Skin Lightening Ointments: Do They Work?


lightening products hydroquinoneMany are seeking skin lightening ointments in an effort to even out uneven skin tones caused by sun, scaring and skin pigmentation caused by moles or birthmarks.

Many chemicals have shown to be effective in lightening skin. Some chemicals have proven to be toxic or they have serious safety issues that can be harmful and damaging to skin especially in some specific ethnic groups.

The following ointments, creams or lotions have been shown to be somewhat effective in lightening skin. Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of them and explore the options.


There are several inhibitors that can reduce or block some of the melanin production. These are designed to inhibit tyrosinase which is an enzyme controlling the melanin. These treatments will often combine both topical applications of a lotion or gel along with sunscreens and perhaps a prescription retinoid.


One of the primary ingredients in topical ointments that inhibit production of melanin in the skin is hydroquinone. With potent antioxidant properties.

Available in 2% and 4% formula’s through a doctors prescription this is also sometimes combined with tretinoin (see below) for more effectiveness.

It’s important to note that hydroquinone is not an ointment that will bleach the skin, but it will lighten it through inhibiting the production of the melanin hyperpigmentation. It has been banned in many countries such as France due to their safety concerns about cancer risks.

Negative reactions are however, relatively minor and the result of using too high of a concentration or from other skin lightening products in conjunction with glucocorticoids or iodines. Most negative results were on African women.

RevitolHydroquinone has also been known to cause leukemia in rats and mice. According to the European Union, it was banned in 2001 from cosmetics but does show up as a “bootleg” cream occasionally in developing countries.

In the United States it is available over the counter in the 2% formula only. Always make sure to read the label and follow the directions accordingly.

Using this product too frequently or in higher doses can cause skin damage and health concerns.

According to extensive research, hydroquinone and tretinoin combined have been shown to prevent hormone and sun induced melasma conditions.

Stopping the melanin from producing the substance responsible for darkening skin, this has shown many promising results for many patients.

If the skin responds accordingly to these, an exfoliant may also be used in conjunction with the above treatment in order to complete the treatment.


An exfoliant treatment will consist of either a topical chemical or cosmetic peel or even a laser. New innovative treatments have been shown to be effective on many patients.

LED treatment systems are showing excellent results on many patients and technology is coming up with new innovations almost daily.


DermologyCortisone is often combined with hydroquinone or tretinoin for its anti inflammatory properties.

The negative effects of the cortisone are balanced out by the positive effects of the tretinoin and hydroquione.


This alternative is considered safer than the above ointment options. Derived from leaves of bearberry, carnberry, mulberries or blueberries (the shrub itself) it’s also present in many types of pears.

It helps to inhibit the melanin production and to reduce the skin pigmentation. Medical studies show that this is an efficient method for reducing extra pigmentation on the skin and for skin lightening.

Kojic Acid

A by product of fermentation of malting rice, this is often used in the making of sake. Research shows that kojic acid is an effective way to reduce excess skin pigmentation.

Unfortunately, this is unstable when used in cosmetics and if it’s exposed to sunlight it can turn to a brown color and lose its potency. Some formula’s use kojic dipalmitate as an alternate option since it will remain stable. There is currently no research that validates this information.

Azelaic Acid

Used for acne treatments, it has shown some promising results when used for skin lightening. It has been shown as an option for reducing melanin production and thus lightens the skin effectively.

Vitamin C

Shown as an effective way to lighten skin and for its use as an antioxidant.

Retinoic Acid

best skin productsTretinoin, also referred to as retinoic acid, has been shown to be slightly effective in treating patients with skin discolorations from vitiligo, sun damage or other conditions causing skin discolorations.

When using such products patients are urged to avoid the sun as it can cause further damage sense the skin will be much more sensitive to the UVA and the UVB rays.

Alpha Hydroxy Acid

Perhaps the most researched form of skin lightener, this has been shown to have a molecular size that allows it to penetrate the skin and inhibit melanin production.

It won’t lighten skin discolorations directly but can prevent further damage and darkening.

Always follow package instructions and check with your doctor prior to beginning use.


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