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Hot New Ingredient: Cinnamomum subavenium Found to Safely Whiten Skin—With Exclusive Commentary About How Skin-lightening Works and the Most Effective Skin-lightening Ingredients

Posted: April 15, 2011

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Katie Schaefer tells how skin lightening works, providing insight on the various available ingredient for yourself and your clients.

When addressing skin pigmentation in clients, it is important for the skin care professional to understand that the terms "skin whitening" and "skin lightening" are often used interchangeably, and that their difference lies in the marketing target. Skin whitening is often used by companies marketing products to Asian women, who associate light skin with beauty and wealth, and skin lightening is often used to market to women with Caucasian or black skin, who seek products that will reduce their hyperpigmented areas to even their skin tone.

Products using both terms, however, are focused on reducing melanin, which is the pigment responsible for skin color. To effectively reduce facial pigmentation, a skin lightener has to reduce existing pigmentation, reduce the manufacture of additional pigmentation and prevent the transfer of current melanin to the melanosomes, all three of which so far has not been possible using only one skin-lightening ingredient. The problem with many skin lighteners is that they have been found to cause skin irritation. The following are a sampling of current skin lightening ingredients on the market.

  • Hydroquinone is a controversial skin-lightening ingredient, and it was removed from the over-the-counter (OTC) markets in Europe and Asia. However, it is available in both the OTC and prescription markets in the United States. It inhibits tyrosine, a substance in melanin production, but has been found to be potentially toxic to melanocytes.
  • Retinol is gaining popularity as a global skin lightener; however, it can cause irritation in clients depending on frequency of use and skin type.
  • Kojic acid and alpha lipoic acid are two skin lighteners that have been questioned for their skin-lightening ability due to their large molecule size and associated problems with skin penetration.
  • Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) is a skin-lightener with a catch—it does not lighten the skin effectively unless in high concentrations, where it can cause skin irritation and can actually darken skin in clients of color.
  • Finally, licorice extract does not have the irritation issues associated with other skin-lighteners, but to be effective, it has to be used in high concentrations, which can be costly for the skin care facility.

In the past few years, the road to safer, nonirritating skin-lighteners has led ingredient developers to extracts of brown seaweed, pea and yeast, the efficacy of which continues to be studied.