If you're on the hunt for the best skin lightening products you can get your hands on, there are a few things you absolutely must know.
The very first rule of thumb: it all comes down to ingredients. There are many whitening products that promise the world but don't back it up with potent ingredients. Which is why the very first thing you should look for to inspect whether a skin lightening product will do what it claims is the ingredient list.
But if you've ever scanned the ingredient list of a skin lightening cream or two, you've probably experienced deep confusion. Sure, there are a few ingredients we all recognize, like Vitamin C or hydroquinone, but what's with all the rest? What do they do?
And it's important to know. First, obviously, because you don’t want to end up treating your skin to something potentially dangerous. There is a whole range of natural skin lightening ingredients or even fully natural products such as oils for skin lightening, that you really shouldn’t risk it with harsh chemicals.
Also, skin lightening products aren't so cheap after all. Considering potent ingredients means potent results, don't you want to make sure you're getting a product with a blend of the most effective whitening ingredients?
Of course, you do. Which brings us to the second most important rule: Know which skin lightening ingredients do what. Because not all skin lightening ingredients were made the same.
In fact, they can be sorted into 3 sections based on what they do. Here's a roundup of each of them!
Skin Whitening Ingredients
These guys are the true lightening and whitening agents. They work by inhibiting tyrosinase, the enzyme responsible for stimulating melanin production. In this way, products containing these substances eventually end up interfering with the melanin production process. When used consistently, over time, your skin stops producing as much melanin. The result? Lighter skin.
Kojic acid and Alpha arbutin (also known as Bearberry Extract) are two really effective and still safe agents rocking the skin lightening segment of the cosmetics industry lately. Both ingredients fall in the category of natural skin lighteners. Arbutin sounds rather scary and chemical, but it’s actually a great skin lightener, and it’s perfectly safe.
Glutathione is another famed melanin inhibitor that not only whitens skin but also provides an immunity boost and other health benefits. But this is because our bodies naturally produce it, just its levels drop as we age.
Not all melanin inhibitors are perfectly safe though - hydroquinone for example. While it’s considered safe and regulators in many countries still allow for it to be used in products, you need to be extremely careful. It can cause serious side effects, such as fetus defects in pregnant women for instance.
So, again, make sure you know your skin whitening ingredients well.
Exfoliation essentially clears out the dead skin cells that are sitting atop the surface of your skin. The term can refer to any procedure that aims to remove the surface layer of dead skin cells, ranging from dermatologist-administered chemical peels to homemade facials from natural ingredients only.
Not only does this layer of gunk on the surface dull your complexion, but it also prevents the whitening ingredients you're using from penetrating deeper into your skin. This is why exfoliants are essential for skin lightening. They don't whiten skin, per se, but they act like sidekicks to melanin inhibitors. The melanin inhibitors block melanin production while the exfoliators encourage cell turnover to bring your fresh, new, lighter skin to the surface more quickly.
There's really only one skin lightening ingredient that goes beyond inhibiting melanin and actually kills melanocytes altogether: monobenzone. It's a potent depigmenting agent but it is absolutely not recommended.
Usually, it’s used only for people with vitiligo, a skin condition where white patches of skin spread over at random places on the body and face. Also, it’s always used under a doctor’s supervision. It can whiten, yes, but it can also disfigure your skin. In fact, we consider it one of the most dangerous skin lightening ingredients to avoid.
Okay, now that you know which ingredients to look out for – and which to avoid – here's a roundup of the best skin lightening products on the market. Read through our reviews to get an idea of which ingredients are used, how potent they are and what you can expect!
Marie France Kojic Acid Soap
At the top of the list for skin lightening products sits a kojic acid soap. Why? It’s simply the easiest, most effortless method to get a few shades lighter. And Marie France's Kojic Soap is the best one for this purpose because it is highly potent – most kojic soaps contain very little kojic acid which leads to very little results.
Marie France uses high concentrations of both kojic acid and papain, allowing the soap to multi-task. The pure kojic acid works as a melanin inhibitor, blocking the tyrosinase enzymes on your epidermis to gradually lighten your skin. At the same time, papain acts as the skin exfoliator, getting rid of dead skin cells and promoting cell turnover so that your new, kojic-acid-influenced, lighter skin can come up to the surface faster.
And despite its potency, it's much gentler than other kojic acid soaps, mostly due to the fact that all the other ingredients in this professional-strength soap have soothing properties: glycerin is a popular emollient that helps seal in hydration, Vitamin E is a deeply nourishing moisturizer and aloe vera is famous for its healing and soothing properties.
