33 Natural Skin Lightening Ingredients

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Your skin is the largest organ in the body and your body’s first line of defense to environmental toxins. It’s exposed to many external stressors on the daily. Being constantly exposed to skin-damaging free radicals from environmental toxins, it is not uncommon for your skin to experience premature aging, dullness, and discoloration.

Besides, with the proliferation of off the shelf skin lightening products, you may be hard-pressed to find skin bleaching agents that are free of side effects and do what they claim.

This list of natural skin brightening ingredients is ideal for counteracting daily stressors. Best of all, they are a much safer alternative to many synthetic skin brighteners on the market.

Table of Contents

A Natural Approach to Lightening

A synthetic skin lightening product can often exacerbate the very skin problems you are trying to tackle in the first place, which can cause many a side effect. 

For those with sensitive skin types, these skin bleaching ingredients can cause the skin to flare up and lead to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (1), which is ultimately counterproductive.

For those with darker complexions, failing to exercise caution when using a synthetic lightening product can also cause the skin to undergo extreme lightening.

A natural approach to skin lightening is a safe alternative that doesn’t subject the skin to unwanted burden and side effects. There are many elements present in naturally derived sources which have potent skin brightening characteristics. You can find many of these in fairness cream ingredients.

Learn more about them as we explore them in the list below.

Skin Lightening Ingredients to Avoid

You should know about the common bleaching cream ingredients that may be potentially detrimental to your skin. One of them is hydroquinone, a synthetic compound present in many skin serums and skin whitening creams that promise to lighten dark patches.

While hydroquinone has been touted as a miracle skin whitener that can quickly get rid of skin pigmentation, its safety and efficacy haven’t been universally agreed upon by dermatologists (2). Hydroquinone is banned in the EU because of its association with carcinogenic effects.

Hydroquinone products in high concentrations and their prolonged use have shown to result in skin ailments, one particalurly known as ochronosis. These are skin conditions where the epidermis gradually undergoes increased pigmentation and darkening.

Which is the Best Natural Ingredient for Skin Whitening?

Are you interested in finding out the best ingredient for skin brightening? Read on.

While no one skin whitening element does everything for your skin, natural skin whitening ingredients are known to work synergistically, that is to say, their effects compound when they are used in combination to treat blemishes and pigmentation issues.

Botanical based skin brightening products are a rich provenance of naturally occurring anti-oxidants (3), which are powerful agents to combat everyday oxidative stress caused by environmental pollution. Also, they limit the production of melanin and disperse the existing pigment in the skin.

Overall, an examination of the bleaching properties of the different skin lightening ingredients available and a holistic approach to using them brings about the best results.

Natural Skin Lightening Alternatives to Hydroquinone That Work

The following are health skin lightening alternatives to the synthetic hydroquinone. While they are not miracle solutions, they have shown to produce visible changes in the way the skin looks. Read on to find out the benefits of these natural elements, and how you can use them as skin remedies to lighten your skin.

1. Allantoin

allantoinDuring the aging process, there is a longer transit time of epidermal cells to the surface. Dead surface skin cells that don’t get sloughed off and skin exposure to external pollution can cause it to become dull quickly.

Allantoin is a natural element derived from the Comfrey plant. It is a keratolytic agent that promotes cell turnover and desquamation. This is the course by which the skin sheds the outer layer of epidermis from the inside out. The proliferation of new cells helps to brighten skin by revealing youthful skin underneath.

2. Almond Oil

Almond oil is a rich provenance of healthy skin lightening compounds, including vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol), magnesium, phosphorus, and copper. Studies have pointed to alpha-tocopherol‘s ability in particular, which can reverse the effects of sun damage and reduce the presence of scars.

As a skincare ingredient with emollient properties, almond oil also improves complexion and evens skin tone. Retinoids present in the oil also help to ease cell renewal and turnover.

3. Aloe Vera

Aloe vera is a brightening agent that contains the natural elements aloin and aloesin. One study found that the compound aloin was able to reduce pigmentation by destroying existing melanin cells in tadpoles.

