The Most Effective Antioxidants for Skin Whitening You Need to Fight Discoloration

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Whether the years you were a sun worshipper left you with dark spots or acne scars have taken up your complexion, antioxidants are some of the best ingredients to keep your skin bright and even. If there’s one thing we know for certain about antioxidants, it’s that they’re the backbone of any skincare routine. This is because antioxidants are the first line of defense against free radicals, working day and night to protect skin from sun damage and slow down the aging process by disarming these harmful molecules and stopping them from attaching to your healthy cells. But aside from that, some particular antioxidants also interfere with pigment production, which means they work wonders not only to prevent discoloration but to lighten skin tone too. As such, we created this post to discuss the best antioxidants for skin whitening that have been scientifically proven to have bleaching effects upon hyperpigmentation and dark patches.

How do antioxidants lighten skin?

Skin discoloration is caused mainly by an excess of melanin (skin-darkening pigment) due to sun exposure and free radical damage. Since antioxidants target both causes, they reduce the chances of hyperpigmentation by preventing the overproduction of melanin. Besides, some antioxidants have the ability to suppress melanin synthesis by inhibiting tyrosinase, the enzyme responsible for pigment production. Hence, they can lighten the skin when used in the long run.[1] Vitamin C, resveratrol, retinol, coenzyme Q10, resorcinol, niacinamide, glutathione, and azelaic acid are some of the best antioxidants for skin whitening because they have melanin-inhibiting effects.

The best antioxidants for skin whitening

Vitamin C

This water-soluble vitamin is essential for protecting skin against environmental aggressors and maintaining your complexion firm and bright. First, vitamin C is great at scavaging free radicals and reducing redness since is a potent antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties. Second, it can promote collagen production, which in the long term keeps the skin from sagging and developing wrinkles as it ages. Finally, vitamin C can lighten the skin and fade dark spots by regulating melanin production. More precisely, it was found that vitamin C and its derivatives can inhibit tyrosinase activity, which in turn leads to a brighter complexion.[2]

Related: Vitamin C Serums for Hyperpigmentation and Dark Spots

Resveratrol

Resveratrol is a naturally-occurring antioxidant present in berries, grapes, and peanuts. Apart from fighting free radicals, resveratrol stimulates collagen production and has anti-inflammatory properties, which means it can effectively recover the skin from UV exposure. Plus, resveratrol improves hyperpigmentation and uneven tone by inhibiting tyrosinase enzyme, making it one of the best antioxidants for skin whitening out there.[3]

Related: 7 Best Resveratrol Serums to Brighten Your Skin

Green tea

Green tea is the least processed type of tea made from the leaves and buds of the Camellia sinensis plant. It’s often used in skincare due to its high content of catechins and polyphenols, which imbue green tea with endless benefits for skin, including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and lightning. In fact, it was found that the most abundant catechin in green tea, EGCG, is particularly good at preventing excess melanin production and brightening dark spots, being more effective than kojic acid on this matter.[4]

Related: 13 Best Green Tea Skincare Products for Healthy Skin

Retinol

Retinol is a member of the retinoid family, a group of vitamin A derivatives with skin-renewing powers. Although it is best known for its anti-aging benefits, retinol is also a potent antioxidant that can diminish skin discoloration when used regularly. It mainly does this by fighting radicals and increasing cell turnover, helping remove the already pigmented cells and replacing them with fresher, healthier ones. More than that, retinol can block the transfer of melanin to the skin’s surface as well as reduce the activity of melanin-producing cells, ultimately minimizing hyperpigmentation and other blemishes.[5]

Related: 11 Best Retinol Serums for Forever Smooth and Flawless Skin

Niacinamide

Niacinamide is a type of vitamin B3, a pivotal ingredient in skincare as it packs antioxidant, brightening, moisturizing and skin-strengthening benefits. As for skin whitening, niacinamide helps lessen discoloration and eliminate dark patches by blocking the transfer of melanin to the epidermal cells. To be specific, it keeps the cells that synthesize, store, and transport melanin from interacting with your skin cells.[6]

Related: The Best Niacinamide Creams To Tackle All Your Skin Concerns

Phenylethyl resorcinol

Phenylethyl resorcinol is a white crystalline phenolic compound derived from pine bark, particularly known to be a powerful antioxidant and skin whitening agent. When topically applied, it reduces melanin content in cells by binding to tyrosinase and blocking the enzyme activity responsible for pigment production, providing a bright and even skin tone.[7] You can find resorcinol and its derivatives in all sorts of skincare products, including toners, creams, and serums.

Azelaic acid

Azelaic acid is a chemical compound that occurs naturally in wheat, barley, yeast, and rye or can be lab-made. It’s one of the best antioxidants for skin whitening because it can inhibit tyrosinase, fight free radicals, and exfoliate the pigmented cells from the skin’s surface.[8] In plus, azelaic acid can also kill bacteria on your skin, preventing acne and other forms of breakouts that may lead to further dark patches.

