If you have hyperpigmentation, you’re not alone. Post-inflammatory marks, skin discoloration, acne scars, melasma, and age spots are not only prevalent but notoriously difficult to remedy.
Many products claim to reduce the effects of hyperpigmentation, but a select few actually work. That’s because a lightening cream needs to do more than just lighten skin. It also has to control melanin levels.
A good skin lightening cream should do both without causing irritation or additional damage.
But more on that later…
In this article, we’ll guide you through the process of selecting the right product for your skin type, complexion, and skincare goals, as well as take an in-depth look at the best skin lightening cream products in 2021.
Table of Contents
Top 4 Skin Lightening, Bleaching & Whitening Creams Reviewed (2021)
If you’ve tried lightening serums without success in the past, you’re likely aware there is a veritable sea of options to choose from.
We’ll begin our guide by singling out a few of the best skin lightening creams to help you shop with a narrower net.
1. Zeta White
Lightening, Moisturizing, Dark Spots, Sun screen
2. Revitol Skin Brightener
+Sensitive +All types
Sensitive skin prone to outbreaks
Lightening, Melasma, Dark Spots, Sun Spots
4. ASDM Beverly Hills Skin Brightening Kit
Brightening, Lightening, Exfoliation, Moisturizing
1. Zeta White (2021 Editor's Choice)
Zeta White is a skin lightening and moisturizing cream from Helpful Cosmetics Ltd in the UK.
This reputable manufacturer specifically formulated this cream to reduce melanin production in the skin.
It is a three-point lightening system consisting of a lightening face wash, night cream, and a moisturizer.
Why Choose Zeta White?
Zeta White offers a comprehensive range of skin care benefits in addition to skin lightening.
The natural ingredients used are anti-inflammatory and protect against pollution and solar damage.
As a dark spot corrector, we consider Zeta White one of the best skin moisturizers for reducing acne scars.
What Could Be Better?
We would have preferred a stand-alone skin light cream—one product rather than three.
Typically, the fewer steps a skin whitening skincare routine has, the more likely you are to stick with it.
2. Revitol Skin Brightener
Revitol, a prominent name when it comes to anti-wrinkle creams, now has a skin lightening cream as well.
This product contains a unique formulation to lighten liver spots and dark pigmentation, resulting in an even skin tone.
Revitol Skin Brightener is also rich in vitamins, minerals, and moisturizing agents to give your skin a healthy appearance.
Why Choose Revitol?
Revitol Skin Brightener is 100% natural, making it ideal for people who have sensitive skin or allergies.
It also offers a wide range of benefits for your skin in addition to lightening and is rich in vitamin C and other minerals that moisturize and protect your skin.
What Could Be Better?
Revitol is a gentle dark spot corrector, and therefore, is a little slower to show results. It’s perfect for you if you’re patient and value longterm results.
Lumiskin contributes to a lighter and even skin tone, but they take longer than elements such as kojic acid to work.
Revitol Skin Brightening Cream is an excellent lightening serum for those with sensitivity in their skin. It has restorative properties and is very gentle on the skin.
Meladerm by Civant Skin Care treats hyperpigmentation long term by slowing the conversion of tyrosine to melanin.
This FDA-approved product is ideal for facial skin, but you can use it elsewhere as well, such as dark elbows or knees.
Why Choose Meladerm?
Meladerm is highly effective as a skin lightener and dark spot corrector with multiple lightening ingredients that work together.
It also contains vitamins and minerals to support general skin health.
What Could Be Better?
One drawback of Meladerm is that those with sensitive or dry skin may see an increase in peeling or acne when they start using the product.
Adjusting to Meladerm may take a few weeks. If you see these side-effects, try applying the product every other day. If flare-ups continue, stop using the product.
Meladerm is most effective for sunspots and melasma. The natural, mineral-rich formula also contributes to the overall well-being of your skin.
4. ASDM Beverly Hills Skin Brightening Kit with Alpha Arbutin
The ASDM Beverly Hills Lightening collection combines lightening, exfoliation, and moisturizing elements to provide you optimal skincare value.