Another study found that aloesin suppressed hyperpigmented laboratory-synthesized human skin from producing more melanin. Such evidence points to the ability of something like an aloe vera gel to significantly lessen existing melanin deposits in the skin and reduce melanin synthesis in the skin.

4. Alpha-arbutin

arbutinAlpha-arbutin is a leaf extract from plants such as bearberries, blueberries, and cranberries, and is the more stable counterpart to its beta form. These botanical ingredients have melanin-inhibiting properties, which help suppress the enzymes that stimulate melanin production in the skin, without the dangerous bleaching process.

Alpha-arbutin effectively treats skin redness, acne scars, age spots, and the effects of sun damage. It also slows down the mechanism by which UV light causes pigmentation and promotes skin lightening, resulting in a more even skin tone with improved radiance.

5. Azelaic Acid

Azelaic acid is a natural skin lightening agent derived from wheat, rye, and barley, and has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Chemically, azelaic is a dicarboxylic, which means it has a different pH level compared to alpha- and beta-hydroxy acid.

This accounts for its less potent exfoliating effect. While so, it can help with skin blemishes and fades dark spots left behind by acne, sun damage, or melasma.

Its antibacterial attributes also make it an ideal candidate for minimizing breakouts and the occurrence of blemishes.

6. Bearberry Extract

Bearberry extract is derived from the common bearberry plant and is a provenance of arbutin. The arbutin found in bearberry foliage is what gives this extract its skin lightening properties.

Naturally-occurring arbutin is a much safer alternative to skin whitening products that contain hydroquinone, as it acts by slowing the action of tyrosinase, the melanin production mechanism in the skin when stimulated by UV light. This is a milder effect on the ‘bleaching’ procedure by which synthetic hydroquinone kills melanin-producing embryos.

7. Citrus Extract

Citrus extracts are derived from citrus fruits such as grapefruit, lemon, lime, pomelo, and orange, and is a provenance of vitamin P (bioflavonoids) and vitamin C (ascorbic acid). Vit C is the hero element of this extract as it helps to neutralize freeradicals, which can cause premature aging of the skin.

The naturally-occurring citric acid is also an AHA, which acts as a chemical exfoliant to give a glowing, brighter complexion. The astringent properties of citrus extract make it a potent skin lightening treatment that refines and revitalizes the skin.

8. Clove Oil

In clove oil there are anti-oxidants in the form of vitamin A and Vit C. These help to fight freeradicals present in the environment and neutralize their skin-damaging effects.

For those looking to improve the look of dark spots caused by melasma, UV rays, or hyperpigmentation, it reveals a new and improved version of your skin over time. It is a homeopathic method that may help your skin’s overall look.

9. Gigawhite

Gigawhite is a patented skin lightening ingredient that is a natural derivative of seven alpine plants. These plants include peppermint, the common mallow, as well as primula or cowslip, and were among 100 alpine plants examined for their potential to suppress tyrosinase (the chemical enzyme responsible for the production of melanin).

This formulation is now widely used as a natural and safer skin lightening alternative to hydroquinone. It is useful in treating hyperpigmentation, melasma, and UV sun damage, with minimal to no skin irritation.

10. Glutathione

Glutathione is an antioxidant that can be found in our bodies and is synthesized from three types of amino acids that we produce.

As a skin lightener, the use of this compound inhibits the action of eumelanin and pheomelanin, which are responsible for dark brown and yellow-red colored pigments in the body, respectively. This helps to reduce the presence of existing scars and prevent further discoloration of the skin.

11. Glycolic Acid

glycolic acidGlycolic acid is derived from sugarcane, sugar beets, and other substances. Of all the AHAs, glycolic has the smallest molecule size, making it the strongest in this group.

Glycolic acid works on the skin by the method of a chemical peel, dissolving lipids that bind dead skin to ease cell renewal. Its small molecule size enables it to penetrate deeply into the skin.

Given its highly penetrative nature, it is best to start with a low concentration skin whitening cream and work your way up to higher concentrations after some period of use.

