Get Even skin tone!
Get the low down on Skin Bleachers, Skin Lighteners, and Skin Brighteners.
do skin lightening creams work?
Some work a lot faster than others.
Ease of use and risk varies greatly.
One is poisonous.
Skin lightening is not the same as bleaching.
Brightening is not the same as lightening.
Hydroquinone, Kojic Acid and Mercury
First, stay away from Skin Bleachers. You do not want to strip the color out of your skin that is already there. Most of the visuals that come to mind of skin lightening gone wrong is actually skin bleachers. A less harsh, more permanent and safer route is to prevent pigment from forming.
Skin lightening products that work use one or a combination of three ingredients. All three of these work in the same way. They decrease melanin production and they break down melanin pigment granules. It is permanent, as long as you stay out of the sun / use a great sun block. The third one listed here is very poisious and can kill you and hurt people in your house not even using it!
Hydroquinone, at 2%, is the #1 skin lightening agent used worldwide. It is proven to work in independent laboratory research, again and again. At 2% you do not need a prescription, either. There are warnings though. Although less common than the internet makes it seem, if it is used improperly it can cause discoloration and ochronosis.
Kojic Acid is a natural skin lightening agent that works and doesn't have the worries of hydroquinone. The one main issue with using only Kojic Acid, is that 4% hydroquinone is proven to work much better than 0.75% kojic acid cream.
As the FDA reports, it is unfortunate that companies use mercury, but they do. Mercury works very well to whiten skin and some countries don't have the restrictions to prevent it being added to cosmetics and lotions.
Hydroquinone - What you need to know
First, rarely in life will something work well and fast but be 100% risk free. Hydroquinone is no exception. The risk is mainly to people with naturally dark complexions, people who use higher strengths than 2% and people using it over an extended period of time or in the sun. A few countries have banned over-the-counter sells of hydroquinone. It isn't banned 100% anywhere, just at certain strengths or without a prescription. The US is not one of them. You can buy 2% and lower without a prescription here.
What makes hydroquinone so different than Kojic Acid and other all natural skin lighteners is that, in addition to preventing pigment production, it also can kill melanin producing cells.
Hydroquinone is best for light complexioned people trying to restore even tone by permanently removing acne discoloration and age spots. It does not work so reliably well with darker skin types. Do people with dark skin use it and love it? Yes, most do but the small percentage that has an adverse effect do wish they had listened to the warnings.
To minimize your risks there are some things you can do. Do not use hydroquinone for more than 2 months at a time, then take a month off. Never use it during the day, overcast or not, without serious UVA & UVB sun protection. It is very smart to keep it as a part of your night routine and wash it off in the morning.
Kojic Acid - The Lightener for Everyone
Kojic acid is the only choice to use over a longer period of time and for removing acne scars or other discoloration from skin tones that are darker. Hydroquinone is not recommended for prolonged use or on darker skin shades.
Kojic acid really does lighten skin and it is a natural ingredient without the adverse effects or risks of hydroquinone. It is fine to use it in the sun. You don't have to take time off from using it before you get the results you desire, either. Another huge plus for Kojic Acid is the shelf life. Once exposed to the air Kojic Acid keeps its strength, unlike hydroquinone.
To get flawless even color on darker skin types:
Use an AHA Cleanser or toner + Vitamin C Serum + Kojic Acid + 10% Glycolic Acid on top.
Skin Brighteners, not Skin Lighteners
Glycolic Acid Lotion
If you are looking for a must have, Glycolic Acid is it. It is a specific kind of AHA. Whether you are using hydroquinone or kojic acid, laboratories prove that a 10% glycolic solution on top increases the effectiveness. Even alone, glycolic acid will brighten your skin and even out the tone and texture. It is a great exfoliant.
AHA Cleaner or Toner
Alpha Hydroxy Acids in general are great skin brighteners. Used as a cleanser or as a toner, it helps to clear away dead skin cells and to make your entire routine have more effect. It is the perfect step prior to your Vitamin C or Vitamin A serum. Even by itself, it does make your skin healthier.
Vitamin C Serum
Vitamin C alone will not even out your skin tone with a fast dramatic effect. Over time it does brighten your complexion, even it out and give it a more healthy glow. A Vitamin C serum is a perfect addition to a skin whitening regiment. Hydroquinone is a carcinogen and Vitamin C helps to undo damage by carcinogens. It seems to be a perfect fit.
Vitamin A Serum
Vitamin A is attainable topically as Retinol A. It is commonly used in an anti aging skin routine. Over time it does brighten skin, but you will need some patience if you are looking for serious changes to age and acne scars. But, it is better in some ways than other products because it works on so many skin issues related to aging, such as wrinkles. Retinol A increases cell turn over, helping you grow new and better skin. This is why it is a brightener and not a whitener. It does nothing about melanin production.
Mercury is a Real Worry
Don't think you know which countries keep you the safest. The World Health Organization reported that Europe and many African nations banned mercury in cosmetics by 2011. The US, Canada and the Philippines has set "limits." In other words, it is totally legal to have some amounts. Certain Asian and African countries use mercury containing products routinely. WHO found that "companies selling products that contain mercury, to not always list it as an ingredient." Mercury at any amount is bad!
The take away? Research the company making your products and be sure it is made in a country that at least has some laws providing and enforcing limits. Then, be sure you trust the company. Make sure it is one that has been around and has a long-time customer base.