Lighten up- Naturally!

Whether they’re age spots, old acne marks, melasma, freckles, or patches of unevenness,  dark spots are definitely a cosmetic no-no. Read on to learn how to put the ban on brown spots.

Everyone knows that having clear, smooth, and even skin tone is a universal sign of overall health and well-being. Whether they’re age spots, old acne marks, melasma, freckles, or patches of unevenness,  dark spots are definitely a cosmetic no-no.  The skin lightening industry currently spans the globe, and world-wide obsession with fairness has not faded over time.   But not to worry-  basic knowledge skin color and how specific ingredients work are all you need to reclaim a clear, glowing complexion.  Read on to learn how to put the ban on brown spots.

Tyrosinase, The Enzyme Behind The Dark Skin. What causes discolorations and uneven skin tone? There is more than one cause for dark spots,  but all point to an important compound in the skin: tyrosinase.  Tyrosinase is an enzyme found in skin cells and is responsible for synthesis of melanin,  which is what determines the color of skin and hair.

The greater the activity of tyrosinase, the more melanin is produced,  and the darker skin and hair will be.

Therefore if the activity of tyrosinase is inhibited,  so is the production of melanin.

So what causes the body to (over)produce tyrosinase and melanin?

•            Sun damage

•            Hormonal imbalances due to birth control, pregnancy, or estrogen replacement therapy

•            The body’s response to inflammation  (post-acne marks, scabs, blisters, friction)

Skin Lightening Compounds. Confused by all the products out there that promise porcelain skin?  Whatever compound, or combination of compounds you choose to help with skin discolorations,  it’s very important to research them thoroughly.  Remember that each person’s biology is different,  and what may work in one will tend to have disparate results in another. Here are some of the most common skin lightening compounds aimed at fading dark spots.

Hydroquinone.  Most popular among over-the-counter skin lightening products, hydroquinone is often found in a 2% concentration.  Higher concentrations (4% and above) are available only by prescription.  There may be information out there referencing  its safety on the skin,  but current research indicates that severe hydroquinone reactions are only resultant of extremely high concentrations. According to the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, it is  is  one of the most active and safest skin depigmenting substances.   Keep in mind that hydroquinone can be an unstable ingredient in skincare products, and exposure to air and light may alter its effectiveness. HQ products  packaged in jars are not recommended since they degrade quickly upon opening.

Found in: Obagi Nu-Derm System 4% Hydroquinone (

Vitamin C. Vitamin C is known  to inhibit the production of the melanin. When Vitamin C inhibits the production of the melanin, a lighter and brighter skin will reveal in just few weeks. But more than that, when  Vitamin C is applied topically in an effective skin-penetrating medium can dramatically enhance the availability of vitamin C for collagen production.

Found in: Kinerase Rx Skin Lightener (

Arbutin. Arbutin is a hydroquinone derivative that has been isolated from the leaves of cranberry, blueberry, or bearberry shrub. Essentially, arbutin works pretty much the same way as hydroquinone in its melanin-inhibiting properties. Research from the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics have shown promise of its skin lightening properties,  although there are  currently no established standard  concentration protocols.

Found in:  Meladerm Pigment Reducing Complex (

Licorice Extract: Glycyrrhetinic acid, isolated from Glycyrrihiza glabra (licorice) is widely used in cosmetic industry. Licorice inhibits tyrosinase activity of melanocytes without any cell toxicity. Licorice extract also shows promise as an anti-inflammatory,  where dark spots and redness caused by sun exposure can be inhibited by topical application of 0.5% licorice extract.

Found in: Godiva Skin Lightening Cream (

Kojic Acid: Kojic acid is a by-product of the fermentation process of malting rice from the manufacture of sake. It is consumed widely in the Japanese diet with the belief that it has health benefits.   According to research,  when melanocytes are treated with kojic acid, melanin content was shown to decrease.

Found in: Neova Kojic Complex Gel (

Azelaic Acid: Azelaic acid is a compound of grains (wheat, rye, and barley),  and is widely  recommended for the treatment of acne.  However, research has also shown its effectiveness in the treatment of skin discolorations.  The trade name of azelaic acid is Azelex,  and is available as a topical cream in concentrations of 15 and 20%.

Found  in: Azelex, by prescription

Idebenone:  Idebenone is a super antioxidant, that acts to protect the skin and repairs free radical damage from the environment. Idebenone is bioengineered from CoEnzyme Q10. It is significantly smaller in size than CoQ10, allowing it to penetrate the skin more effectively.  Idebenone works by targeting the aging process at the cellular source. By eliminating excess free radical formation and preventing cellular aging, Idebenone, provides the highest levels of protection against harmful environmental free radical stress. This greater power to fight more free radicals means better protection for the skin. As a result, the skin appears brighter,  experiences less damage, and has fewer signs of aging .

Found in: Priori Superceuticals (

Protect Yourself! Be fair to your skin and stay protected from the sun. Even if you haven’t reached your ideal skin tone,  keep in mind that  skin lightening agents will leave the skin vulnerable to the sun’s UV radiation because less melanin is produced.  Use and reapply SPF products daily and be sure to avoid direct sun exposure.

What do you use to stay fairest in the land?

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Online Editor, Beauty Writer at Beauty-Goodies
As a New York City-based registered nurse with backgrounds in pharmacology, medical research, medical spa aesthetics, and cosmetic dermatology, Cristal became interested in the ways people go about achieving beauty. When she's not working full-time at Cornell Medical Center or performing aesthetic treatments at a midtown NYC medical spa, she daylights as a beauty writer, and has a penchant for scoring sample sale treasures, bellydancing, playing dress-up, and of course, chatting about beauty goodies.

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