12. Gram Flour

Also known as besan or chickpea flour, gram flour has many skin-enhancing and lightening properties, as well as health perks. It is a rich provenance of nutrients such as zinc, which has shown to have anti-inflammatory properties that fight blemish-causing infections on the skin.

It also absorbs excess oil and controls sebum production. When used as a physical desquamant in combination with ingredients such as honey, aloe vera, and lemon juice, it can get rid of dead skin and kickstart the skin’s regenerative mechanism.

13. Honey

In its natural form, honey is the result of enzyme activity, plant matter, and live bacteria coming together to form an agent with many skin-enhancing benefits. Raw, unpasteurized honey is best for use as a natural skin remedy and can be used alongside other natural ingredients such as milk and yogurt.

Manuka honey, or another similar raw, unpasteurized form of honey, works best for brightening the skin as it has exfoliating properties and can also help to fade scarring.

14. Jojoba Oil

Jojoba oil is a liquid wax ester that closely mimics natural oils found in the skin. This accounts for its ability to penetrate deep into the skin.

It has detoxifying properties and has the ability to clean out impurities present on the skin’s surface. As it contains a naturally-occurring form of vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol), it also helps the skin combat oxidative stress induced by being exposed to environmental stressors and toxins everyday.

Alpha-tocopherol also has wound-healing properties, which helps to treat scarring and other forms of skin blemishes.

15. Kojic Acid

kojic acidKojic acid is derived from mushrooms and other fungi, and also arises as a by-product of the fermentation practice in various Asian food products, such as soy sauce and rice wine. Unlike other skin whitening ingredients, kojic does not work by dissolving the bonds between cells and exfoliating the skin.

Tyrosinase inhibitors such as kojic block the excess production of melanin in the skin, thereby aiding the skin whitening mechanism. As a provenance of powerful anti-oxidants, it also helps to counteract being exposed to skin-damaging free-radicals.

16. Lactic Acid

lactic acidLactic acid is a naturally-occurring derivative of milk and belongs to the alpha-hydroxy group (AHAs). Like all AHAs, it chemically exfoliates the skin to diminish the presence of skin pigmentation visibly.

However, its distinguishing attribute is its relatively large molecule size, which makes it one of the milder alpha-hydroxy acids. Sensitive skin types, as well as those who do not have a history of using AHAs, can use lactic acid to improve their skin texture and tone.

17. Lemon

Lemon or lime juice is the most acidic of all the citrus fruits, making the juice of the fruit a potent, skin-lightening ingredient. The substance is highly astringent due to the presence of naturally-occurring citric acid, which is part of the alpha-hydroxy group of acids.

Exfoliation of the upper layers of the skin occurs naturally every 3-4 weeks, as skin cells move from the basal layer to the outer surface. Citric acid helps with the skin lightening mechanism by reducing the cohesion of the cells on the epidermal surface, helping to stimulate cell turnover and renewal. All in all it’s one of the better home remedies on this list.

18. Lemongrass

The essential oil of lemongrass contains limonene, which gives the skin a bright, clean look. The oil is extracted from the herb through steam distillation, and so is free from processed additives common in synthetic skin lightening creams.

It has natural detoxifying and astringent properties that help lighten skin, especially if it’s dull-looking. It is best diluted in a carrier oil before topical application.

19. Licorice Root Extract

Licorice plant root contains two active agents responsible for making it an effective skin whitening agent. The first of these elements is glabridin, which inhibits tyrosinase, the enzyme responsible for melanin production in response to exposing ourselves to the sun.

The other active agent is liquiritin, which disperses existing melanin and excess pigment present in the skin. In this way, it works doubly to brighten the skin – preventing new dark spots from forming, while diminishing the look of existing blemishes.

20. Linoleic Acid

An essential fatty acid, linoleic acid, is a vital skin whitening component present in the skin’s natural lipid barrier. A weak or damaged skin barrier can cause signs of premature aging and leaves the skin vulnerable to damage by external pollution.

