Skin Whitening VS Skin Brightening – what’s the difference?

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Skin brightening Skin lightening creams can contain products that are designed to either brighten or whiten the skin (or both). While all of these products can help to improve the overall complexion of your skin, I believe the difference lies in the combination of lightening ingredients used.

While some ingredients are designed to exfoliate and “brighten” or enhance the skin’s appearance, others act as bleaching agents that will actually “whiten” the skin by inhibiting the production of melanin (dark pigmentation) in the upper layers of the skin.

So, depending on the results you hope to achieve, it pays to check the ingredients first.

Skin Brightening Creams

Skin brightening products are generally designed to improve a dull skin complexion through exfoliation.  A dull complexion can be caused by sun damage, stress factors or environmental  factors, such as pollution. Although the skin naturally renews itself, over time this process of cell renewal can sometimes become “lazy” and the dead skin cells tend to build up, leaving the skin looking tired and less refined.

Exfoliation will not technically make your skin “whiter” but it will make your skin look more fresh, toned and smooth. Exfoliation gives your skin a more radiant, healthy glow so it will naturally appear to be “brighter”.  Removing older skin cells containing dark pigmentation from the skin’s surface minimises the appearance of dark spots and blemishes so these products can also make the skin appear lighter.

Brightening creams or serums usually contain exfoliants combined with anti-oxidants and natural extracts that will soothe and revitalize the skin. Ingredients might include:

  • Alpha hydroxy acids ( like lactic acid and glycolic acid)
  • Beta hydroxy salicylic acid
  • Vitamins A and E
  • Vitamin C – which is known to even the skin tone and can help to reduce the appearance of skin discoloration.
  • Papaya (papain) or bromelain
  • Rice bran

Meladerm Natural IngredientsSome brightening creams also contain ingredients designed to lighten the skin. These ingredients work to inhibit the production of melanin and improve the appearance of sun damaged skin, liver spots, acne scars, freckles or hyperpigmentation. Common natural ingredients are:

  • Alpha arbutin (from the Field Dock plant)
  • Glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice root extract)
  • Phyllanthus Emblica (indian gooseberry)

Skin Whitening Creams

Skin whiteners are more specifically designed to whiten or “bleach” the skin by inhibiting the action of the enzyme tyrosinase. This enzyme is primarily responsible for the production of the melanin pigment through the process of oxidation. The melanin is produced in the melanocyte cells in the bottom layer of the skin’s epidermis. While the production of melanin provides us with protection from the sun’s harmful UV rays, an over- production or accumulation of melanin can lead to dark blemishes, hyperpigmentation and uneven skin tones.

Traditionally bleaching agents like HQ (hydroquinine) were added to these creams to whiten the skin.  Hydroquinine is effective in slowing the production of melanin but research now suggests that there may be serious side effects associated with the long term use of this synthetic lightener.

Bearberry (Arctostaphulos uvaursi)Fortunately science has found a number of natural skin whiteners , which have proven to be just as effective as  hydroquinine, so is better to find a good natural product containing ingredients like:

  • Kojic acid
  • Bearberry extract
  • Mulberry extract
  • or any of the lighteners mentioned above (emblica, liquorice and arbutin).

It is important to have a good sun routine when using whitening creams (ie. wear a hat and use high SPF sunscreen) as you skin can be more sun sensitive when using whitening products and you want to minimize the risk of further damage.

Eating a balanced diet and drinking plenty of water will also help you to have bright and glowing skin.

3 thoughts on “Skin Whitening VS Skin Brightening – what’s the difference?”

  1. Great article! I noticed this trend 20 or so years ago when visiting the Philippines and thought it was strange, but it’s something that always stuck in my mind. Now these skin whitening methods are continuing in gain in popularity. As a culture we’re moving away from ultra tanning to fairer skin. I wonder what’s next…


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