a total brightening no-brainer — in addition to those exfoliating and tone-evening power players, it also contains hyaluronic acid, calming chamomile, and soothing aloe to ensure it won’t dry out or irritate your complexion. You can use it on its own, but we found that it’s also the perfect complement to our Avocado Melt Sleeping Mask (for dry, tired skin) or Watermelon Glow Sleeping Mask (for blemish-prone, oily skin). The key is experimenting with a few different combinations and layering in brightening products slowly. Pro-tip: Don’t forget your neck and chest! They also need regular exfoliation and dead-skin removal, otherwise, you risk your decolleté looking 10 years older than your face. Eek!


And, of course, remember that after you remove dead cells, you are exposing that fresh new skin to sun damage, so make sure to wear an SPF before you go frolicking in the sun.

Now that you know the truth about brightening, we hope you’ll add one to your daily regimen so you can experience that covetable radiance and clarity for yourself!

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