Those are the only 5 ingredients in this soap: Glycerin, Pure Kojic Acid, Papain, Vitamin E, and Aloe Vera – which is another reason we love this soap. It’s the bare essentials – no preservatives, no parabens, nothing but skin lightening or nourishing ingredients.
C Bella Organic Brightening Toner
Many of us don't consider a toner to be essential to our skincare but when it comes to lightening your complexion, you really don't want to skip this step. Especially since it only takes a second and can play a huge part in transforming the way your skin looks and feels after cleansing.
A great toner that's stocked with helpful ingredients - and leaves out irritating and harmful ingredients like alcohol - can replenish and nourish your skin after cleansing by quickly supplying the skin with generous amounts of antioxidants, hydration, soothing agents, as well as beneficial ingredients that further boost skin cell turnover and lighten hyperpigmentation.
Just make sure you choose one that's full of brightening goodness, like C Bella's Organic Brightening Toner, which is made from a base of aloe vera and has heaps of natural exfoliating ingredients like papaya and pineapple extract as well as brightening ingredients like citrus extracts.
Ultra Potent Brightening Serum
Serums are the gold standard of skin care since they leave out typical pore-clogging ingredients and are instead stocked with powerful active ingredients composed of smaller molecules for better penetration and absorption. And Admire My Skin's Ultra Potent Brightening Serum doesn't disappoint.
And it does a lot more than brightening, which is obvious when you consider its ingredients. For starters, this is a hydroquinone cream and it contains the maximum percentage allowed for over the counter hydroquinone - 2%. It also combines this with natural skin lighteners like kojic acid, azelaic acid and Vitamin C for extra potency.
On top of that, it even includes exfoliants in the form of both alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) like Lactic Acid and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) like Salicylic Acid.
All of the skin lightening ingredients and the combination of AHAs and BHAs make this Brightening Serum a very potent whitening product - but keep in mind that as effective as it is, it's also strong. So apply a teensy-tiny bit - a little is all you need! - and make sure to nourish your skin with moisturizing creams and protect it with sunscreen while you use this serum.
Side note: This lightening serum is ideal for those dealing with blemishes as well, thanks to acne-fighting Salicylic Acid and Azelaic Acid and the lack of pore-clogging ingredients.
Last note: your dark spots can turn even darker within a few days of using this serum but don't be alarmed - that darkened will soon start peeling off and you'll get lighter, brighter skin underneath.
Glutathione is one of the most popular skin lightening ingredients and it's no surprise why.
This master antioxidant doesn't just lighten your skin superficially - it actually lowers overall melanin production and changes the metabolic pathway of melanin from making dark-pigmented melanin to creating light-pigmented melanin.
The one big concern with taking glutathione orally is absorption. The problem is that oral glutathione is not as bioavailable as glutathione injections because a lot of it gets broken down in the stomach before it even has a chance to enter the bloodstream.
That's why we recommend liposomal glutathione - this allows the glutathione to bypass the digestive system and enter the bloodstream, making it as effective as an IV but much cheaper and a helluva lot more comfortable.
Keep in mind that liposomal glutathione doesn't necessarily have to be marketed as a "whitening product" - this has nothing to do with its efficacy. You should be looking for the highest quality of these products, not any claims on skin whitening - glutathione has that side effect anyway, as long as you take enough (the recommended dosage for skin lightening is between 1,000 to 2,000 mg of glutathione daily, divided into two doses) of a quality glutathione with good absorption.
Whitening Face Masks
What better way to pamper yourself and get lighter skin than by donning a face mask? Just keep in mind that there are a lot of whitening masks out there but the best ones contain natural skin lighteners like kojic acid, licorice root, mulberry extract, and vitamin C.
So which melanin inhibiting whitening masks should you go for? The Mario Badescu Whitening Mask is a classic - it contains a potent combo of kojic acid, licorice extract and mulberry extract to lighten hyperpigmentation. Pink Madison's Whitening Mask is also great - this one's even got lactic acid to exfoliate and bentonite clay, making it perfect for oily, acne-prone skin.
But if you're seeking instantly visible brightening benefits - go straight for a concentrated Vitamin C mask. Anskin's Vitamin C Modeling Mask is perfect for those seeking instant gratification.
Meladerm Skin Lightening Cream
Meladerm's cream is one of the most potent skin lightening creams you'll get without a prescription and it's safe for all skin types. Since it contains no hydroquinone, it's the perfect fade cream for dark skin (as well as light skin).
