Whitening, Brightening, Lightening – What’s the difference

Growing up, we’ve seen so many beauty ads. But what’s saddening is, those ads always always always talk about how we can whiten our skin in a matter of weeks. But why should we? Do you know why people have different skin colours in the first place? 

This is mainly because our melanocytes (Definition: A mature melanin-forming cell, especially in the skin) produce different amount and kinds of melanin. Its purpose is to protect the skin from UV rays as uv rays can cause skin cancer. 

So, in all honesty, the darker our skin colour, the more protection we have against UV rays.

Then, what’s the craze with whitening, brightening and lightening, and what’s the difference between all 3 of them?

We get it, some of us have blemishes, dark spots, hyperpigmentation. That’s fine. We totally get it. But what about those, that don’t have any skin issues but are obsessed in being white. Whyyy??!!

First thing we need to note down are these terms are used in an interchangeable manner,  defining different advantages and levels of bleaching in each one. Brightening, is usually in the lower spectrum of the bleaching power whereas whitening os on the higher end. However, what really matters are the ingredients contained within the product and how it will react or perform when applied onto the skin. 


Brightening does not mean transforming our skin colour to a lighter or whiter shade. Instead, brightening focuses on repairing and rejuvenating dry, dull tired and textured skin. Using the right skin brightening products, containing right amount of exfoliants help gives the skin a boost in glow when dead skin cells are shed away regularly to remove excess dead skin cells build-up. 

Few ingredients that you should look in skin brightening products:

  • AHAs
  • BHAs
  • Fruit Enzymes
  • Vitamin C


Lightening is one step further to completely vanish the visible appearance of dark spots like hyperpigmentation and melasma. It can also treat forms of sun damage and acne scarring. Lightening products are often used when one wants to simply remove unwanted dark patches or have your natural skin tone back after suffering a tan. 

Few ingredients that you should look in skin brightening products:

  • Hydroquinone (Controversial and commonly used in whitening products. Small/Lower concentrations is still strong enough to inhibit melanin. We do not recommend this product as they have a downside on some skin types)
  • Kojic Acid
  • Azelaic Acid


It’s a term used to go beyond lightening or brightening, basically CHANGING the colour of our skin tone to a drastically white shade. Ingredients that are used in skin whitening are usually harsh as they can give drastic results in a short matter of time. Mequinol, a chemical compound that is a derivative of hydroquinone, kills melanocytes (cells that produce pigments in the epidermis) making the skin looking pale and white.  

To conclude, 

  1. brightening – is all about getting that natural radiance and glow.
  2. Lightening – All about reducing the pigmentation, removing discoloration and even out skin complexion.
  3. Whitening – Combination of both brightening and lightening by involve the use of harsh ingredients to actually bleach the skin to produce a whitening effect.

An enthusiast in everything. Loves photography ✨

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