Creams purporting to lighten the skin have been popular in Asia for years, but what works and what doesn’t?
In South Korea, K Pop and K Drama fans have boosted sales of both chemical and natural skin whitening products, where ‘baby faced’ stars have made a pale complexion extremely desirable. In response to this, prominent Korean cosmetics manufacturers such as Amorepacific have capitalized on the homegrown demand for skin whitening natural home remedies using aggressive marketing techniques and securing celebrity endorsements.
For those in other areas, global online marketplaces such as eBay retail cheap skin lightening soaps and lotions from Vietnam, Japan and the Philippines through third party sellers. These products aren’t necessarily harmful, although it is difficult to determine what ingredients they contain due to the fact that many of them are produced outside of medical laboratories by unknown manufacturers.
Aside from lightening the color of the skin, natural home remedies for skin whitening can improve a range of cosmetic skin problems in Asian skin. In the USA and South Korea, many women and men of Asian descent purchase skin lightening creams and serums from clinics and department stores. More often than not, these are manufactured by reputable brands and carry detailed ingredient lists; some are only retailed under medical supervision.
Regardless of where you decide to purchase your skin lightening products, it’s important to know what ingredients to look for in advance. The latest skin lightening creams available for home use contain a combination of different active ingredients, many of which are organically derived and suitable for Asian skin types.
The role of tyrosinase inhibitors in skin whitening
The most common type of melanin – the natural pigment that is responsible for the dark color in skin and hair – is eumelanin. The process of melanin production is called melanogenesis, which occurs naturally in ethnic skin types, or when the skin is exposed to sunlight (UV radiation). Melanin is derived from an amino acid called tyrosine – meaning that creams, soaps and serums containing tyrosine inhibitors are most effective in prohibiting melanin production.
Popular ingredients in skin whitening natural home remedies
Kojic acid is a natural skin whitening agent derived from the mushroom. It possesses anti-inflammatory properties and is often used to remedy post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation following cystic acne. In a study conducted at Seoul’s Hanyang University, it was found that while kojic acid possessed excellent skin lightening properties for environmentally-induced skin pigmentation, it was not as effective as alpha arbutin at prohibiting tyrosinase production at the skin’s cellular level. It is, however, a very effective treatment for freckles and melasma.
Liquorice extract acts as a natural skin bleaching agent when applied directly to the skin. Also known as glabridin, liquorice extract prevents cells from melanogenesis. It is known to be a powerful remedy for UV-induced pigmentation and is also effective at diminishing the appearance of redness as well as brown patches of discoloration. It is therefore ideal for those with both pigmentation and rosacea.
Korean studies have identified alpha arbutin as a key skin whitening compound. According to researchers at Sejong University in Seoul, alpha arbutin was determined to be a potent skin whitening agent, preventing tyrosine oxidation at the skin’s cellular level. Alpha arbutin is therefore an effective means of reducing the skin’s natural pigment and can also tackle sun-induced pigmentation. Concentrations of up to 3% are recommended; if a more potent formula is used, darkening of the skin may result.
Product recommendation: PCA Skin Brightening Therapy with TrueTone
Key ingredients: alpha arbutin, resorcinol, white birch bark extract.
Papaya is a lesser known skin lightening agent, but its efficacy as a skin whitening natural home remedy is down to a combination of the active ingredients Vitamin A and C, as well as papain – an enzyme which metabolizes protein, which is what our dead skin cells are comprised of. Papaya based skin creams act to exfoliate the skin’s outer layer, removing superficial pigmentation and UV-induced freckles.
Product recommendation: Pink Madison Whitening Mask
Key ingredients: papaya, jojoba, vitamin E.
Topical gluthathione possesses antioxidant properties and is currently a popular ingredient used in skin whitening products. However, it is also used intravenously in skin lightening clinics. In South Korea, Glutathione is administered via a drip or through small injections into the muscle. The short term side effects of this method include minor pain, discomfort and potential thrombosis. Excessive glutathione injections administered over the course of months may interfere with oxidative processes within the body, leading to protein aggregation, a precursor of heart disease. For this reason, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) in the USA have deemed glutathione injections as unsafe.
Product recommendation: The Perfect Peel
Key ingredients: gluthathione.
Hydroquinone is a potent skin lightening agent. Typically, concentrations of up to 2% can be bought over the counter. Its use remains controversial, however, and it has largely fallen out of favor as a result of it being potentially carcinogenic. Under the supervision of a physician, creams containing hydroquinone may provide an effective short-term solution to a range of pigment-related skin issues, but if it is applied continuously for a period of six months or more, ochronosis can occur. This is where the deep dermis of the skin turns black or blue in color, a problem that is – more often than not – irreversible.
The most risky alternatives to skin whitening natural home remedies are mercury based creams. Although they are still widely available in West Africa and India, they are usually of low quality and are known to cause disfiguring skin abrasions.
Skin whitening natural home remedies
If you are realistic in your goals and hope to achieve a slightly lighter skin tone as well as a significant reduction in uneven pigmentation, the safest option is to use professionally manufactured skin whitening natural home remedies and apply an SPF of at least 30 every day to protect your skin against any resultant photosensitivity. Whichever natural home remedies for skin whitening you decide to use, it’s important to ensure that your products are manufactured by reputable cosmetics companies and contain laboratory-tested ingredients. The most effective active ingredients, peptides and acids are derived from natural sources rather than chemical compounds; ‘natural’ certainly doesn’t mean less effective!