pheebs  (avatar)
updated 2 years ago

Guide to Skin Whitening

Gonna work on a post on skin whitening products later, after work!

Ask me my questions about this topic and I'll see if I can find the answer!!! 😁😁

Okay, I'm ready to begin #pheebscosmeticsguide on skin whitening/lightening. This post was inspired by @tokiostreets πŸ‘‹πŸ»

Thank you for the questions, I'll get to them in a bit!

Skin whitening products

They come in all formats, mostly as leave-on creams/lotions for the entire face or even for spot treatment.

These products lie in the grey area because cosmetics and pharmaceuticals so in countries like Japan, they are classed as a type of drug.

I will be writing up about the actives that give whitening effects first. It's not an all-inclusive list because there are so many actives but rather, a selection of common ones.


This is the gold standard cause it's the most effective depigmenting molecule.

Hydroquinone works by inhibiting the conversion of the enzyme, tyrosinase to melanin, the compound that's responsible for the darkening of the skin.

However, hydroquinone is banned in the EU while in the states, its use is limited to 2%.

No, it's not banned/restricted because it causes cancer.

It's actually a very debatable status because while products containing HQ did cause irritant contact dermatitis in a small number of patients, whether it is really because of HQ or other compounds has yet to be proven.

HQ may also cause hypopigmentation, where the skin is lightened too much and most often, unevenly resulting in patches.

Another side effect is exogenous ochronosis, a spotty hyperpigmentation (looks like freckles) caused by the use of HQ at too high a concentration and/or for prolonged periods.

The mutagenic (cancer-causing) potential is still widely debated and inadequately proven so to be on the safe side, it is banned for use in cosmetics sold in EU and Japan.

Because of the controversy surrounding hydroquinone as well as rising consumer interest in naturally-derived ingredients, this led to the discovery of the whitening potential of the next few ingredients.

Bearberry / Arbutin

Arbutin is a natural form of HQ and is extracted from the bearberry plant.

The whitening effect of this ingredient (and its derivatives) is through inhibiting the activity of melanosomal tyrosinase rather than stopping the synthesis of tyrosinase.

Slight difference there, HQ stops the making, Arbutin stops it from working.

Kojic acid

Kojic acid also works in the same way as hydroquinone, by inhibiting tyrosinase. It is used in the food processing industry to prevent food from browning and to speed up the reddening of unripe strawberries.

However, kojic acid is reported to be highly sensitising where redness, stinging, irritant contact dermatitis were reported in some patients.

Studies show that products containing kojic acid and formulated with a corticosteroid could help to alleviate irritation.

Skin products containing kojic acid are usually directed to be used once or twice per day for 1 to 2 months or until desired whitening effect is achieved.

Vitamin C / Ascorbic acid

Vitamin C, or l-Ascorbic acid, works in a sacrificial manner. It works by intervening in the oxidative steps required for the synthesis of melanin.

However, this form is very unstable because oxidation happens rapidly and Vitamin C will decompose in water/aqueous solutions.

One way around this is to use a derivative, magnesium-l-ascorbyl-2-phosphate (MAP or VC-PMG). This compound is more stable in water and has been proven to lighten pigmentation.

A word on vitamin C. If a product claims to contain vitamin C, please read the list of ingredients (LOI). If it's a water-based product and they only use ascorbic acid, the vitamin C would oxidise and be deactivated really quickly.

Mulberry extract

Mulberry extract has antioxidant properties and is also a tyrosinase inhibitor like HQ and kojic acid.

Toxicity and patch tests have also shown little to no irritation.

This active is promising but will need further studies to ensure that it can deliver when used in a cosmetic product.

Glycolic acid

I wrote about this hydroxyacid in Day 205.

Glycolic acid works by promoting desquamation (breaking of the 'cement' that holds the cells together) of the pigmented corneocytes (upper most layer of cells on the skin).

Studies show that the use of glycolic acid promotes the penetration of the other skin lightening actives like HQ, thus boosting their efficacy.

However, as mentioned before, glycolic acid can cause skin irritation or even induce post-inflammatory pigmentation (PIH).


Niacinamide, Vitamin B3, is another hyperachiever I will need to write about another day.

In the context of skin lightening, it works by stopping the transfer of melanosomes (place in cells where melanin is made, stored and transported) from melanocytes (cells found in the bottom layer of the the epidermis that produce melanin) to the corneocytes.

TLDR; the melanin is stopped from reaching the surface of the skin

Orchid extract

Used in a Japanese study to compare orchid extract with a cream with 3% of Vitamic C.

Results showed that it was comparable however, it is not mentioned if the orchid extract is applied neat or diluted. Neither has it been proven to work by another study. So this ingredient is a little bit sketchy.

On to the questions!

@Katecat you are right to use a combination, most of these ingredients work synergistically when in a combo.

You asked me to rank my choices and why. I kind of did in the post by writing about the "best" ones first.

I am, however, not an expert and I've never used a whitening product in my life πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚ so unfortunately, I can't say with confidence what's good and what's not. I just hope my post sheds some light, although you might have read about them already 😐

@gimmycamy asked if whitening products should be used together or be alternated with a moisturising range

Most whitening products out on the market are formulated to minimise sensitisation because lawsuits are costly! As a result, products may use less actives which means it takes longer for the product to whiten/lighten the skin.

