When Munemi Imai, the lovely founder of MUN asked me to try No. 1 Aknari Brightening Youth Serum for summer, I couldn’t understand why. I honestly thought it would be a little too oily for my skin during the hotter months. Sure, a dense lipid layer is exactly what my skin demands in winter, but from June to August, I figured that my face would turn into an oil slick in heat. Boy, was I wrong.
So long sun damage, dark circles, & fine lines
Actually, Munemi explained to me that the serum works brilliantly on minor sunburn and sun damaged skin. Though my hat-wearing, pill-popping, shade-clinging, and SPF-loving tendencies will likely keep me from suffering the adverse effects of sun exposure, it did not take long for me to see some serious glow-boosting results with enough brightening to diffuse under-eye dark circles.
The Brightening Youth Serum appears to be amplifying moisture levels too, and I’ve been detecting an increased suppleness and satin-soft feel to my skin. At 45, that’s quite a nice perk and classifies this serum as pivotal in aging prevention.
During the day, it functions as an aromatic makeup primer too. Under foundations that offer matte coverage—like Gressa or NU Evolution—I find that I need a more viscous serum to achieve a smooth and natural-looking finish that feels comfortable without leaving dry patches or causing flaking throughout the day. The Brightening Serum accomplishes this like a dream. I noticed even greater improvements when I used the serum again at night.
Munemi confirmed in an email interview that applying the serum twice a day delivers faster results, plus it replaces an additional product for the eyes. In fact, I don’t need a separate eye serum or cream at all. One pump suffices for the entire face and neck, and that’s a win too. Suddenly the $95 for this serum doesn’t seem as steep a price considering its multi-tasking abilities and long-lasting bottle.
For someone like me with combination skin, the calmer, more balanced appearance of my face proves that skin does not require an overabundance of ingredients in order to see dramatic results, but those ingredients do need to be chosen meticulously. With MUN, it’s all about simplicity, integrity, wisdom, sustainability, and elegance—and it shows.
MUN is not a brand of excess. As such, you’ll find a mere three products in its capsule collection—the No. 11 Anarose Toner that I wrote about here, the unique No. 7 Ayour Body Serum, covered here, and No. 1 Aknari Serum—and that speaks to the absolute attention to detail and exceptional quality. Non-GMO, organic, vegan, and environmentally-friendly are fundamental requirements. Every ingredient is sourced for its purity, its highest performance, and its synergy within the formula.
Three ingredients for the win
I used to think that a serum with 20+ ingredients was considered far superior to one with, say, fewer than five—but that is a total misconception. The fewer the ingredients, the more of a workhorse each one must be in order to ensure the performance of the entire formula. There are also fewer potential allergens to confuse the skin and cause a topical reaction, like a rash or blemishes. That is certainly the case for the Brightening Youth Serum, an impressive blend even though it boasts a mere three ingredients.
Each one has an integral function, and the product is actually named for two of them. “No. 1” refers to the rose which brings the scent that was the most popular fragrance chosen by testers and that was labeled as “No. 1 essential oil blend” during testing; and “Aknari” is the Berber word for prickly pear which highlights the formula’s keynote ingredient and honors the women’s cooperatives in Morocco where MUN sources the oils.
The third ingredient is none other than perennial favorite, argan oil, perhaps considered the oil to catapult today’s facial oil obsession into the mainstream. Its inclusion in the formula has a multi-functional purpose, explained Munemi. The primary reason for including argan oil was surprisingly not only to provide the perfect complement to the prickly pear seed oil—which it does—but also to extend the shelf life of pure prickly pear seed.
The king’s supplier gives some helpful advice
On its own, prickly pear seed oil degrades rapidly; performance weakens due to high levels of unsaturated omega fatty acid and from exposure to light, heat, and oxygen. Even the vitamin E that’s found naturally in prickly pear seed oil, and so beneficial for skin, is not enough to preserve it for long periods.
“When we met the oldest producer of the oil in Morocco, who has been producing it since the ’60s, and is the king’s supplier, he told us that the oil is only good for six months in pure form,” she said. “He shared his 40 plus years experience and knowledge with us, where he figured out that by mixing with certain percentage of argan oil, it stabilizes the oil’s effectiveness for a good two years. And they go very well together and those two oils are so complementary. Then argan oil became the second ingredient.”
