In a matter of days, the Food and Drug Administration could decide to ban products containing the popular skin lightening agent hydroquinone. The anticipation of the FDA’s ruling on the safety of this skin lightening agent provides an opportunity to compare the safety and effectiveness of alternative skin brightening ingredients to hydroquinone.
Skin lightening agents to treat conditions like age spots, melasma and acne mark. Skin bleachers interfere with at least one of the numerous steps involved in creating the pigment melanin, and bringing this color to the surface of the skin. Sources of unconventional skin lightening agents include vitamins, fruit acids, botanical extracts and novel chemicals.
Niacinamide, a derivative of vitamin B3, rests as a popular skin whitening agent in natural cosmetics. Niacinamide prevents melanin from entering the upper layers of the skin. A study in the British Journal of Dermatology found that a cream containing five percent niacinamide noticeably brightened the faces Japanese women.
Similarly, ascorbic acid, a form of vitamin C, exhibits a skin lightening capacity. Investigators discovered that combing ascorbic acid with lactic acid noticeably lightened age spots and skin discolorations on the skin of patients with medium to dark skin tones after three months of treatment and reported their findings in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science.
Another antioxidant, glutathione, has surfaced as skin brightener. Glutathione is made in the body with the help of a selenium and protein balanced diet. A report in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science noted the effectiveness of glutathione as a skin lightening agent. But, the amount of glutathione needed in topical products to induce skin lightening is not yet standardized.
Like glutathione, grape seed extract is another radical scavenger with skin lightening potential. Researchers in Nago City, Japan found that feeding guinea pigs foods containing one percent grape seed extract reversed skin darkening the resulted from UV exposure. Dosages of one percent vitamin C did not elicit the same skin brightening effect in the pigs. The investigators released their findings in Pigment Cell Research.
While not a vitamin, arbutin is a naturally occurring hydroquinone found in plants. Moreover, a food analysis published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health Analysis observed significant amounts of arbutin in wheat products, pears, and coffee and tea.
Like hydroquinone, arbutin disrupts the reactions that lead to the formation of melanin. Yet a study in the Journal of Dermatological Science deemed arbutin less effective than niacinamide or kojic acid at limiting the production of melanin.
To expand skin lightening agents beyond botanicals and vitamins, researchers at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine synthesized their own version of hydroquinone called deoxyArbutin (dA). DeoxyArbutin blocks the formation of melanocytes, the cells that make melanin.
After 12 weeks of treatment, deoxyArubtin reduced the appearance of solar lentigines, age spots, on the skin of fair toned people. However the cosmetic improvement on patients with dark skin tones was slight.
Besides deoxyArubtin, exfoliating acids provide another form of skin lightening.
Researchers at the Makati Medical Center in Manila, Philippines compared a 20% azelaic acid treatment to a 2% hydroquinone treatment for melasma. Over a period of 24 weeks, 73% of the azelaic acid patients, compared with 19% of the hydroquinone patients, experienced good to excellent results, based on the reduction of melasma color intensity and blemish size. Still, both drugs had the tendency to cause initial mild to moderate irritation to the skin.
Regardless of the FDA’s ruling on hydroquinone, numerous skin lightening options remain on the market. Some of the downsides of alternatives to hydroquinone include increased expense for more exotic skin lightening agents and longer waiting periods to see satisfactory changes in the skin.
Nevertheless, studies have shed light on ways to speed the effectiveness of skin lightening agents. For example, a recent experiment published in Skin Research and Technology found that combining skin lightening creams that contain niacinamide and vitamin C with ultrasound enhanced the absorption level of the creams and increased the rate of skin lightening as compared to using the same treatment without ultrasound.
In all, as the FDA deliberates over the safety of hydroquinone, consumers can rest assured that effective skin lightening alternatives exists and new ones are undergoing tests in labs.