This post was written by Linda Brown and Published on

What is Skin Lightening?

Skin lightening also known as skin whitening or skin bleaching is the process of lightening one’s skin color. It is used to treat skin problems caused by hyper-pigmentation. Additionally, skin bleaching for cosmetic purposes has also become very popular.

Skin Lightening to treat Hyper-pigmentation

Hormonal imbalances, acne, aging or exposure to sunlight can result in hyper-pigmentation. Hyper-pigmentation is caused by an increase in melanin production. This is usually evidenced by the presence of brown or black spots and patches on the skin.

Skin lighteners are used to curb some skin issues including:

  • Post Inflammatory Hyper-pigmentation (PIH)
  • Melasma
  • Chloasma
  • Dark spots/acne scars
  • Uneven skin tone
  • Freckles
  • Birth marks
  • Age spots

Skin Lightening for Cosmetic Purposes

There has been an increase in the use of skin lighteners by women who have natural dark skin. This trend has become popular in many African, Indian and Asian countries. This is largely owed to the popularized ideas that lighter skin is more beautiful or attractive.

Statistical Reports of Skin Lightening for Cosmetic reasons:

  • Countries like Nigeria and India show that 77% and 61% of women respectively had used skin lighteners before . (Hamman et al., 2014)
  • A 2004 study reported that 40% of women in Asian countries like China and the Philippines had used skin lighteners for cosmetic purposes (Hamman et al., 2014)
  • A recent study showed that 30-70% of women in Sub-Saharan Africa use lighteners (Osei et al., 2018)
  • 65.6% of female high school students in Ghana had used lightening creams (Osei et al., 2018)

This surge in the use of skin lightening creams resulted in an influx of harmful compounds in beauty products. Compounds like mercury, hydroquinone and corticosteroids give ‘faster’ but very harmful effects.                            

Is Skin Lightening Bad?

There is generally a negative stigma surrounding skin lightening. This could be owed to the adverse effects of harmful products from bleaching creams. However, skin lightening can be used to treat a variety of hyper-pigmentation disorders. It can also be used relatively safely for cosmetic purposes

Understanding Skin Pigmentation

Melanin is the pigment that is responsible for the color of human skin, eyes and hair. It also protects the skin from Ultra-violet rays. Melanin is produced by melanocytes in the basal layer of the epidermis.

Exposure to UV rays causes the oxidation of tyrosine in melanocytes (Kim et al., 2016) causing melanin production. This process is mainly regulated by the enzyme tyrosinase which determines the melanin production rate (Kim et al., 2016)

The production of melanin is controlled by various factors such as:

  • Genetics
  • Exposure to sunlight
  • Hormones
  • Medication
  • Aging

How Skin Lighteners Work

Most skin lighteners work by reducing the work of enzyme tyrosinase. This results in a reduction in the rate production of melanin. This process eventually leads to a reduction of pigmentation on the skin.

Skin Lightening Methods:

  1. Skin Lightening Creams
  2. Natural Remedies and diet
  3. Skin whitening surgery
  4. Skin lightening peels
  1. Best Skin Lightening Creams


Zeta WhiteThis UK product is probably one of the safest bets if you’re looking for a skin lightener. This is largely owed to its use of natural ingredients. Zeta White can either be used individually or as a system comprising of; a lightening face wash, lightening moisturizer and lightening night cream.

It is used to treat issues like:

  • Dark spots
  • Uneven skin tone
  • Hyper-pigmentation disorders


Lightening Night Cream – $ 48.32

3- Point Lightening System – $ 146.37


Zeta White boasts a 100% money back guarantee, it is 95% natural organic and vegan.


Ingredients used include:

  • Papaya extract- skin lightening effect
  • Lemon extract – natural skin brightener
  • Liqourice extract- has UV protection
  • Green tea extract
  • Hyaluronic acid

Factors to Consider

  • Zeta White is largely favored due to its use of natural ingredients to achieve brighter looking skin. It is also free from substances such as mercury, sulphates and hyaluronic acid. This makes it a safer option.
  • The reception towards these products has been generally positive. Some clients have reported results in as little as 30 days.
  • However, every person reacts differently to certain products therefore the results would not be the same for everyone.




Illuminatural 6i

This product by Skinception uses a combination of 6 skin lightening active ingredients, 8 natural plant extracts and 5 minerals.

It blocks the production of melanin and blocks UV rays to protect the skin.

It is used to treat skin issues such as:

  • Post Inflammatory Hyper-pigmentation (PIH)
  • Melasma and Chloasma
  • Age spots
  • Old scars


Illuminatural 6i Skin Lightening Hyper-pigmentation Cream – $49.95


This product has a 90 day trial and 100% money back guarantee. This means that if you are dissatisfied with the results, you can return the products.


Active ingredients used include:

  • ?-Arbutin (1%) – Prevents melanin formation
  • Whitonyl – Reduces tyrosinase activity
  • Niacinamide – Decreases hyper-pigmentation
  • Sodium Lactate

Other ingredients include:

  • Aloe vera juice – sun protectant
  • Dimethicone – Silicone oil from naturally occurring silica that locks in moisture
  • Titanium dioxide – Sun screen effect
  • Green tea leaf extract

Factors to Consider

  • The effects of components such as ?-arbutin have not been fully researched therefore caution would be advised.
  • A 2011 report showed the possible risks of prolonged use of titanium dioxide on neural cells.




Meladerm by Civant Skin Care is a skin lightening product that treats skin issues such as:

  • Dark spots
  • Hyper-pigmentation
  • Uneven skin tones
  • Melasma and Chloasma
  • Age spots


Meladerm Pigment Correction – $49.99


Meladerm boasts a 30 day money back guarantee with purchase if a customer is not satisfied.