Meladerm's potency is due to the fact that it does not skimp on ingredients. Whereas the majority of natural skin lightening creams will use one, two, or three natural lightening ingredients - Meladerm contains a lineup of the most effective natural skin lighteners in their cream, like Licorice Extract, Arbutin (Bearberry Extract), Alpha Arbutin, Mulberry Extract, Kojic Acid, Vitamin C, Sepiwhite, Gigawhite, and several other plant-derived skin lighteners.
On top of this, Meladerm cleverly combines gentle yet effective exfoliants like Lactic Acid to help get rid of dead skin cells so the lightening ingredients can penetrate deeper into your skin. Lactic Acid is an AHA that's found naturally in yogurt and has bigger particles than, say, Glycolic Acid which makes it less irritating for sensitive skin.
We especially love that Meladerm cream also contains no parabens, artificial fragrances or colors and no oil, making it suitable for sensitive skin and skin that’s prone to breakouts as well!
Perfect Image Lactic Acid 50% Peel
Soaps and creams are great but most of them take a while before you start seeing visible results. Chemical peels, on the other hand, can help speed up results in a matter of minutes. You don’t use them every day – you only want to do a chemical peel once a week at most. And you only leave them on for a maximum of around 5 minutes. Yet, despite their brief period on your skin, they’re able to produce drastic results.
How is this possible, you ask?
Well, most chemical peels are made from alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) like glycolic acid and lactic acid or from beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) like salicylic acid - both AHAs and BHAs are amazing, non-abrasive exfoliators that work by bringing the pH of the skin to a higher acidity level in order to chemically loosen the “glue” that binds the dead and damaged skin cells. This exfoliating action naturally promotes new cell growth leading to clearer skin, increased collagen production, fading spots and scars, and overall more radiant and youthful skin.
Now combine those potent exfoliants with melanin inhibiting ingredients and you get a peel that gives you skin lightening benefits and the exfoliation to reveal your results faster. Perhaps the holy grail of skin lightening peels is the Perfect Image 50% lactic acid peel.
Lactic acid is found naturally in milk and yogurt and is one of the gentlest chemical peels you can get your hands on. It’s an ideal chemical peel for skin brightening on its own – especially at higher concentrations – and is great for hyperpigmentation and rosacea.
Now combine that with potent melanin inhibitors like kojic acid and bearberry extract and you wind up with one of the most powerful skin lightening chemical peels!
Raphe Pharmaceuticals Alpha Hydroxy Quinone
This isn't your average skin lightening cream - in fact, it's not a cream at all. It's simply a potent, concentrated whitening agent that's formulated with 90% liquid mequinol for permanent skin lightening as well as 5% alpha hydroxy acids to exfoliate and speed the whitening process.
Because it is a very concentrated solution, this is not meant to be used directly on your skin. Repeat: do not use this directly on your skin!
Instead, add it into your regular lotion or cream at a concentration of 2% to 5%. We recommend starting small - at 2% - and working your way up if you need it. You may not need the extra potency at all since this is a highly effective skin lightener even at the lower concentration.
However, definitely read more about mequinol before you opt to use it to get to know the potential side effects and tips on how to use it safely.
Sunscreen is the most underrated skin lightening product. Which is a shame really. If you are looking to achieve permanent skin lightening, sunscreen is the most effective weapon in your arsenal.
We are constantly bombarded by skin darkening radiation from the sun, and a lot of the skin whitening products we slather on actually increase our sensitivity to the sun, reversing all the lightning we've managed to achieve!
So it goes without saying that a strong SPF sunscreen is a must-have in your skin lightening regimen. Even better if it's a skin whitening sunscreen. Essentially hitting two birds with one stone, skin whitening sunscreens provide ample sun protection and essential compounds that inhibit melanin production in our skin cells.
So which are the best ones? Shiseido's Anessa is perfect - it's one of the strongest sunscreens, offering a whopping SPF of 50 and Pa+++, which means that it protects you against UVA rays up to 8 times more than if you go out without protection (bye, wrinkles from the sun). It has all the prerequisite ingredients to protect against UVA and UVB rays, and it has the addition of M-Tranexamic acid, a proven ingredient for skin lightening. It also contains hyaluronic acid and collagen, two more skincare powerhouses that provide a bevy of skin benefits.
On a budget? Another great pick is Skin Aqua's Whitening Sunscreen, which has similar ingredients to the Anessa sunscreen but at a much friendlier price tag.