Does Skin Whitening Work?
Powerful whitening agents, according to the fine print, have been able to reduce skin darkening agents by as much as 53%. Others claim to be able to strip off a top layer of skin ot show the lighter skin below. End result: no one really knows. There are anecdotal stories indicating that skin whitening can be effective, but no scientific studies have been completed that show the effectiveness of most of the new methods for skin whitening.
Hydroquinone, a skin lightening agent, has been found to work in sixty to seventy percent of users in a 4% concentration topical application, but it may have dangers that offset many of the benefits of using it. It should be used under a doctor’s care, even if you can purchase it over the counter or online.
How Does Skin Lightening Work?
Your skin and hair are the natural color they are due primarily to the actions of a pigment called melanin. Coloration in most people varies depending on the type and quantity of this pigment synthesized by the melanocytes, cells that create melanin. It is essential to have some melanin pigment in your skin to protect you from the sun’s UV rays.
Skin is divided into the epidermis, or the outer layer, and the dermis, where new cells are generated. The epidermis is further divided into four layers, from outside to inside called the stratum corneum (horny layer, where dead skin cells are primarily found), the granular layer, the spiny layer, and the basal layer. Melanocytes, the cells that produce melanin, are found in this basal layer.
In general, whitening one’s skin entails eliminating melanin, which is the substance that creates pigment in the skin. Asian skin, because of the nature of the melanin in the skin, tends to darken more quickly than Caucasian skin, and can become much darker.
There are two types of melanin: eumalin, a brown pigment, and phaeomelanin, a red color. When influenced by certain factors, your skin and hair may change pigment or increase production of melanin. The overproduction of melanin causing spots is called hyperpigmentation; it leads to freckles, age spots, sun spots, and other pigmentation most women want to avoid.
Tyrosinase, an enzyme that plays a key part in distributing melanin in your skin, is produced in increasing levels with age. And with the hyperproduction of tyrosinase, melanin is also overproduced by your skin.
Most people have the same number of melanocytes, whether they have Irish-pale skin or Nubian black. The difference is in the activity level of melanocytes and the type of melanin produced. And melanin granules in darker skin are much larger than in light skin.
In Asian people, the melanosomes are large and distributed in single and complex forms. In African skin, they’re even larger, heavily pigmented, and distributed in single forms. And in Caucasian skin, they’re smaller with less pigment, and are distributed in clumps – which is why Caucasian skin is most prone to freckling. The complex forms in Asian skin, though, also can freckle.
How Does Skin Darken?
The primary determinant of your skin color is the amount and type of melanin present in your skin. This substance is synthesized in melanocytes, found in the epidermal basal layer. After it’s synthesized, it’s bound to a protein matrix and forms melanosomes. Inside the melanosomes, tyrosinase converts tyrosine into eumelanin or pheomelanin, which are actually skin coloring.
Note: As you can see, there are four different distinct steps to coloring your skin. Skin lighteners block the process at one of the points in the pathway, and thus can inhibit or even reverse the process that colors your skin. Even if your problem is local, skin lighteners can treat hyperpigmentation without fading the skin around the dark spot.
The difference between skin that tans easily and skin that doesn’t is in the melanosomes and melanocytes, cells found in the skin that cause the darkening you see with a suntan. Asian skin has more of these cells, the cells are larger, and the cells possess longer dendrites than those found in Caucasian skin. The color of the melanin itself is also slightly darker. And the outer layer of Asian skin is thinner as well, making the melanosomes and melanocytes more reactive to even a little light. The overall effect is that Asians tan darker, faster, and more thoroughly than Caucasians in the same light.
When a product is advertised as a skin lightener, it primarily inhibits the synthesis of tyrosinase, an enzyme which stimulates melanin production and distribution. Hydroquinone is the most effective lightener known, but it’s also know to cause skin irritation and has several undesirable side effects. Arbutin and harounoside, derivatives of hydroquinone, are promising in their action without so many negative side effects.
Many skin lightening creams have gone to all natural alternatives to hydroquinone, and use extracts of plants like mitracarpe (containing harounoside), bearberry (containing arbutin), and licorice root to effect skin lightening. The advantage to natural ingredients is that they more rarely have negative side effects, and are generally nontoxic and nonirritating. You should also ensure that your skin lightening cream contains some sort of moisturizing ingredient that will not clog your pores.
Prepare your skin for a lightening cream by using a good natural cleanser made for your skin type, followed by an alcohol-free toner. Apply your lightening cream, and then follow by a light moisturizer, especially if you have a lightener with no moisturizer inside it. After lightening, always avoid exposure to the sun and use a sunscreen whenever you need to go outside.