Because of this line’s comprehensive range of skin health properties, you can use it as a replacement for other exfoliators or moisturizing creams.
The ingredients in this collection are natural and suitable for all skin types.
Why Choose ASDM Beverly Hills?
The ASDM Beverly Hills Skin Brightening Kit is ideal if you need a skin lightening cream with prominent exfoliating properties.
It is also rich in vitamin C, which contributes to its lightening capabilities while repairing free radical damage.
What Could Be Better?
This cream doesn’t offer optimal protection against solar damage and contains alpha hydroxy acid (aha) that increases your skin’s sensitivity to the sun.
If you spend time outdoors, you have to use this product with a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher.
The ASDM Beverly Hills Skin Brightening Collection produces skin whitening results fast and is also effective for acne scars and dark spots. It’s a solid choice if you don’t mind using a separate sunblocker. User comments and reviews are mostly positive.
Our 2021 Buyer's Guide To Permanent Fairness And Glow:
How To Choose The Right Skin Whitening Cream
When selecting a whitening serum, there are several factors to consider.
Everyone’s skincare requirements are unique, and the specific type of hyperpigmentation, your skin tone, and skin type also need to be considered.
While we won’t cover every complexion and skin type below, we will touch on those that will have a noteworthy effect on the treatment of hyperpigmentation.
I think we know a thing or two about skin lightening. So here are just some of our recommendations on what to look out for.
Dark, Brown, or Black Skin
If you have a dark, brown, or black skin, you have to select a formula that corrects dark spots and hyperpigmentation without using whitening additives.
The best skin lightening products for women with darker skin will have an alpha-and-beta-arb-utin combination (1).
Glycolic acid is also a must-have ingredient to give your skin a natural, healthy appearance.
The best lightening cream ingredients to prevent pigmentation in Asian skin (especially chinese or thai) include Emblica fruit extract, bearberry extract, and kojic acid (2).
Moisturizing compounds, such as shea butter, will also give your skin a healthy glow.
Does It Fit Your Skin Type?
If you have “normal” skin, meaning you don’t have issues with dryness, acne, oiliness, or sensitivity, choosing between different serums is easy.
You also don’t have to worry about the effect of excessive sebum production after application.
Natural lighteners such as kojic acid or lumiskin will be suitable in a whitening cream for this skin type (3).
If your skin is sensitive, you may be prone to rashes, irritation, dry patches, and itchiness.
Because whiteners tend to be abrasive, select a product with a formula that focuses primarily on promoting the well-being of the skin.
These products will take a longer time to show results but are far gentler on your skin.
If your face is oily in some areas (e.g. forehead or nose) and dry in others, selecting an appropriate lightening cream can be a challenge.
We recommend that you consider a purely anti-inflammatory product that reduces the production of melanin.
Elements such as papaya extract and avocado oil are ideal for lightening combination skin.
If you regularly experience itching, cracking, and scaling, you may have dry skin. This skin type is highly susceptible to damage with whitening treatments.
To prevent dryness and irritation, select a cream with a natural whitener such as allantoin as well as moisturizing compounds such as shea butter.
If your skin has a shiny appearance or you struggle with blackheads, use a skin lightener that includes moisturizing compounds such as shea butter.
Moisturizing your skin helps to reduce sebum production and will give your skin a smooth texture.
Shea butter and papaya extract are ideal for oily skin types
What Do You Want to Lighten?
Facial hyperpigmentation is usually the result of sun exposure.
Your facial skin is also more sensitive than the skin of, say, your forearms or legs.
When looking for a product to prevent facial hyperpigmentation, look for those that exfoliate and moisturize.
Ideally, the cream should also contain elements that protect against the sun.
Hyperpigmentation and blemishes elsewhere on your body (e.g. hands and neck) may be the result of several factors, including hormonal changes, birthmarks, or pregnancy.
