What is the difference between brightening and lightening skincare products?


It’s easy to put skincare products in boxes—brightening or luminising ones are safe and healthy, while lightening or whitening products are bad and endorse a narrative that lighter skin equates to a more ideal beauty. Recently, against the background of ongoing conversations about in India and other Asian countries, some beauty brands changed the messaging on the bottles from “lightening” to “brightening and glow-boosting.” What do these terms even mean and how much of it is all in the marketing? We spoke to Paula Begoun, cosmetic chemist and founder of skincare brand Paula’s Choice and Delhi-based dermatologist Dr Kiran Sethi for their take.

What does “brightening” mean on a bottle label?
Brightening is a marketing term that can mean lots of different things depending on a product’s formula or the message the company is trying to convey. “We use the term brightening to explain how a products formulary can minimise skin discolouration caused by sun and pollution, while helping skin have a more youthful, smooth appearance and even tone,” says Begoun. “Typically brightening means to increase the radiance or vibrancy of the skin. If one’s skin feels dull, they will want to make it more radiant. It is not about changing the amount of pigment in the skin at all,” says Dr Sethi.

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