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10 Skin Lightening Ingredients to Even Your Tone and Eradicate Blemishes

Blotchy skin? Try these brightening ingredients.
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The pursuit of forever even skin is omnipresent, yet so difficult to achieve. By nature of time, dark spots, acne marks, and hyperpigmentation start to appear more and more visible, which is why skin lightening ingredients are some of the most sought-after traits in skincare. They work deep on a cellular level to reduce discoloration and fix uneven skin tone, leaving behind a smoother, brighter complexion. So whether you were a sun worshipper or have been left with acne scars, these are the best skin lightening ingredients to promote a more even-looking complexion.

Kojic acid

Kojic acid is a compound derived from mushrooms and is one of the most researched skin lightening ingredients out there. It works by inhibiting tyrosinase, the main enzyme needed in melanin production, which in turn fades hyperpigmentation. Dr. Claire Chang, a board-certified dermatologist of Union Square Laser Dermatology, says, “anyone who wants to improve the appearance of sun-damaged skin should use kojic acid”. In addition to brightening the skin, kojic acid is also a powerful antioxidant that fights free radicals — a common culprit of dark patches.

Alpha arbutin

Dermatologists have goaded this bearberry plant-derived ingredient as the secret to ultra-bright skin — and for good reason. Just like kojic acid, alpha arbutin prevents skin discoloration by inhibiting the production of melanin through limiting tyrosinase activity. 

Do you often notice freckles and sunspots on your skin after spending too much time in the sun? This happens due to an enzyme called tyrosinase. This enzyme activates each time your skin comes in contact with UV light. In an attempt to protect skin from sun damage, it triggers excess melanin production, leading to a darker skin tone. Well, arbutin reduces skin darkening by preventing the production of tyrosinase.

Even more, alpha arbutin is relatively safe as it doesn’t kill the pigment-producing cells but gently brightens by inhibiting melanin-producing cells. Besides, you can pair it with other ingredients like vitamin C and AHA for maximum effectiveness. So grab your alpha arbutin serum and start on your path to a smoother, brighter, and blemish-free complexion.

Vitamin C

We couldn’t make a list of the best skin brightening ingredients without mentioning vitamin C — an all-time favorite when it comes to fighting discoloration. The reason for this is not farfetched; vitamin C cuts down melanin production and defends the skin from UV damage, thereby preventing the formation of dark spots. On top of this, vitamin C boosts collagen production, needed for skin elasticity and firmness.

If you are afraid of trying other skin-lightening ingredients because of the risk of side effects, then go for vitamin C. Pick a vitamin C serum for hyperpigmentation and apply it once or twice per day for dramatic results.

Tranexamic acid

Anyone trying to even out the skin tone and banish discoloration should put tranexamic acid on the radar. Briefly, tranexamic acid hinders the transfer of pigment to the skin’s surface while offsetting free radical damage and consolidating the protective barrier. According to research, it’s as effective as 3% hydroquinone at treating melasma and post-acne marks, making it one of the best skin brightening ingredients out there. If you want to add this multi-tasker to your skincare routine we recommend any of these tranexamic acid serums — they are worth all the cash!

Niacinamide

Also known as vitamin B3, niacinamide is another skin brightening ingredient that everyone can use. It’s a water-soluble vitamin that helps reduce aging signs and acne while boosting hydration. Yet, niacinamide lightens the skin by blocking the transfer of melanin in cells. Plus, it’s a potent antioxidant known to reduce the effects of sun-induced damage, hence fewer chances of hyperpigmentation.

Retinoids

Apart from stimulating cell renewal and increasing collagen levels, retinoids are also potent skin brighteners since they hinder the activity of melanocytes (melanin-producing cells). For the record, studies found that retinoids can reduce pigmentation by 60% and contribute to a proper distribution of pigment in the cells, resulting in fewer dark spots. For this reason, retinoids like retinol and retinaldehyde are considered one of the most effective skin lightening ingredients to fade hyperpigmentation. Look for a retinol-infused serum and use it every night for the best results.

Green tea

The benefits of green tea for skin whitening have been well known for a while now. It turns out EGCG and a few other catechins present in green tea can depigment the skin since they inhibit the process of melanin production by regulating tyrosinase activity. Besides, green tea is rich in antioxidants that increase the skin’s defense against oxidative stress, therefore preventing excess melanin production. Hence, by adding green tea skincare products to your regimen you keep blemishes at bay.

Licorice extract

Licorice extract stands out as a promising skin lightening agent because it contains a particular compound, glabridin, that can reduce the activity of various enzymes responsible for melanin production. As a matter of fact, studies found that licorice extract is a better tyrosinase inhibitor than kojic acid and can lighten the skin in as little as four weeks. More than that, licorice extract is a powerful antioxidant that decreases reactive oxygen species, which causes premature aging, dark spots, and skin discoloration.

Mulberry leaf extract 

Rich in vitamin A, C, and E, this antioxidant is another natural ingredient touted for its brightening and depigmenting benefits. Studies actually confirmed that mulberry leaf extract works by fading out dark spots and discoloration while improving skin hydration. It’s a great multitasker!

Dioic acid

Dioic acid has a very similar structure to azelaic acid, working to brighten the skin by decreasing the production of tyrosinase as well as limiting the melanin transfer in cells. But how good is it really? One study found that 1% dioic acid applied twice daily is as effective as 2% hydroquinone while keeping side effects at a minimum.

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Women's Concepts relies on the latest scientific research to provide accurate, complete, and fact-based information in skincare, on which we're willing to stake our reputation. Our team includes skincare experts who are highly regarded in their fields and committed to upholding the best standards of research. We spend quality time vetting every single product we recommend and double-checking all the facts shared on Women's Concepts. We always stand on the side of inclusivity, and our mission is to help everyone fix their skin issues as they arise and leverage the products they buy to achieve their goals. You can view our expert review board and everything about our editorial guidelines here.
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