Hydroquinone, in the past, was the standard ingredient for skin lightening treatments. Until recently, it was thought to be the safest and most effective treatment for hyperpigmentation, including age spots, melasma, sun damage and other discolorations. However, new research suggests that there may be serious side effects associated with long term use of synthetic hydroquinone. Just recently the FDA also announced its plans to possibly remove hydroquinone based products from store shelves and limit its use to only prescription based medications. Consequently, many manufacturers have begun to produce natural alternatives which mimic the skin lightening properties of hydroquinone. Ingredients such as kojic acid and licorice have become quite popular along with more advanced ingredients like Alpha-Arbutin. When combined, these ingredients can often produce results that even surpass hydroquinone but without the associated risks. Skin lighteners have come a long way in the past few years. With all the available information on the internet, consumers can now educate themselves about the skin bleaching products they buy. This page was designed to help the consumer learn about the many different skin lightening ingredients available on the market today and ultimately choose the best product for his/her skin.
The process of lightening the skin occurs in several stages. Most of the current skin lightening ingredients on the market work at different stages of the process and typically provide the best results when combined together into one product. Listed below are a few of the more popular ingredients used by manufacturers of skin whitening products.
Alpha-Arbutin is a biosynthetic active ingredient that is pure, water-soluble and is manufactured in a powder form. As one of the most advanced skin lightening ingredients on the market, it has been shown to work effectively on all skin types. It is the epimer of arbutin, and research has proven that it has a stronger inhibitory action than that of (beta) arbutin. Though it is a very expensive ingredient to manufacture, even at very low concentrations, a-arbutin has shown to inhibit the activity of tyrosinase. Alpha Arbutin's inhibitory mechanism is different from that of arbutin and can be up to 10 times more effective. The a-glucosidic bond found in alpha Arbutin offers higher stability and efficancy than the B form found in the related Beta-Arbutin. This leads to a skin whitening active that acts faster and more efficiently than existing single components.
Beta-Arbutin (Bearberry Extract):
Beta-Arbutin is often referred to as just Arbutin. As a natural extract found in bearberry (Uva Ursi) plants, Arbutin also provides a skin lightening effect on the skin by inhibiting tyrosinase activity. Though arbutin is a natural derivative of hydroquinone, it does not possess the same risks or side effects. Arbutin has been shown to be a very safe ingredient and does not break down into hydroquionone very readily. Though it is cheaper to manufacture than Alpha-Arbutin, the skin lightening effect is much less than that of its counterpart. For this reason, many new skin whitening products now use Alpha Arbutin as opposed to only beta-Arbutin.
Kojic acid, often used as an ingredient in Asian diets, is a more recent discovery for the treatment of pigmentation problems and age spots. Discovered in 1989, kojic acid is now used extensively as a natural alternative to hydroquinone. Kojic acid is derived from a fungus, and studies have shown that it is effective as a lightening agent, inhibiting production of melanin (brown pigment). Kojic acid is a by-product in the fermentation process of malting rice for use in the manufacturing of sake, the Japanese rice wine. There is convincing research, both in vitro (in a test tube) and in vivo (on a live subject), showing kojic acid to be effective for inhibiting melanin production.
The licorice plant serves many purposes in skin care. The ingredient that is responsible for the skin whitening aspect of the plant is known as glabridin. Glabridin inhibits pigmentation by preventing tyrosinase activation. Studies have shown that it can provide a considerable skin brightening effect while remaining non-toxic to the melanin forming cells. Glabridin is found in very small traces and therefore it is important to ensure that the correct part of the licorice plant is used. Licorice's anti-inflammatory properties (due to ihibition of superoxide anion production and cyclooxygenase activity) also make it a very popular ingredient in the skin care industry.
Niacinamide is commonly known as Vitamin B3 and is an effective skin lightening compound that works by inhibiting melanosome transfer from
melanocytes to keratinocytes. Often this ingredient works best when combined with other skin lightening treatments. Niacinamide (Vitamin B3) is also known to be effective in reducing acne.
Paper Mulberry extract, is obtained from the root of Broussonetia kazinoki, Siebold. or B. papyrifera, Vent. Tabl. Regn. Veget. or hybrids of both, family Moraceae. Extracts of this root are potent inhibitors of Tyrosinase enzyme. The active constituents present in the extract are Prenylated, polyhydroxylated mono-and bis-phenylderivatives. A 0.4% concentration of paper mulberry extract inhibits tyrosinase by 50% compared to 5.5% for hydroquinone and 10.0% for kojic acid. At 1% paper mulberry extract is not a significant irritant.
Glycolic Acid is a AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) which promotes exfoliation and a natural brightening of the skin tone. By encouraging cell turnover, glycolic acid not only evens out skin discolorations, but also helps to minimize fine lines and wrinkles. AHA's such as Glycolic Acid can assist other ingredients in skin lighteners by allowing them to penetrate farther into the skin.
Also an AHA (alpha hydroxy acid), Lactic acid mimics the properties of Glycolic acid but is typically better suited for individuals with sensitive skin. AHA's such as Lacic Acid can assist other ingredients in skin lighteners by allowing them to penetrate farther into the skin.
Lemon Juice Extract:
Lemon juice is one of nature's most potent skin bleaching ingredients. Unfortunately it is also very irritating to the skin and should only be used at small concentrations in skin lighteners. Lemon juice is also known to be extremely drying to the skin if applied directly.
Emblica is a patented composition extracted from the plant Phyllanthus emblica. The extract uses a multilevel cascade of antioxidant compounds resulting in a long-lasting and stable antioxidant activity. Recent studies have shown that this natural antioxidant also provides significant skin lightening properties when used in moderate concentrations.
Vitamin C is a natural antioxidant that occurs in many different forms (some stable and others unstable) each with distinct properties. Several of these forms have been shown to reduce melanin formation and provide a skin whitening effect when applied topically. These include l-ascorbic acid, magnesium ascorbyl phosphate and sodium ascorbyl phosphate. These forms when used individually or together can assist in slowing down hyperactive melanocytes and thus resulting in lighter skin.