Skin whitening creams are often used to address problems associated with hyper-pigmentation, including melasma, acne scars, dark spots and uneven skin tones. Traditionally these creams were formulated using synthetic ingredients like hydroquinine and mercury. These ingredients are both effective bleaching agents as they supress the formation of melanin, the pigment that darkens or “tans” our skin. However, recent studies have shown that these ingredients can be toxic to the body and can impair normal body function if used for extended periods of time. Hydroquinine (C6H6O2) is a chemical that is used in hair dyes and in the manufacture of rubber. It has been linked to cancer and banned from use in cosmetics in some countries.
According to the World Health Association, inorganic mercury used in skin whitening soaps and creams can cause kidney damage, skin discolorations, rashes and even neurological problems. You can read their flyer here: http://www.who.int/ipcs/assessment/public_health/mercury_flyer.pdf
When mecury and hydroquinine are used for prolonged periods they can not only cause serious health issues, they can also “re-oxidise”, reacting with the sun’s UV rays to actually increase melanin production causing pigmentation problems and premature ageing of the skin. Fortunately, scientists have now discovered a number of ingredients from nature that are equally as effective as skin bleaching agents, without the risk of harmful side effects. Natural skin lighteners can help you to achieve a whiter complexion in two ways:
- By inhibiting the production of melanin in the basal layers of the skin
- By absorbing harmful UV rays and reducing the effects of sun damage
Natural ingredients proven to whiten skin include: 1. Alpha Arbutin – is a synthetic product, produced in the form of a white powder, that is derived from natural plant sources like the bearberry plant. Bearberry extract comes from the leaves of the bearberry plant and has been shown to be a good alternative to hydroquinine. It acts by inhibiting the enzyme, tyrosinase, which is responsible for the production of melanin in the skin. Bearberry extract also offers UV protection sun filters which can reduce the amount of tanning and prevent premature ageing of the skin.
2. Kojic Acid – is a white crystalline powder that comes from the koji mushroom, Aspergillus oryzae, in Asia. It is produced as a by-product in the production of the rice wine, sake, and is an effective skin whitener. Kojic acid can cause mild skin irritations for some people so it is best to choose a whitening cream that combines Kojic acid with moisturising, anti-inflammatory ingredients that soothe the skin and reduce the risk of irritation.
3. Emblica extract (Phyllanthus Emblica) – comes from the Indian gooseberry plant. This plant has been used for medicinal purposes in India for many years. Emblica extract has been found to be a powerful antioxidant containing large amounts of Vitamin C and antimicrobial properties. It helps the skin to retain its natural moisture while protecting it from photo-damage and oxidative stress. Emblica extract has been shown to suppress the production of melanin and is considered a safe de-pigmenting agent for use in cosmetics.
4. Liquorice Extract (Glycyrrhiza glabra) – has been used in China since ancient times to treat all sorts of skin complaints and in the early 1990’s the whitening compound, glabridin, was first identified by Japanese scientists. Glabridin protects the skin by absorbing harmful UVA and UVB rays. Clinical trials have shown that it is effective in treating hyperpigmentation (including dark spots) and it can be used to reverse the damage caused by acne scars. Glabridin has the capacity to inhibit the activity of the tyrosinase enzyme by as much as 50% without damaging skin cells. Liquorice extract has anti-inflammatory properties that help to calm the skin and reduce skin irritation and redness. 5. Giga White® is a patented skin brightener that is widely used in modern skin lightening creams as an alternative to hydroquinine. It is made from from 7 Swiss Alpine plant extracts including the peppermint, primula and mallow plants. Clinical trials in Asia using Gigawhite showed significant lightening activity after 12 weeks of treatment in subjects aged 22-55, with minimal to no skin irritation. It is effective in treating dark spots, skin discolorations and sun damaged skin.
6. White Mulberry (Morus alba) – and other species of the mulberry plant have been shown to effectivly inhibit melanogenesis (melanin production) with possibly a more potent ability than Kojic acid. Clinical trials have found that mulberry root bark extract and leaf extract from the twigs can inhibit tyrosinase activity be as much as 50%. Cosmetices containing white mulberry extract can also improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles by helping to restore fibrillin. White mulberry and paper mulberry are both considered suitable for dermatological use. You can read more about white mulberry skin whitening properties here: http://www.skinandallergynews.com/index.php?id=1059&type=98&tx_ttnews[tt_news]=216679
7. Vitamin C – Citrus fruits like lemons and oranges are natural skin bleaching agents used in homemade skin lightening recipes. Vitamin C is known to assist in the production of collagen fibres that support you skin and keep it firm. l-Ascorbic Acid or Vitamin C AsA, is a naturally occurring anti-oxidant that can slow down hyperactive melanocytes in the upper layers of the skin when applied topically.
While it is possible to purchase some of these ingredients individually online it is easier to choose a good brand skin whitening cream that is formulated from these natural whiteners.
Be aware that some products advertised as skin “brighteners” may not be designed to also whiten the skin. They will typically contain ingredients that will exfoliate your skin. This process will remove dead skin cells (and some excess pigmentation) so your skin will appear “brighter” but the ingredients may not actually lighten or bleach the skin. Depending on the results you are hoping to achieve check the list of active ingredients first. Good skin whitening creams like Meladerm will contain a combination of the ingredients listed above that are proven to actually “whiten” the skin, along with moisturising and protective ingredients that will care for the skin to avoid unwanted skin irritations.