Knowing some of the best skin lighteners

Since it is melanin that causes skin to look dark, most skin lighteners and products are geared towards reducing the amount of melanin produced in the skin. This can be done by blocking the action of the enzyme tyrosinase which is responsible for the production of melanin from tyrosine. The disruption of tyrosinase can be effected by a number of different chemical substances, but some such as mercury compounds, are definitely hazardous to health and should be avoided. Others, such as hydroquinone are thought by most authorities to be safe as long as they are used in mild forms. With hydroquinone the recommended concentration is between 2 and 4 per cent, and no more than 4 per cent.

Creams or lotions containing hydroquinone are applied to the skin, once or twice a day, and help to lighten the skin colour gradually over weeks or months. It is important, though that you avoid exposure of the skin to the harmful UV rays of sunlight, since this tends to darken skin quicker than hydroquinone can lighten it. You cannot, obviously live in a cave, so it is important to use a make-up or moisturising cream that contains a good sunscreen, say an SPF of at least 20. This can be applied after the hydroquinone cream provided you leave a few minutes in between.

Other substances that help to inhibit the activity of tyrosinase are kojic acid, glabridin, and arbutin.

Some of the best skin lighteners and treatments


Hydroquinone is a chemical that interferes with the production of melanin, the pigment of the skin, and hence helps to lighten the skin’s colour Topical hydroquinone. applied to the skin in the form of a cream or lotion, is thought to be an effective skin lightening treatment by many dermatologists, although there have been some concerns about its safety, and some countries have gone so far as to ban it. Many experts agree, however that it is probably safe in concentrations of no more than 4%, and most over the counter products use a concentration of between 2-4%. This skin lightener is certainly way less expensive than chemical peels or laser treatment


Mequinol (4-hydroxyanisole), is similar to hydroquinone and cytotoxic to melanocytes, inhibiting melanin production when used in combination with AHA cream at 2% and a little retinoic acid. This There are other types of skin lightening products on the market that may be safer, and use natural sources of hydroquinone.

Many such skin lighteners often incorporate ingredients such as tretinoin, which is related to vitamin A and helps to generally improve skin condition.


Arbutin (hydroquinone-beta-D-glucopyranoside), is a glycolated hydroquinone found in certain plants and has the ability to inhibit melanin production. It is used in a number of preparations to lighten skin which are marketed as natural formulations.


Glutathione is a naturally occurring substance that helps protect the body’s tissues from damage. It does this by targeting harmful unstable molecules called free radicals and oxidants, and neutralising them. Aging and disease can cause various signs and symptoms in the body, including dryness, loss of elasticity, and darkness of the skin. By helping to eliminate free radicals glutathione slows down aging and assists revitalisation of skin and other organs.

Glutathione is a small molecule made up of three amino acids, cysteine, glutamic acid, and glycine. In large quantities, glutathione, seems to modify the type of melanin produced, converting eumelanin (dark brown/yellow pigmentation) to phaemelanin (reddish white pigmentation). Glutathione is present in cells throughout the body and is always in great demand. It is essential that each and every cell has the requisite raw materials to synthesize it.

Glutathione is very beneficial and present in a lot of fruit and vegetables, especially, avocados, watermelon, watercress, grapefruit, potato, orange, tomato, strawberries, broccoli, courgettes, spinach, and walnuts, so is easily obtained in our normal, varied diet.

Glutathione as a skin lightener is usually taken in the form of pills at a dosage of 20-40 mg/kg of body weight, divided into 2 doses per day.

No side effects or interactions are known with oral administration of glutathione, so it is perfectly safe to take, even on a long term basis. Glutathione is usually combined in skin lightening pills with other ingredients to help keep it in active form. These include vitamin C, which is often in the form of grape seed extract.

The only cautionary factor to consider is that glutathione shouldn’t be taken by anyone on anti-psychotic or chemotherapeutic medication.


Kojic acid is derived from the fermentation of malting rice when making sake, a Japanese rice wine, and research has shown it to be effective in inhibiting melanin production. Kojic acid is usually used in concentrations ranging from 1-4%, and, although effective in lightening skin color, it is reputed to have a high sensitizing potential and may cause irritant contact dermatitis. It is often combined with glycolic acid, hydroquinone, and a corticosteroid to maximize effect and minimize irritation.


Retinoids such as tretinoin and adapalene are derivatives of vitamin A and they help reduce pigmentation in several different ways. They interfere with melanin production and transfer, whilst also accelerating the turnover rate of skin cells. They also seem to help make other skin lighteners more effective and so are often used in combination formulae. They can sometimes lead to dryness and scaling of skin.


Niacinamide is the biologically active form of vitamin B3 and has been shown to be effective in interfering with pigment production. In combination with retinyl palmitate, niacinamide has been shown to produce some skin lightening within four weeks in some individuals.


The main ingredient of licorice is glabridin which seems to inhibit the production of melanin without the risk of toxicity associated with hydroquinone. A combination product of 0.4% licorice extract, 0.05% betamethasone (corticosteroid), and 0.05% retinoic acid, has been shown to be effective in the treatment of dark skin pigmentation, particularly the kind associated with pregnancy, or the oral contraceptive pill.


There are a number of other, mainly naturally sourced compounds that can help inhibit melanin production. Some of these are: soy proteins (apply unpasteurised soy milk twice daily), azelaic acid (usually combined with glycolic acid), paper mulberry, arctostaphylos, aleosin (from aloe vera), N-acetyl glucosamine, and phenolic thioethers.

Magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, which is a derivative of vitamin C has been used successfully as a 10% cream to suppress melanin formation. Another safe compound is traexamic acid which decreases melanocyte activity and reduces pigmentation.