To prevent the production of melanin, you can select a more robust formula with one or more skin whitening ingredients.
What’s Your Skin Care Goal?
1. Become fair / become a few shades lighter
If you want to lighten your skin a few shades, select a cream that contains Lumiskin.
This ingredient is a tyrosinase inhibitor (inhibits its production), a hormone that darkens skin pigmentation.
Along with Lumiskin, aim for skin lightening creams that also contain glycolic acid to remove the outer layer of dead skin cells.
2. Hyperpigmentation / dark spots / melasma / age spots
When it comes to targeting specific areas, arbutin is the best option, a powerful antioxidant and bearberry plant extract.
It plays the same role as hydroquinone, but it doesn’t have any of the same negative side effects.
In essence, this ingredient inhibits the pathway that produces pigmentation, removing dark spots and dark circles in the process.
3. Acne scars
If your skin has prominent acne scars, select a cream that contains kojic acid.
This ingredient inhibits the formation of tyrosine and has prominent antimicrobial properties.
Because kojic acid kills common types of bacterial strains, it not only treats acne but also lightens acne scars and treats fungal infections.
4. Sun damage
If you need a whitening cream to treat or prevent damage from UV rays, select one that contains vitamin C.
Exposure to UV light, getting a tan, and other environmental aggressors leads to oxidative stress.
Applying anti-oxidants such as vitamin C to your skin will combat UV damage, protect your skin, and slow the aging process.
A birthmark is an accumulation of melanocyte cells (melanosomes in animals) and may require laser treatment to fade or remove altogether.
However, a combination of allantoin and lumiskin in skin lightening creams can effectively reduce the appearance of a birthmark.
For long-lasting results, apply the cream containing these elements at least twice per day.
6. Uneven skin tones
If your skincare goal is to achieve an even skin tone, select a skin lightening serum that contains glycolic acid.
This excellent exfoliator penetrates the skin deeply to loosen and remove dead skin cells.
Because of glycolic acid’s exfoliation properties, it increases cell turnover to promote skin health and get rid of uneven skin (7).
Check the additives on the label
Commonly Used Skin Lightening Ingredients
All whitening products contain a variety of ingredients that inhibit the production of melanin in one way or the other.
Manufacturers may include one of these elements or a combination, depending on the skin conditions they are targeting.
The most common elements include kojic acid, vitamin C, glutathione, niacinamide, and azelaic acid.
Hydroquinone is a whitening skin agent used to lighten darkened skin (8). Anything over a 2% concentration is forbidden and banned by the FDA. We do not recommend its use.
Checking for this ingredient is crucial as it can cause skin dryness, redness, blisters, cracking, bleeding, or even skin discoloration.
Arbutin is a natural alternative to hydroquinone that doesn’t cause these adverse effects.
Natural Skin Lighteners
Natural ingredients in serums for even skin tones and the elimination of age spots or a dark spot include kojic acid, vitamin C, vitamin E, lemons, jojoba oil extracts, allantoin, mulberry extract, aloe vera, licorice roots, salicylic acid, and lumiskin.
These products differ in terms of the mechanism and offer unique health benefits.
Organic Skin Brightening Creams
Many people often use the terms “natural” and “organic” interchangeably (9). A natural serum doesn’t contain synthetic products.
For a cream to be organic, however, it has to pass rigorous standards for purity and may not contain petroleum fertilizers, synthetic pesticides, or sewage sludge fertilizers.
The natural label doesn’t require the same extensive testing and compliance with regulatory standards.
Safe Skin Lightening Products
As seen in the news, natural skincare ingredients are not necessarily safe for application.
To ensure that the serum you want to use is safe, check the first five elements on the content list.
The following chemicals and compounds are not recommended (10):
Truth is when you apply lighteners to your skin, you become more susceptible to deterioration from solar UV rays (11).
To counteract this increase in photosensitivity, many companies include sunblockers in the ingredients.
However, if the serum doesn’t have a protective component, make sure that you can use the cream with another sunblocker.