Munemi ideally wanted to create an aromatherapy product, and the popularity of the rose essential oil sealed the deal. Its addition preserves the serum too and drives nutrients deeper into the skin, increasing potency of the blend and lacing it with a scent that makes me giddy—it’s just so deliciously feminine.
The wonders of prickly pear seed oil
According to Munemi, prickly pear seed oil became the raison d’etre of her line after she discovered it on a trip to Morocco in 2010.
“When I came across prickly pear seed oil on my first research trip to Morocco in 2010, I was amazed by the fast results I saw on my then-developing under-eye dark circles and fine lines…and also how it made my skin baby soft instantly. I had tried so many products from all over the world as a makeup artist, but I had never seen anything quite like that to show such immediate results. I knew I had to do something with it.”
The high amount of Omega-6 fatty acids and Vitamin E, a natural antioxidant that helps protect the skin from free radicals, definitely has a lot to do with the reason skin loves this oil. Also known as barbary fig seed oil, Indian fig seed oil, and prickly cactus seed oil, it feels denser and richer than argan oil by itself.
Why the change in the name?
Currently, MUN’s Brightening Youth Serum serves as an all-in-one serum for anti-aging and brightening that’s gentle for even sensitive and acne-prone skin types. However, when it first launched in 2012, you may recall that it was marketed as the “Nighttime Dream Youth Serum.” That was due in part to the lack of acceptance of oil use during the day. (Seems kinda crazy now, eh?) Munemi listened to what consumers wanted, and the feedback indicated a cream by day, and an oil by night.
So, she made sure to create a blend that would allow skin the ultimate beauty rest. She said, “I wanted to promote a product in its simplest form: non-clogging nourishing plant oils and essential oil blend, so that the skin can breathe while we sleep. I am a big believer in the benefits of beauty sleep, and the skin regenerates most actively while we sleep. Using a simple and effective formula in its purest form, we are giving the skin the best condition to do its work and heal itself.”
But the product grew into its latest incarnation naturally. The serum simply worked too darn well by day. As a makeup artist, Munemi started using the serum prior to photo shoots as a primer before makeup.
“What happened is that I was using it both morning and night myself,” she told me, “and as a makeup artist, I used it as skin prep in the morning on models’ and celebrities’ faces. Also other makeup artist colleagues loved using the serum as a makeup primer and the word spread out.” A change in the name was the next step to reflect the supreme versatility of the serum.
The pump protects the serum
The bottle itself is lovely too. MUN was among a small collection of innovators to introduce the violet moiron bottles that protect the integrity of the contents. The etching on the fully-recyclable bottle saves the need for paper labels and more waste. Plus, I like when certain products like cleansers, toners, lotions, and serums dispense with a pump. The reason isn’t purely a matter of convenience either. The choice of the pump over a pipette stems from careful evaluation.
Munemi explained, “The reason we chose a pump top is to keep away from contact with oxygen to prevent the formula from degrading. When it’s a dropper top, each time you use it, you open the top and expose the formula to oxygen. Also I have accidentally knocked down a bottle with dropper top and spilled most of it at least a few times. And I don’t want that happen to our customers. I always think of these risks and user experience.”
The optimum amount of product dispenses in one pump and that’s the icing on the cake. It is exactly the amount that’s needed to cover face, eyes, and neck—and still have a bit left for the back of my hands and nails!
Don’t miss out on this serum!
It’s that kind of consideration for the consumer experience, in addition to Munemi’s scrupulous measures for sourcing ingredients that yield quick and visible results.
I can totally see using this serum throughout the year and re-ordering it as a go-to favorite. The way it balances my skin and primes my face for makeup is too good to pass up! Usually, by the time I finish writing a review, I’ve got to set aside whatever product I’ve written about and move on to the next one. I gotta tell you that I am not ready to give up this timeless classic—and that says a lot.
*Full disclosure: I received this product for review. All opinions and decision to review are my own, as always. Some links in this post will provide small financial benefits to me when you use them. I only use them when they are appropriate and when I truly stand behind the product. Thank you in advance for keeping this blog sustainable with your support. I appreciate it more than words can say.