While millions of white women vie with each other to get the best tan, there are others who do their best to lighten their colored skin. These are mostly Asian and African-Americans, who run scared of the summer sun, afraid of tanning their already darker skin. Beauty product manufacturers are forever experimenting and trying to introduce new skin lightening creams and lotions in the market. Let's take a look at the type of skin lightening products available, their key ingredients and how effective they are.
Melanin is a pigment, which is the main ingredient that turns skin dark. It is the coloring agent of the skin. The higher the quantity of melanin, the darker the skin turns. Melanin production is up to 10 times more in dark skinned people. Any major defect in this enzyme activity can lead to skin pigmentation problems. And the sun is a major contributor in this production activity. The more the skin is exposed to the rays of the sun, the rate of melanin production increases.
Research is being continuously done and various formulations are being tried out to reduce the rate of melanin production in dark skinned people. Not only this, constant exposure to the sun's rays has the capacity to age one's skin prematurely. Another side effect of exposure in the sun is the appearance of spots, known as sun or liver spots.
Here, the skin becomes discolored, which is also called solar lentigenes. This can happen to all skin types. In the white skin, these lentigenes appear as small brown patches of freckles that increase over time. On darker skin tones, they appear as ashen-gray spots. Brown/ashen spots can also appear during pregnancy, while taking birth control pills or due to any hormonal imbalance.
They are referred to as pregnancy or hormone masking. One has to consider the depth of the discolored pigment while treating the discolored area. If the discoloration is superficial, skin lightening products can be used successfully. But, if the discoloration lies deep in the skin layer, then laser treatment may be necessary.
A very important point to keep in mind is that, none of the treatments will be beneficial, if a good sunscreen is not applied. The first step for treating discolored skin is the constant application of a sunscreen/sun block (minimum SPF should be 15). Another important aspect of the lightening process is exfoliation. It is absolutely necessary to exfoliate dead cells on the face and body before applying skin lightening creams, as these products cannot penetrate through dead skin cells. So, do keep in mind that sunscreens and exfoliants are vital to the skin lightening process.
Skin lightening products
Hydroquinone: It is one of the main topical ingredients in skin lightening creams for inhibiting melanin production. Over- the counter products contain 2% hydroquinone. Hydroquinone does not bleach the skin; it disrupts the melanin production. While some concern regarding hydroquinone's safety on skin has been expressed, experts argue that they are a result of usage of extremely high concentration of the chemical.
But, hydroquinone is unsuitable when used in cosmetic preparations, as exposure to air or sunlight can change its color. Hence, if you are planning to buy a product containing hydroquinone, make sure that it is packaged in a non-transparent container that doesn't let light and air in. Skin lightening products packaged in tubes are better than ones in jars.
Tretinoin: Research has proven that tretinoin is also an effective ingredient in treating skin discolorations. But, it takes much longer to produce satisfactory results. Products containing tretinoin must be used for a minimum period of six months before any improvement in skin color is noticed. Though tretinoin is comparatively less effective in skin lightening process, it plays a key role in skin's cell production, collagen production, thickness and elasticity. Hence, it can be combined with other effective products to obtain desired results.
Alpha Hydroxy Acids: Alpha Hydroxy Acids or AHA as they are commonly known can be combined with other treatments like hydroquinone, kojic acid and azelaic acid for improving sun-damaged skin. Basically, AHA's help the other ingredients penetrate the skin deeply. AHA acid peels are very useful in improving skin discolorations. But only a qualified person should be allowed to perform these type of facial peels.
Kojic Acid: Kojic acid is a by-product of manufacturing Sake, the Japanese rice wine. Kojic acid by itself or in combination with hydroquinone is highly effective in inhibiting melanin production. Unfortunately, like hydroquinone, kojic acid also turns brown in color and loses its efficacy upon exposure to air and sunlight.
Azelaic Acid: Azelaic acid is a component of grains such as wheat, barley and rye. It is very efficient when used for treating acne when used at a 20% concentration. Also, Azelic acid in combination with hydroquinone is effective in skin lightening. However, certain research suggests that Azelic should be an option if hydroquinone + tretinoin combination does not work out, as the acid is comparatively more irritating to the skin.
Arbutin: Arbutin is a natural alternative to hydroquinone, as it is derived from the leaves of cranberry, blueberry and bearberry shrubs. But its usage is still in the research stage and various combinations with other acids and chemicals are still being worked upon.
Vitamin C: Vitamin C in ascorbic form has shown success in inhibiting the production of melanin. Besides Vitamin C aids regeneration of Vitamin E in the skin. This improves synthesis of collagen and offer antioxidant protection.
Laser Treatment: Those pigments which are deep down in the dermis do not respond well to topical agents. Hence, laser treatment may be considered. But in addition to being an expensive process, results are not always consistent. Topical creams and sun blocks are also necessary to maintain the results obtained by laser treatment.
Skin lightening creams
The American Academy of Dermatology says that just 2 minutes of direct or indirect sunlight is enough to start the process of skin damage, discoloration, premature aging and brown spots. Skin lightening process takes 2-8 weeks to complete and obtain satisfactory results. Application of topical creams blocks the melanin production process, thereby, lightening the skin.
Vitamin A in the form of retinol has been used in treating damaged skin. It also aids exfoliation and renewal of skin with improved collagen production. Many skin products aimed at lightening the skin color contain a blend of lightening agents and tryroinase inhibitor that bring about reduction in skin pigmentation.