Being blessed with sensitive skin comes with its fair share of problems to navigate. Will this serum make my skin turn red? Does this sensitive cleanser actually clean my skin? Am I going to break out in eczema if I don't sleep with my humidifier on? You get my point. But for a product junkie like myself, one of the most frustrating problems is hearing people rave about skincare products that you can't use. Seriously, having someone tell you the secret to their glowing complexion is a product you know for certain will do the exact opposite to your skin (read: cause redness, dryness, and inflammation) is not ideal. This is especially true when it comes to brightening products.
Since most brightening products contain some form of vitamin C, which is known for its glowing-skin superpowers, people with sensitive skin probably can't use them. See, as great as vitamin C is for skin, it's actually too powerful and potent for those with ultra-sensitive skin, so instead of brightening your complexion, it actually ends up irritating it. But being the beauty guinea pig that I am, I was determined to find a few products that I could use despite my touchy skin. After much trial and error, I discovered there are actually quite a few brightening products that give me the glow I'm looking for with no irritation (and some even contain vitamin C!). Obviously, everyone's skin is a bit different, but I thought it could be helpful to share the ones that worked for me, so below are the 24 best brightening products for sensitive skin.
Caudalie's cult-favorite radiance serum has reached that status for a reason—it works. Every time I wear this with no makeup I get compliments about how good my skin looks, which is a good sign in my book. The clean formula helps with both eliminating dark spots and brightening the skin thanks to its key ingredient: Viniferine. This natural ingredient (which is derived from grapevines) is said to be over 60 times more effective at brightening skin than vitamin C.
This is one of my all-time favorite products. There's a reason everyone raves about IS Clinical. This science-backed skincare line is made up of highly effective ingredients that visibly change your skin. I had always heard rave reviews about its Active Serum, but because I have sensitive skin, I was recommended to try the Pro-Heal Serum instead. Like the Active Serum, the Pro-Heal Serum contains a potent form of vitamin C, but it also contains olive leaf extract and vitamins E and A to balance out the vitamin C so it doesn't irritate your skin. After using it consistently for over a year now, it has earned a permanent spot in my medicine cabinet.
Another vitamin C product from a fan-favorite skincare line is SkinCeuticals' C E Ferulic. Similar to the above Pro-Heal Serum, this product contains a powerful form of vitamin C along with key calming ingredients like vitamin E and antioxidants so your skin gets all the brightening benefits with none of the irritation.
When using the C E Ferulic, I also make sure to use the Hydrating B5 Gel, which contains strong concentrations of hyaluronic acid to hydrate your skin. (It holds 1000 times its weight in water!)
If you suffer from dark spots, this one's for you. The Discoloration Defense serum uses ingredients like tranexamic and kojic acids to help diminish the appearance of dark pigmentation and prevent it from continuing to occur.
My amazing facialist and skin savior Vanessa Hernandez actually turned me on to these, and I'll be forever grateful. These peel pads are soaked in glycolic acid, which is an amazing chemical exfoliant to slough off dead skin. Typically, those with sensitive skin can't utilize glycolic acid's magical powers because it ends up irritating the skin, but these pads are also soaked in vitamin K and chamomile to counteract the harsh nature of the chemical exfoliant. Simply swipe these over your entire face and neck once a week before bed, and wake up with smooth, glowing skin.
These babies do the same as their counterparts above but also have a tanning component to give you a nice light glow as well. Talk about a miracle product!
Biossance is one of the buzziest new skincare brands around thanks to its ultra-clean formulas. (It even has the EWG stamp of approval.) This Squalane + Vitamin C Rose Oil serum provides all the skin-brightening benefits of vitamin C plus squalane to lock in the skin's moisture.
Drunk Elephant's Marula Oil is filled with omega-3 and -9 plus antioxidants to moisturize your skin and deliver a youthful glow. Plus, it feels downright refreshing when applied right before bed.
Okay, so this may be cheating a little, but these bronze drops deliver an instant glow when mixed with my favorite moisturizer during the day.
Another product full of hyaluronic acid is Drunk Elephant's B-Hydra Serum. This one will hydrate your skin like no other, therefore plumping and brightening it at the same time.
One of the products I was most nervous to try and most pleasantly surprised by is the Sukari Babyfacial. It's another chemical exfoliant, this one using AHA to gently slough off dead skin and promote cell turnover to visibly brighten skin. I only use this one every other week to be safe, and I do experience a bit of tingling during the 20 minutes you have to leave it on, but once I wash it off, my skin calms down immediately and feels like new.
I've generally steered clear of any physical exfoliator until I met this product. The Daily Microfliant uses an enzyme powder to gently exfoliate, clean out your pores, and reveal a brighter complexion.
This is the only retinol product I use, and it lives up to the hype. Intended for sensitive skin, Shani Darden's Texture Reform is formulated with a mild retinoid to help boost cell turnover and brighten skin tone.
Used alone or mixed in with your moisturizer, Eve Lom's Radiance Face Oil is formulated to revitalize your skin with active ingredients like Hemp Seed Oil or Avocado Oil.
The Radiance Face Oil just happens to mix in perfectly with the Brightening Cream, which blocks melanin production to lighten pigmentation and dark spots.
This brightening essence decreases the appearance of dark spots while also eliminating dead skin cells thanks to the glycolic acid.
Okay, so this one also might be cheating a bit, but this is the best makeup primer I've ever used. It goes on before your foundation to give your skin an even, lit-from-within glow. One easy step and your makeup ends up looking 10 times better.
This is one of the newer additions to my skincare regimen, and I'm already addicted. Just 10 to 15 minutes twice a week leaves your skin glowing thanks to the avocado and mild retinol.
I've always loved rose-hip oil, and Pai's nontoxic version is the best I've tried. I use it a few times a week at night before bed and wake up with an illuminated complexion.
Much like the PowerGlow Peel Pads I raved about above, M-61's Vitamin C pads are soaked in a gentle yet powerful vitamin C plus vitamin E and antioxidants to balance everything out.
This bronzing facial mist will be your new best friend. Just a light spritz over your face before applying your makeup, and you'll have a hint of a radiant bronze glow all day.
Another product that delivers a lit-from-within glow is Wander's Hidden Glow cream. Packed with Centella asiatica and elderberry, this product illuminates your skin while also creating a smoother appearance to apply makeup over.
Derived solely from botanicals, Femmue's Lumière Vital C contains vitamins C and E to brighten plus hyaluronic acid to hydrate and vitamin E to reduce inflammation.