It’s not science. No one wants to spend more than necessary on skincare—or anything for that matter.
However, when it comes to creams, you can expect a correlation between value and cost on the market.
A lot of the cheap brands typically include synthetic ingredients to lower their production costs, which can be harmful to your skin.
While you don’t need the most expensive skin care products to get rid of hyperpigmentation, be leery of low price tags.
Focus on lightening products that are organic with ingredients that include vitamin C, kojic acid, or shea butter.
The brand should also be a reputable provider of approved serums.
Where to Buy Skin Lightening Products
The best place to purchase a skin lightening product is online.
Stick to approved vendors to ensure that you don’t end up with a knock-off or expired serum.
You can determine if a vendor is legit by reading online reviews, checking for certificates, and verifying the address and contact details on the seller’s website.
Where You Live
Unfortunately, not all products are available in all locations in the world. Access to them will then prove difficult.
While this is a bigger factor when it comes to prescription options, such as Musely or Curology, it also applies to some over-the-counter products.
At the least, you can expect higher shipping charges if you are outside the country of origin for the products you choose.
Remember to factor in shipping costs when making your decision.
Countries where you can get great skin brightening products include:
- European Countries
- United Kingdom
- United States
- Other English-speaking Countries
Skin Lightening vs. Brightening vs. Whitening vs. Bleaching
In the pursuit of even, clear, and radiant skin without dark spots, you may inevitably encounter terms such as skin whitening, brightening, and bleaching, and may wonder what the difference is, and what each approach entails.
To understand what these terms mean, it’s best to start where hyperpigmentation does, your skin.
What Exactly Determines Your Complexion?
Research has shown that the gene called SLC24A5 (12) is the primary determinant of skin coloration.
This gene produces a protein called NCKX5, which exchanges sodium for calcium across a membrane.
It isn’t present on the cell surface like other NCKX proteins, but internally in the trans-Golgi network.
Generally speaking, the lower NCKX5 in melanocytes, the lower the production of melanin, and the lighter the skin tone.
How does skin lightening work?
Melanin darkens the skin.
There are several causes of an increase in the production of melanin, and it can take place locally.
If you lighten with a serum or other cream, you reduce the production of melanin in a dark spot.
The best products for this treatment include kojic acid and vitamin C (13).
For a quick rundown, watch the video below.
How skin brightening works
Brightening, unlike lightening, gives you that glowy vibrancy by removing dead skin cells.
This treatment doesn’t address us producing melanin, but rather the overall soundness of our skin.
The best ingredients for brightening include antioxidants like vitamin C, or retinol (vitamin A), and hydroxy acids (both alpha- and lipo-hydroxy acid) (14).
Many serums lighten as well as restore vibrancy to give your face and body a brighter appearance.
How does skin whitening work?
Skin whitening also involves reducing the creation of melanin, but to a much higher degree.
The whitening process is not gradual, and the results of this treatment are much more evident in a shorter time.
Because skin whitening is relatively severe (15), it may not be ideal for people with other skin conditions or sensitivities.
How skin bleaching works
In essence, it is the same as skin whitening and involves a drastic reduction in the creation of melanin.
This term was more common in the 1980s but is used less frequently in our life these days.
When a product description refers to this, it is usually the same as whitening.
However, be careful not to confuse skin bleaching products with body hair whitening options.
These are sometimes marketed towards women with upper lip melasma looking to lose that “mustache” look.
Risks, dangers and side effects of skin lighteners
Side effects of using skin bleach typically include redness and swelling, a stinging sensation, and flaky or itchy skin.
During application, there are a few ways you can mitigate the risk of side effects of skin lighteners:
DIY Skin Lightening At Home
If you need a whitening or brightening skin treatment, you don’t have to go to a dermatologist.
The products we’ve discussed here are suitable for home use with no risk of side effects.
If you administer a whitening treatment at home, follow the instructions carefully to ensure optimal results.
Skin Whitening, Lightening & Brightening Q&A
What is hyperpigmentation?
