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Safe Skin Lighteners



Do you know what is the most commonly discussed skin condition in my Jeddah based dermatology practice? — Skin Pigmentation. Doctor why is my skin marred with dark patches and spots, why my complexion is not clear? And the list of concerns doesn’t end with face it goes on involving different areas of body too. Pigmentation related skin concerns like: melasma, uneven skin tone, dark elbows and knees are hot concerns among Middle Eastern and Asian skin. Horror tales speaking about misuse and abuse of legit and non-legit bleaching and skin whitening agents are too familiar across these regions, yet more chapters are continuously added to this book of cautionary tales.


I thought it’s be nice to get you acquainted with some of the newer and relatively safer ingredients, including some derived from plants, which are now being used in topical treatments for hyperpigmentation. Next time you are out shopping for a new skin blending and bleaching product look for these names in the ingredients list:

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  • Derived from the soybean plant, it is one of the most commonly used skin-lightening ingredients in moisturizers and a combination of products and cosmeceuticals.
  • It works by inhibiting the transfer of melanosomes (small “packages” of melanin) into the top layer of the skin, which causes skin darkening.
  • Studies have shown its effectiveness as a skin lightening ingredient in cosmeceuticals and its ability to suppress additional pigment from coming to the surface of the skin.

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  • It is a form of vitamin B3 that acts like soy by inhibiting the transfer of melanosomes into the skin’s upper layer.
  • It is used in many cosmeceuticals for its skin lightening effects and its potential to prevent additional pigment from coming to the surface of the skin.

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  • It is a natural substance derived from strawberries, cherries, and pomegranates.
  • It works as an antioxidant and also inhibits an enzyme needed for melanin production.
  • Studies show it is more effective at skin lightening than kojic acid or arbutin, which are both discussed below.


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  • It is an enzyme derived from a fungus that can break down melanin in the skin.
  • Lignin is found in wood pulp and when it breaks down, it can lighten the wood pulp. This is how wood pulp is whitened for use in paper and how lignin was discovered as a skin-lightening agent.
  • Currently it is available in an over-the-counter product range called Elure.
  • Studies have not been completed, but anecdotal reports have highlighted its skin-lightening properties.


In addition, studies have shown that these four ingredients pose little or no allergy risk, so they might be more tolerable to consumers who are allergic to other natural lightening agents. If an allergic reaction occurs, you should discontinue use and see a certified dermatologist for treatment.


The following three ingredients have also shown promise as skin lighteners, but they can cause an allergic reaction in some individuals:


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  • A natural derivative of hydroquinone derived from plants, including bearberry, blueberry, and cranberry.
  • It is usually available in combination with other skin-lightening agents in over-the-counter cosmeceuticals.
  • Some cosmetic products available at high-end department stores contain 3% concentrations, which studies show can significantly lighten the skin.

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  • It is an antioxidant derived from a fungus rather than a plant. It works by breaking down melanin in the skin and preventing its production in the skin.
  • Found in cosmecuticals in 1% to 4% concentrations either combined with other skin-lightening agents or by itself.
  • Clinical studies show improvement in skin lightening.


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  • There are a number of different licorice extracts derived from licorice root.
  • Liquirtin is available over the counter and has been shown to lighten skin.



Those affected by hyper pigmentation who would like to use a topical treatment to lighten their skin should consult a certified dermatologist who can help, separate fact from fiction in terms of product claims. It’s important to remember that even topical treatments backed by science do not work overnight because it takes time and consistent use to produce a noticeable improvement. You should also be cautious about ordering skin-lightening products via the Internet, because the country of origin for the active ingredients might be unknown, raising questions as to the purity or effectiveness of these ingredients, as well as the product’s overall quality.


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