The topical application of linoleic acid can help to replenish the natural skin barrier and strengthen it against external damage. Melanocytes, or cells responsible for producing melanin within the epidermis, go against the skin whitening process when they produce melanin in excess due to UV exposure factors.

Linoleic acid also suppresses melanin production by active melanocytes to brighten skin and improve skin tone.

21. Mulberry Extract

This natural element extracted from mulberry plants has comparable skin brightening effects to synthetic skin lighteners such as hydroquinone, but it is much safer to use.

Mulberry extracts contain retinoids, ascorbic acid, alpha-tocopherol, and riboflavin, all of which are highly beneficial for brightening the skin. It is also a provenance of resveratrol, which has the method of action of an antioxidant.

Resveratrol can neutralize the skin-damaging effects of free-radicals present in the environment, helping to maintain the skin’s youthful appearance.

22. Niacinamide

Niacinamide is water-soluble and naturally-occurring in various food products. It is also known as vitamin B3 or nicotinamide, and, in skin care, it is derived from synthetic sources.

On pigmentation specifically, niacinamide combats the transfer of skin pigment to diminish dark spots. Its skin lightening effects are enhanced when used alongside ingredients such as arbutin and kojic acid, which can work synergistically to improve uneven skin tone and combat skin dullness.

In addition to its skin whitening properties, niacinamide also boosts the skin’s ceramide levels. It also hydrates it from deep within.

23. Oranges

The least acidic of all the citrus fruits, oranges include powerful skin whitening ingredients such as vitamin C (ascorbic acid), vitamin E, and zinc. Citrus acid has brightening properties because of its free-radical fighting component, its water content, and the natural exfoliation provided by the alpha hydroxy acids.

These help to speed up the scar and wound healing, diminish skin discoloration, and brighten the overall skin look by facilitating cell turnover and renewal. The presence of zinc also makes orange juice ideal for acne-prone and oily skin types.

24. Papaya/Papain

Papaya includes powerful phytochemicals, including the enzyme papain. Present in high concentrations just under the peel of unripe papaya; papain is a vital skin whitening ingredient that works to diminish age spots and even out complexion tone through enzymatic exfoliation.

This process handles the breakdown of dead skin cells and scar tissue, without affecting live tissue. In addition to papain, papaya includes vitamin A (retinoids) and ascorbic acid, which also works to combat skin-damaging free-radicals and promote skin regeneration.

25. Paper Mulberry

Also known as Broussonetia papyrifera, it contains a kazinol F, which is present in high concentrations, particularly in the bark and root of the paper mulberry. It acts as an inhibitor of the melanin-producing enzyme tyrosinase, resulting in reduced melanin formation that handles skin whitening.

In addition to this, kazinol F also has free radical scavenging properties. This means it is a powerful antioxidant that can neutralize the harmful effects of environmental pollutants to minimize skin damage.

26. Peppermint

Peppermint oil comprises 30 to 50% menthol, which gives it its unique cooling sensation. This element has rich antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, which inhibits the build-up of blemish-causing bacteria on the skin.

The potent antimicrobial activity of peppermint oil prevents the clogging of skin pores due to excess sebum, which keeps the look of skin clean and bright.

Besides, the oil is excellent at promoting circulation in the skin, which gives the look of youthful and glowing skin.

27. Phyllanthus Emblica (Indian Gooseberry)

Indian gooseberry, or amla, and is a superfruit that can act as a skin brightening agent. Combination use of this element alongside turmeric and honey results in an even skin tone and a fairer looking complexion.

Indian gooseberry is said to have 20 times the amount of ascorbic acid present in oranges, making it a potent provenance of natural anti-oxidants that defend the skin against the effect of harmful free radicals.

28. Spinach

Spinach is a powerhouse of nutrients, including retinol, vitamins B1 and B2, ascorbic acid, and beta-carotene. These naturally-occurring substances aid the skin lightening process by fighting off internal and external stressors to the skin.