Hyperpigmentation is a harmless condition characterized by excessive melanin production. It often presents as dark spots or patches of skin.
What is hydroquinone?
Hydroquinone is an organic derivative of benzine and a skin-whitening agent most commonly seen in prescription skin whitening products. It is banned in some countries and may pose health risks. Some hydroquinone alternatives include mequinol, retinoids, azelaic acid, and kojic acid.
Is skin lightening permanent?
Skin-lightening creams are not a permanent solution, as they don’t stop your body from producing melanin. Once you stop using them, your dark spots may reappear. However, the cause of the hyperpigmentation can also play a role.
For example, dark spots as a result of acne or from hormonal issues may not come back if the underlying condition is resolved, and sun spots may not reappear if you are diligent with sunscreen use.
Do skin lightening creams really work?
Yes, some skin lightening creams really work, provided that you use a high-quality serum, and you follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully. However, the cream you use, your skin tone, the cause of the spots, and the type of dark skin you are treating may play a factor in your results.
How can I lighten my skin fast?
In general, skin lightening is not a fast process. A cream with more potent ingredients may work faster, potentially in as little as a few weeks, but you will not see results overnight. The best way to speed things along is to be consistent with your routine.
Can you change your skin color permanently?
No, it is not possible to permanently change your natural skin color with a whitening or brightening agent. Whitening creams work for uneven skin tone, dark spots, and hyperpigmentation only.
How can I lighten my inner thighs and underarms?
Applying a lightener should be sufficient to lighten your inner thighs and underarms. A consistent application may be necessary to achieve long-term results.
What is the best skin lightening cream?
All the whitening products we’ve discussed here are highly effective, and the best option for you will depend on factors unique to you, but if we had to name a single cream as “best,” we would recommend you use Zeta White. Revitol is a close runner up.
Garcia-Jimenez et al., Action of tyrosinase on alpha and beta-arbutin: A kinetic study, retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5426667/
Emblica, retrieved from https://www.drugs.com/npp/emblica.html
Debra Jaliman, MD, What’s Your Skin Type?, retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/beauty/whats-your-skin-type
S. Rahrovan, MD et al., Male versus female skin: What dermatologists and cosmeticians should know, retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6116811/
Brooke Shunatona, How to Exfoliate Your Face Without Hurting Your Skin, retrieved from https://www.cosmopolitan.com/style-beauty/beauty/a53481/how-to-exfoliate-your-face/
Grace Gold, Exactly How To Exfoliate Your Face—Without Ruining Your Skin, retrieved from https://www.womenshealthmag.com/beauty/a19775624/how-to-exfoliate-face/
4 Dermatologist-Approved Ways For Treating An Uneven Skin Tone, retrieved from https://www.elle.com/beauty/makeup-skin-care/tips/g2280/dermatologist-tips-for-uneven-skin-tone-513840/
Hydroquinone Skin Whitening Cream, retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/drugs/2/drug-87530/hydroquinone-skin-bleaching-topical/details
Bareburger, What’s The Difference Between Organic and All-Natural?, retrieved from https://medium.com/@hellobareburger/whats-the-difference-between-organic-and-all-natural-16eb21bad2ca
Sian Babish, The ingredients you should avoid in your skincare routine, retrieved from https://www.chicagotribune.com/consumer-reviews/sns-bestreviews-beauty-skincare-ingredients-to-avoid-20200301-lqhg2firizdrlhxchpndgprg5a-story.html
Skin Whitening With Sunscreen Cream, retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/drugs/2/drug-88449/skin-bleaching-with-sunscreen-topical/details
SLC24A5 gene, retrieved from https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/gene/SLC24A5
Juliet M. Pullar et al., The Roles of Vitamin C in Skin Well-Being, retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5579659/
Alpha Hydroxy Acids, retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetic-ingredients/alpha-hydroxy-acids
Helene Cooper, Where Beauty Means Bleached Skin, retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/26/fashion/skin-bleaching-south-africa-women.html