There are several names that have become synonymous with skin brightening. The usual list of suspects read: niacinamide, vitamin C, and retinol—all of which contribute to the pursuit of complexion luminosity in some shape or form. From inhibiting the production of melanin-forming enzymes to increasing cellular turnover rate, its efficacy is of no question. Its suitability across a wide variety of skin types, however, remains up for debate. Retinol-centred scare stories are a dime a dozen amongst those with sensitised skin types, for one, while persistent facial flushing is cited to be a symptom for some niacinamide-users.
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That’s not to say that the aforementioned ingredients aren’t good options. Should you be one of the few who have experienced adverse effects, however, or are simply looking to shake up your regime, we present to you a multitude of alternative skin brightening options that prove to be just as effective. Think acids and extracts that help enhance and stabilise other active ingredients; increase collagen production; as well as offer anti-inflammatory benefits.
What’s more, said ingredients are also versatile enough to be incorporated into a variety of skincare offerings, which means you’ll be able to integrate them into your regime depending on your needs. For those aiming to dip their toes in the water, look to a cleanser-option that allows for a slow-and-steady assimilation into your current line-up. If not, there are also formidable serums, moisturisers, and ampoules to consider. Spy them all in our comprehensive rundown of the best underrated skin brightening formulas to look out for, below.
If there’s one thing beauty buffs have reached a consensus on, it is the merits of antioxidants on an individual’s complexion and health. This, in part, is why ferulic acid has gained plenty of traction over the last few months—an antioxidant found in the walls of plant cells, its faculties go beyond the banishing of hyperpigmentation and dullness. Rather, one of the greatest strengths is its formulation that allows it to stabilise multiple ingredients, elevating the effectiveness of the other products within a skincare routine.
“One advantage with this ingredient is that it is gentler than other skin lightening ingredients, and less likely be to cause irritation,” explains Dr. Sylvia Ramirez, Medical and Scientific Director of Cutis Medical Laser Clinic. “It is also more stable and less sensitive than other brightening compounds, such vitamin C. Overall, it is much easier to use than other brightening ingredients—however, just like most other over the counter products, it can take up to 16 weeks to see an effect.”
A naturally-occurring antioxidant found in plant sources such as mulberry, bearberry, and pomegranate, alpha arbutin is revered for its abilities to inhibit melanin production. It is particularly effective against freckles, age spots, and post-inflammatory pigmentation, and can actually be paired with other powerful ingredients in the vein of vitamin C and niacinamide to further enhance its results. This is attributed to its gentle nature—in fact, alpha arbutin functions by slowly releasing a pigment-fading active known as hydroquinon over time, which thus prevents the skin from getting aggravated and experiencing side effects.
Stemming from mushrooms and during the fermenting process of specific foods such as soy sauce and saké, it’s safe to say that kojic acid is a stellar byproduct derived from nature. The way it works is vastly similar to alpha arbutin, where it prevents the formation of melanin. Where it differs, however, lies in its anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties which makes it an apt choice for individuals dealing with acne or infections.
“Glycolic acid is one of the most important, simple to use and cost-effective exfoliators,” Dr. Ramirez states. “Used correctly, exfoliation helps your skin purge dead cells, revealing a better complexion underneath. As a chemical exfoliant, it gently break bonds that hold dead skin cells together, so these are typically gentler and easily used as compared with mechanical exfoliation which can sometimes be too harsh.” Skin ageing and hyperpigmentation are banished with frequent use thanks to its small molecular structure that makes it easier for it to penetrate deep into skin layers, meaning that it is able to work its magic at a faster rate than most ingredients. Its potency, however, could lead to some form of irritation for those struggling with sensitivity, so it is recommended to start small by pairing glycolic acid infused products with hydrating ingredients.
This natural ingredient works rather similarly to alpha arbutin, with the added bonus of being a pregnancy-safe option with a host of anti-inflammatory benefits. This means it is able to scatter and eradicate melanin with ease; soothe redness; and deliver antioxidant effects to decrease the likelihood of skin-ageing symptoms such as the creation of wrinkles and fine lines. It should be noted, however, that it does contain the potential to be irritating when used in conjunction with other ingredients and acids. Play it safe by conducting a patch test and/or using it singularly within your regime.