Skin Lighteners: Do They Really Work?

By: Colleen Dolan, LE

As Denver transitions into fall and cooler weather starts to arrive, we are left with the reminder of the summer sun: those unsightly brown spots on our face and body. If you are wanting a subtle solution without the social downtime of a chemical peel or IPL treatment, topical lighteners may be a good option for you.

There are many types of products on the market that claim to help even out skin tone, using extracts from mushrooms or licorice, acids like kojic acid and lactic acid, hydroquinone, and even vitamin C. But do they really work?  And if so, how? Are some lighteners better than others?

These are questions that we are often asked by our downtown Denver sun spot removal clients.  Ultimately, topical lighteners all work in roughly the same way- by inhibiting tyrosinase, an enzyme that is the catalyst of melanin synthesis. In other words, these ingredients prevent communication between the cell and the enzyme that normally would tell the cell to make pigment.

Currently, there is only one FDA-approved lightening agent on the market today: hydroquinone. It can be incorporated into over-the-counter products with the active ingredient as strong as 2% as well as prescription-strength from 4% and higher for more aggressive lightening. This ingredient is the most powerful lightening agent on the market today, which is both a good and bad thing-- recently hydroquinone has had some bad PR and is no longer available over the counter in most countries. This is mainly due to abuse and overuse of this powerful drug, since most people go with the "more-is-better" approach. Like with any drug, moderation is key. For safe and effective use we recommend hydroquinone to our Denver photofacial clients to be used intermittently: three months on then three months off.

There are other natural lighteners that are less aggressive than hydroquinone, like kojic acid, licorice root, and lactic acid. These can be used everyday, and are great as "maintenance" lighteners, keeping the pigmentation production low to prevent new spots from popping up.

Vitamin C, the powerful antioxidant and collagen producing powerhouse, brightens skin when used in higher concentrations. Incorporating a product containing vitamin C into your daily skin care regimen is one of the best things you can do for your skin, regardless of age or skin type!

What is on the horizon for topical lighteners? There has been recent developments with certain types of peptides (chains of amino acids that work as communicators between the cells) that show great promise, but further studies will be needed to determine efficacy.

Subscribe to the Blog Here!

Leave a Comment on the Blog