It uses over 10 ingredients that are blended together to create formulas that curb hyper-pigmentation issues.

Ingredients used include:

  • ?-arbutin – a biosynthetic active ingredient used for lightening skin
  • Kojic Acid- derived from a fungus used to decrease pigmentation
  • Licorice extract – contains anti-inflammatory properties
  • Mulberry and bearberry extract –natural ingredients to treat dark spots and aging effects
  • Lemon Juice – natural skin brightener
  • Vitamin C – natural anti-oxidant

Factors to consider:

  • There has been positive reception towards Meladerm as it has helped to correct hyper-pigmentation. It is also free from harsh bleaching substances such as mercury, hydroquinone and steroids.
  • However, the long term effect of ingredients such as ?-arbutin (a fast acting lightener) has not been intensively investigated.


  1. Natural Remedies for Skin Lightening

Lemon juice

This is a natural skin lightening agent. It helps to correct uneven skin tone and dark spots. It also may be too harsh on the skin therefore dilution in water could be easier to prevent dryness.


Bearberry extracts form Arbutin. This is a skin lightening agent and it prevents melanin formation.


It is a natural antioxidant that protects the skin from free radicals. It is also used to control pigmentation. Chamomile can be used on the face by mixing chamomile flowers with warm water and straining it. Place a clean cloth in the solution and apply to your face for about 10-15 minutes


It has natural bleaching properties to clear dark spots and pigmentation


It has natural skin lightening effects to brighten your skin tone. Mostly used in combination with other ingredients

Aloe Vera

This is a natural powerful anti-oxidant that aids in the protection of skin from UV rays.


Contain skin lightening properties and help to soften skin.


1. Turmeric, Lemon and Honey Face Mask


2 tablespoons of natural honey

½ teaspoon of turmeric

½ teaspoon of lemon juice


Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well.

Apply the mixture on a clean face

Leave for 15-20 minutes

Rinse off face with lukewarm water. You may have to do multiple rinses to remove the yellow color of turmeric

2. Aloe Vera and Papaya Face Mask


Thin slice of papaya

1 teaspoon of aloe vera


Mix the ingredients together

Apply the mixture on a clean face and spread evenly

Leave for about 15-20 minutes

Rinse off with lukewarm water

3. Almond, Honey and Lemon Face Mask


3 tablespoons of plain yogurt

3 almonds

1 tablespoon of lemon juice

1 teaspoon of honey


Crush the almonds to powder in a blender

Combine the almond powder with the lemon juice, yoghurt and honey and mix thoroughly

Apply the mixture on a clean face

Leave it for 15-20 minutes

Rinse it off with lukewarm water


A healthy diet plays a big role in the flourishing of your skin. Outlined are healthy dietary practices:


Drink a lot of water to keep the skin moisturized and hydrated. It also helps in the clearing of skin


Has many anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. This keeps your skin healthy


It is good for the removal of dark spots and helps to remove dead skin cells.

  1. Skin Whitening Surgery

This is a very expensive procedure costing that can cost thousands of dollars. The results may be underwhelming.

  1. Skin Lightening Peels

These are peels that are made from chemical compounds. They can easily cause a lot of damage due to the strength of the acids present. These can cause scarring.

Important Factors to Consider

  • Skin lighteners are NOT safe to use for pregnant and lactating mothers. These compounds can affect the genetics, growth and maturation of babies.
  • There are a variety of products available that have skin lightening effects. Products can be found online, in cosmetic stores, make-up stores or local markets. Even though the United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) have banned the use of substances in lightening creams such as mercury and hydroquinone, harmful bleaching products are still in circulation around the world.

It is therefore imperative to select products that are legitimate and have safe ingredients.

Harmful Compounds / Ingredients to Avoid

  1. Mercury

This is a melanotoxin that inactivates tyrosinase activity causing a decrease in melanin production

Harmful side effect include:

  • Mercury toxicity
  • Prenatal and postnatal exposure causes neurological damage and birth defects
  • Kidney damage (WHO, 2011)
  • Decrease in bacterial skin resistance (WHO, 2011)
  • Anxiety, depression and psychosis (WHO, 2011)
  1. Hydroquinone

It inhibits the production of melanin and decreases hyper-pigmentation (Osei et al., 2018)

Harmful side effects include:

  • Neuropathy
  • Prolonged use causing exogenous ochronosis (blue-black pigmentation)
  • Leukoderma (skin color loss in blotches)
  • Skin burning and dryness
  1. Corticosteroids

These are compounds that work by causing vasoconstriction of blood vessels resulting in a ‘white’ look.

Harmful Side Effects

  • Epidermal thining
  • Prolonged use causes hypothalamus-pituitary axis suppression
  • prolonged use causes acne, macular hyperpigmentation and diabetes mellitus.
  1. Titanium Dioxide

This compound has anti-solar effects and therefore used in sunscreens. The effects on skin has not been intensively researched.

Harmful Side Effects

Large concentrations cause possible risks such as cytotoxicity in neural cells an fibroblasts.

What is the way forward?

  • Skin lightening can be used for hyper-pigmentation disorders and for cosmetic purposes. It is important to be knowledgeable about the products you are using to achieve the desired results.
  • Safety is paramount when deciding which products to use.
  • Consult your doctors and preferably dermatologists to determine what could work well with you. Everybody’s skin reacts differently.
  • Your reasons for wanting to brighten your skin should also be interrogated. Sometimes accepting your own complexion and being comfortable in your own skin –light or dark- is healthier for you. Both psychologically and physically too.