From this POV, it's perfectly alright to use whitening products daily.

However this really depends on the concentration used in the product so follow instructions on the pack!! They will give recommended use levels and if necessary, advise you not to use over a certain level.

@thebraveclover asked if skin whitening products are useful in fading acne scars and PIH.

In this case, the melanin has already been produced so you would have to look at ingredients that help to reduce the pigmentation instead of prevent.

So, in this case you would want to look out for Niacinamide and AHAs.

#dayrebeauty #letstalkskincare #pheebsskincare #whitening


I need to get more things to do at work before I bore myself out 😭 colleagues are too nice to give me saikang too 😭😭 I just want to be useful 😫😫😫

On a totally random note, anybody wanna join me for a random National Day gathering in London next Tuesday? 😁

Hahaha I hope he doesn't read this but I received a really nice card from E's friend.

I was initially very very hesitant about meeting up with him cause I just thought it was inappropriate and he kept joking around and saying stuff like "it's a dinner date" and it made me quite uncomfortable.

But okay la, he didn't try anything funny (I actually had a nightmare dafuq) and I had good food.

Actually feeling like an idiot now for being so paranoid.

The card/letter was handwritten and his handwriting is nicer than mine what 😫

Little things like this are so touching 😒

Day 216

Wednesday, 3 Aug 2016

23 30
thebraveclover (avatar)

thebraveclover Hello! Are skin whitening products effective in fading acne scars/pih?

2 years ago

gimmycamy (avatar)

gimmycamy Will it be effective if I alternate its use with a moisturising range? Or should I use them all together? 😁

2 years ago

Username_ (avatar)

Username_ Ooo my Favourite topic haha. I know that there are many effective whitening ingredients out there so what I try to do is to use a combination. Can you rank your fav whitening ingredients and why? Thanks!!

2 years ago

jellyluck (avatar)

jellyluck I'm looking to revamp my skincare routine but cos I have very sensitive skin, I've been reading up alot to play safe. Came across an article on top 5 ingredient to avoid and one of them is Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) which is found in whitening products and it listed scary effects like affecting reproductive system, liver damage to name a few. They advice us to use plain lemon juice instead.
I was wondering how detrimental all these ingredients said to be harmful could be since it is only on our skin surface, I do agree that we will accumulate unbelievable amount over the years seeing how many products we appy on our face everyday haha. What's your take on this?

2 years ago

pgtxl (avatar)

pgtxl @thebraveclover @gimmycamy @Katecat hope I answered your questions!

2 years ago

pgtxl (avatar)

pgtxl @jellyluck replying you here because it's not quite related to whitening! I wrote about why it's not good to research and read articles online about cosmetics previously because there really are countless sites that scaremonger and spread false information. It's become a real problem for the industry because people tend to get carried away. πŸ˜”
BHA is not used as a whitening ingredient. It's mostly used in the food industry as an antioxidant, not so much the cosmetics industry. Hence, I cannot disprove the claims of affecting reproductive system and causing liver damage. However, I do want to reiterate that you should not believe online articles easily. Verify the sources. Trust the experts and not the misinformed.
Lemon juice is acidic so if your skin in sensitive, I don't think you will want to apply it directly. It might cause irritant contact dermatitis. This is why misinformation is dangerous :(
Also, the skin is a very very very efficient and effective barrier (because that's what it's made to do) so believe it or not most ingredients stay on the surface and don't penetrate into the bloodstream. Even if they do, they don't accumulate in the body but are metabolised and then excreted!
Be careful with what you read online! πŸ’• hope my longass reply helped πŸ˜‚

2 years ago

jellyluck (avatar)

jellyluck It sure did! The only way I know to get info is through reading articles but more and more ingredients kept popping up and I was like.... Ehhh then what I use? So I became rather skeptical. πŸ˜‚ like when I saw BHA I'm like, huh, isn't it ok? Then I realised this is another BHA. Science and me are not friends. πŸ™„
So I could actually use any products out in the market and maybe just avoid a few that credible sites advise against like parabens and fragrance in skincare?

2 years ago

pgtxl (avatar)

pgtxl @jellyluck yes you are right to be skeptical!! Do read my Day 196 post because I talked about parabens. Day 201 is something you might be interested in because I mentioned natural and synthetic ingredients in the context of fragrances! (Sorry ah like a bit self-promo only)
I will write about sensitive skin soon too, you keep inspiring me πŸ˜‚
in the meantime, do check out I think it's a very good reference for consumers like you to find out more about ingredients and cosmetics!! 😊

2 years ago

jellyluck (avatar)

jellyluck Hahaha, i like self promo! Good things must share. Will go check out everything that you said. Thanks so much for helping! And probably inspiring you is the only way I could payback. Haha.
And I wished I could join u for the mini national day celebration but I'm not in London. ☹️

2 years ago

pgtxl (avatar)

pgtxl @jellyluck πŸ’•thank you for your support πŸ™†πŸ» oh no what a shame ☹️ let me know when you'll be in London tho! We could meet up 😁

2 years ago

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