Agents That Help To Lighten Dark Skin

In order to lighten dark skin, chemicals as well as other techniques may have to be employed to reduce melanin concentration and get a clear skin complexion. Whereas some of them are effective, others have proved to be outright dangerous. Skin lightening agents are used in two ways: for areas that are hyperpigmented (birthmarks and moles), they reduce the skin tone of these areas to match the nearby skin color; in cases of vitiligo, the skin that is not affected is lightened to match the de-pigmented skin.

Different chemicals and techniques are used to for skin lightening. Sometimes, these techniques are used singly; at other times, they are used in combination to achieve the desired effect. Most of the treatments aim to block the production of melanin by inhibiting the enzyme called tyrosinase. This enzyme containing copper is found in the tissues of plants and animals and helps to catalyze the production of melanin. Most treatment methods to lighten dark skin consist of gels and lotions that can be applied topically. They usually contain ingredients that inhibit production of melanin. Such formulations also contain a sunscreen along with a retinoid. Exfoliants are also used. They may be in the form of creams or chemical peels. Modern skin treatments also use lasers to even out skin tone and remove blemishes. Listed below are some ingredients of skin lightening agents.


Hydroquinone is an ingredient in most products that serve to provide a clear complexion and an even skin tone. It is an antioxidant that is available in 2% concentration in cosmetics and 4% concentration in physician’s prescription products. Hydroquinone inhibits the production of melanin. It is not used to bleach the skin. Hydroquinone is known to prevent melasma (irregular hyperpigmented cosmetic patches that appear on the face) which follows hormonal activity. Hydroquinone acts during synthesis of melanin.


Arbutin is another agent that is used to inhibit melanin production and thus lighten dark skin. It is a natural source of hydroquinone and purer forms of arbutin such as alpha-, beta- and deoxy-arbutin are more effective in changing skin tone. This compound is present in leaves of mulberry and bearberry shrubs and also found in fruits such as pears. The alpha-arbutin is more stable and is used in many skin lightening products.

Kojic Acid

Scientific research has indicated that kojic acid is reasonably effective in inhibiting the production of melanin. Kojic acid is a by-product obtained when rice is fermented for the production of sake. However, kojic acid is known to be highly unstable and it loses its efficiency when exposed to air or light. Kojic dipalmitate, an antioxidant, is an alternative formulation that is more stable and used instead of kojic acid. However, it is not as effective as kojic acid.

Azelaic Acid

It is commonly used to treat acne and is a compound present in grains such as barley, wheat and rye. Topical creams contain this ingredient at a concentration of 10 to 20 percent. Research has indicated that in addition to treating acne, it is effective in reducing discolorations, and helps to lighten dark skin by restraining melanin production.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant and its various forms are seen to be helpful in lightening the tone of the skin.

Cinnamomum subavenium

Research is underway on this Chinese herb for its safety and efficacy and its use in skin lightening products. However, this plant is known to contain compounds that restrict melanin production by inhibiting tyrosinase enzyme.

Most of these skin whitening agents act during the synthesis of melanin. There are other agents that are effective after melanin has been synthesized and their actions are briefly described below.

Alpha Hydroxy Acids

Popularly referred to as AHAs, they exist in the form of lactic and glycolic acids. They work by removing superficial layers of the skin where hyperpigmented cells tend to accumulate. This is seen to increase cell turnover rates. AHAs possess a molecular size that helps them to penetrate the upper layers of the skin. Some research has pointed out to the fact that lactic and glycolic acids do lighten dark skin to a small extent by controlling production of melanin. Facial peels using alpha hydroxyl acids are known to remove discolored patches on the face. However, they should be done under the supervision of a qualified skin specialist.


It is compound used in topical skin whitening products. It is purported to be safe enough to be used on skin as well as for whitening the skin of the genitalia. It has some additional positive effects on the skin such as reduction of acne, reduction of fine lines on the face and moisturizing of the skin.

Skin whitening agents such as the compound monobenzone is used in formulations to permanently reduce melanin. These are of use to those suffering from vitiligo to lessen pigmentation in the skin surrounding the white patches.

Many cosmetic skin whitening products in the market contain compounds of mercury (ammoniated mercury, mercury chloride, etc.). These are toxic, can be absorbed into tissues, and cause adverse effects when used for extended periods of time.

Extracts of pomegranate and licorice, ferulic acid, and vitamin E have been shown to inhibit melanin production.
Laser Treatment has been used in many modern skin whitening treatment clinics to lighten dark skin. Whereas some lasers have purportedly removed melasma effectively, this type of treatment is seen to be more effective in those people with lighter skin tones.

Freckles anywhere on the body and pigmented areas near the genitals can be lightened using cryosurgery. The liquid nitrogen that is used destroys the cells in a controlled manner. The skin regenerates itself periodically, and the skin cells that contain melanin on the surface are peeled off.

Some tips to lighten dark skin include use of sunscreen lotions that prevent the action of sun’s rays and UV rays on the skin. It is also a good idea to keep the skin constantly moisturized. Dry skin always has the tendency to become dark. Those skin portions that are exposed to UV should be regularly moisturized. Use a mild facial scrub regularly to remove dark dead cells. Using face packs of papaya extract have been found helpful restore the tone of darkened skin.

Before embarking on any procedure to lighten the tone of one’s skin it is important that the individual is aware of the side effects and the results that it may bring.