Glutathione 

This naturally occurring compound is present in every cell in your body and is often called the mother of antioxidants for fair reason. It can be taken orally as a supplement or applied topically, both of which can drastically reduce UV damage, lessen inflammations at a cellular level, hinder tyrosinase activity, and deliver long-lasting effects for skin whitening. For the record, studies found that skincare products containing 0.1%, 0.5%, and 2% glutathione are very effective in improving hyperpigmentation and brightening skin tone when used twice daily for at least one month.[9]

Coenzyme Q10 

Coenzyme Q10 is an essential antioxidant produced naturally by the body with the role of fighting free radicals and sending messages to cells to “behave,” aka to grow and repair. While it comes with a long list of perks, including inducing collagen and elastin production, restoring skin, and strengthening the protective barrier, coenzyme Q10 is also a potent tyrosinase inhibitor. It was found in multiple studies to have depigmentation and whitening effects upon dark spots, post-acne marks, and other forms of discoloration.[10][11]

Licorice extract

You often see licorice extract serving as the main selling pitch in brightening skincare products. This is because glabridin, a flavonoid and the main compound of licorice, is a very potent antioxidant and melanin-inhibitor that can reduce the activity of all enzymes responsible for pigment production.[12] It also reduces inflammations and mitigates UV damage, two culprits that lead to hyperpigmentation.


Sources

Women’s Concepts uses reliable sources, including dermatologists’ insights, clinical trials, and scientific journals, to find accurate information and support all the facts shared in our articles. All statements and claims have clear and legit references. Read our editorial policy to learn more about our sources of information, our process of researching and fact-checking the content, and how our team strives to keep all articles updated, completed, and trustworthy.

References
  1. Addor FAS. Antioxidants in dermatology. An Bras Dermatol. 2017 May-Jun;92(3):356-362. doi: 10.1590/abd1806-4841.20175697. PMID: 29186248; PMCID: PMC5514576.
  2. Sanadi RM, Deshmukh RS. The effect of Vitamin C on melanin pigmentation – A systematic review. J Oral Maxillofac Pathol. 2020 May-Aug;24(2):374-382. doi: 10.4103/jomfp.JOMFP_207_20. Epub 2020 Sep 9. PMID: 33456250; PMCID: PMC7802860.
  3. Boo YC. Human Skin Lightening Efficacy of Resveratrol and Its Analogs: From in Vitro Studies to Cosmetic Applications. Antioxidants (Basel). 2019 Aug 22;8(9):332. doi: 10.3390/antiox8090332. PMID: 31443469; PMCID: PMC6770230.
  4. Sato K, Toriyama M. Depigmenting effect of catechins. Molecules. 2009 Nov 4;14(11):4425-32. doi: 10.3390/molecules14114425. PMID: 19924076; PMCID: PMC6255032.
  5. Mukherjee S, Date A, Patravale V, Korting HC, Roeder A, Weindl G. Retinoids in the treatment of skin aging: an overview of clinical efficacy and safety. Clin Interv Aging. 2006;1(4):327-48. doi: 10.2147/ciia.2006.1.4.327. PMID: 18046911; PMCID: PMC2699641
  6. Hakozaki T, Minwalla L, Zhuang J, Chhoa M, Matsubara A, Miyamoto K, Greatens A, Hillebrand GG, Bissett DL, Boissy RE. The effect of niacinamide on reducing cutaneous pigmentation and suppression of melanosome transfer. Br J Dermatol. 2002 Jul;147(1):20-31. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2133.2002.04834.x. PMID: 12100180.
  7. Kim BS, Na YG, Choi JH, Kim I, Lee E, Kim SY, Lee JY, Cho CW. The Improvement of Skin Whitening of Phenylethyl Resorcinol by Nanostructured Lipid Carriers. Nanomaterials (Basel). 2017 Aug 28;7(9):241. doi: 10.3390/nano7090241. PMID: 28846658; PMCID: PMC5618352.
  8. Hollinger JC, Angra K, Halder RM. Are Natural Ingredients Effective in the Management of Hyperpigmentation? A Systematic Review. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2018 Feb;11(2):28-37. Epub 2018 Feb 1. PMID: 29552273; PMCID: PMC5843359.
  9. Weschawalit S, Thongthip S, Phutrakool P, Asawanonda P. Glutathione and its anti-aging and antimelanogenic effects. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2017 Apr 27;10:147-153. doi: 10.2147/CCID.S128339. PMID: 28490897; PMCID: PMC5413479.
  10. Hseu YC, Ho YG, Mathew DC, Yen HR, Chen XZ, Yang HL. The in vitro and in vivo depigmenting activity of Coenzyme Q10 through the down-regulation of α-MSH signaling pathways and induction of Nrf2/ARE-mediated antioxidant genes in UVA-irradiated skin keratinocytes. Biochem Pharmacol. 2019 Jun;164:299-310. doi: 10.1016/j.bcp.2019.04.015. Epub 2019 Apr 13. PMID: 30991050.
  11. Zhang M, Dang L, Guo F, Wang X, Zhao W, Zhao R. Coenzyme Q(10) enhances dermal elastin expression, inhibits IL-1α production and melanin synthesis in vitro. Int J Cosmet Sci. 2012 Jun;34(3):273-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2494.2012.00713.x. Epub 2012 Mar 24. PMID: 22339577.
  12. Yokota T, Nishio H, Kubota Y, Mizoguchi M. The inhibitory effect of glabridin from licorice extracts on melanogenesis and inflammation. Pigment Cell Res. 1998 Dec;11(6):355-61. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0749.1998.tb00494.x. PMID: 9870547.
Who wrote this?
Ana Vasilescu
Ana Vasilescu
Ana is a sociologist and feminist with a shared passion for literature, psychology, and skincare, the combo that made her determined to start Women's Concepts. With over five years of experience in dermatological research, she has now become a certified skincare consultant keen to convince others of the importance of a diligent routine. Her close relationships with dermatologists around the globe, along with years of researching, analyzing studies, and hand-testing products on a daily basis, made Ana one of the best persons you can get advice from.
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