Vitamin B helps to combat skin discoloration due to prolonged sun exposure, such as UV sun damage, premature maturing, and brown spots. Antioxidants present in the form of beta-carotene, as well as vitamins A and C, repair skin cells, even out skin tone, and refine the look of our skin.

29. Turmeric

In its powder form it also has a bright orange hue that lends its color when used as a condiment in certain food products. Apart from its health benefits when consumed, turmeric has many benefits as a natural skin ingredient.

Turmeric powder includes curcuminoid pigments – these help our bodies synthesize anti oxidants, which are essential in neutralizing the effects of free radical damage to the skin. It also has anti-inflammatory properties, which aid skin whitening by reducing the impact of scarring.

30. Vitamin C

Ascorbic acid, is a potent agent that helps to minimize skin damage, reduce the production of melanin, as well as promote skin peeling and skin growth. It is readily found in citrus fruits and is a rich source of anti-oxidants.

One study in the Journal of Dermatologic Surgery found that topical application of ascorbic acid was able to stimulate collagen production, provide photo-protection from ultraviolet A and B, and lighten the appearance of hyperpigmentation.

31. White Mulberry Extract

This element is a safe and effective inhibitor of the enzyme tyrosinase, unlike synthetic whitening agents that can produce toxic effects. Since it is derived from natural sources, blocking the action of melanin-producing enzymes is free from harmful effects, unlike the ‘bleaching’ process induced by compounds present in synthetic products.

One study from the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology found that a 0.4% concentration of white mulberry extract reduced as much as 50% of tyrosinase activity, thereby preventing the darkening of the skin from excess melanin.

32. Willow Bark Extract

Willow bark extract is derived from the white willow tree and contains flavonoids, polyphenol, and tannin compounds present in high concentrations. Among these, polyphenols and flavonoids have powerful antioxidant properties.

They can build up the skin barrier against free radicals, which can contribute to dullness and premature aging of the skin. A reinforced skin barrier protects the skin against external pollutants and environmental damage such as photodamage after prolonged sun exposure.

33. Yogurt

Yogurt is a source of lactic acid, which is part of the alpha-hydroxy group. This acid is also present in milk and other dairy products. In an April 2018 study published in the journal Molecules, they found that AHAs can combat exposure to harmful external substances by providing a skin barrier that prevents damage to skin DNA.

Inactive proteins and dead skin cells on the surface of the skin are also rapidly sloughed off, paving the way for brighter skin. Yogurt is one of the less popular skin depigmenting agents.

Honorable Mentions

Here are some ingredients that didn’t quite make the list but are also used by skin care routine enthusiasts:

  • Potato juice
  • Olive oil
  • Shea butter
  • Cucumber extract
  • Baking soda
  • Witch hazel
  • Peppermint plant
  • Rosehip oil
  • Rice flour
  • Rose water
  • Curcuma longa

The Best Ingredient For Skin Lightening - Conclusion

To sum up, naturally derived ingredients are a rich source of skin lightening agents. Given the host of benefits to your skin, they are a strong contender to off-the-shelf skin-lightening products.

The natural skin lightening substances explored have various benefits, ranging from enzymatic exfoliating properties to the ability to disperse as well as inhibit the production of excess pigment in the skin. As such, you are encouraged to combine them for the best results. When used synergistically as an alternative to synthetic products, these natural ingredients can help you to achieve fairer and evenly toned skin for a youthful appearance.

To find out which of the skin creams is best for you, check out the reviews on our homepage.

References

Erica C. Davis, MD and Valerie D. Callender, MD, A Review of the Epidemiology, Clinical Features, and Treatment Options in Skin of Color, retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2921758/

Jacob Levitt MD, The safety of hydroquinone: A dermatologist’s response to the 2006 Federal Register, retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0190962207004318

Megan Ware, RDN, L.D., How can antioxidants benefit our health?, retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/301506

About the Author

Tina Briggs
Tina Briggs
Tina is Editor in Chief and Founder @ Ashenly. Learn more about her and the team here.

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