With an FDA ruling pending that may call for the withdrawal of over-the-counter (OTC) hydroquinone, skin care professionals are looking at alternative skin lighteners. Lightening agents are big business; we baby boomers are now paying for our years of baby oil/iodine/sun reflector use with hyperpigmented, blotchy, uneven skin. Help!
Fret not, there are alternatives. Arbutin is an extract of the bearberry plant and has been shown to be effective at inhibiting melanin synthesis. Azelaic acid is derived from yeast that grows naturally on skin and is often found in different preparations combining alpha hydroxy acids among others. Kojic acid is derived from fungus and has been used for years as a skin lightener. It too is often found in combination with other lighteners and alpha hydroxy acids. Lactic acid is derived from sour milk and is a gentle, natural way to lighten skin. It is also an exfoliant and is often found in combination with other ingredients that lighten, brighten and exfoliate. Vitamin C has been shown in studies to inhibit melanin production and is also a potent antioxidant and free radical scavenger. The down side of vitamin C is that it is notoriously hard to stabilize and degrades fairly quickly in the presence of oxygen.
One caveat: All lighteners and in particular those in combination with alpha hydroxy acids can cause redness, stinging and irritation. Visit a skin care professional who can help you find the right lightening agent for your skin. One size does not fit all! Oh, and ditch the tanning habit. It will pay off years later in smoother, more even-toned skin.
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