Skin Brightening? or Skin Whitening?

In Asia, “paleness,” or “fair complexion” is highly valued. No wonder, there are countless formulas on the skin care market that address dark spots and other pigmentation concerns. Skin lightening products can help to improve the overall complexion of your skin to make it fairer. They contain proprietary ingredients designed to either brighten or whiten the skin.

So what exactly is the difference between products designed for brightening and those designed for whitening?

The difference lies in the combination of lightening ingredients used. While some ingredients are designed to exfoliate and “brighten” or enhance the skin’s appearance, others act as bleaching agents that will actually “whiten” the skin by inhibiting the production of melanin (dark pigmentation) in the upper layers of the skin. Depending on the results you hope to achieve, it is best to check the ingredients first before you buy any skin lightening product.



Skin Brightening

Skin brightening products are generally designed to improve a dull skin complexion through exfoliation.  A dull complexion can be caused by sun damage, environmental factors (such as pollution), or even stress factors. Although the skin naturally renews itself, over time this process of cell renewal slows down – cells are not shed fast enough and they sit atop the skin’s surface to create a dull appearance. Skin grows drier, which may worsen the appearance of fine lines, and dark under-eye circles may become more noticeable.

Technically, exfoliation will make your skin “whiter”. It will make your skin look more fresh, toned and smooth. In short, it gives your skin a more radiant, healthy glow so it will naturally appear to be “brighter”.  Removing older skin cells containing dark pigmentation from the skin’s surface minimises the appearance of dark spots and blemishes so these products can also make the skin appear lighter.

Brightening creams or serums usually contain exfoliants combined with anti-oxidants and natural extracts that will soothe and revitalize the skin. Some of the ingredients in skin brightening products are as follow:

  • AHA – Alpha hydroxy acids (lactic acid and glycolic acid)
  • Beta hydroxy salicylic acid
  • Vitamins A and E
  • Vitamin C
  • Papaya (papain or bromelain)
  • Rice bran


Some brightening creams also contain ingredients designed to lighten the skin. These ingredients work to inhibit the production of melanin and improve the appearance of sun damaged skin, liver spots, acne scars, freckles or hyperpigmentation.

  • Alpha arbutin
  • Glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice root extract)
  • Phyllanthus Emblica (indian gooseberry)



Skin Whitening

Skin whiteners are more specifically designed to whiten or “bleach” the skin by inhibiting the action of the enzyme tyrosinase. This enzyme is primarily responsible for the production of the melanin pigment through the process of oxidation. The melanin is produced in the melanocyte cells in the bottom layer of the skin’s epidermis. While the production of melanin provides us with protection from the sun’s harmful UV rays, an over- production or accumulation of melanin can lead to dark blemishes, hyperpigmentation and uneven skin tones.


Some bleaching agents like HQ (hydroquinine) were added to these products to whiten the skin. Hydroquinone is an ingredient used in skin-lightening products as it can interfere with tyrosinase function, thereby reducing pigment in the skin. It is also used for treating age spots and blemishes. However, there have been many controversies regarding its safety after studies in rodents showed “some evidence” that hydroquinone may contain carcinogens, which are cancer-causing agents.

But there are numerous natural skin whiteners , which have proven to be just as effective as  hydroquinine, so is better to find a good natural product containing ingredients like:

  • Kojic acid
  • Bearberry extract
  • Mulberry extract
  • Emblica, liquorice and arbutin


There are many such skin lightening ingredients in existence. Products, which include any of these ingredients, might help in lightening the skin. But always bear in mind that all of us are born with skin that is lighter or paler than the skin we end up with as adults. This is partly because over time, our cumulative exposure to sun and light increasingly darkens our skin. While you can return your skin or get it closer to its original, lighter shade, you cannot completely change your skin’s color to a totally different color. With the correct skin care protection and treatment, you can return your skin to a shade equal or closer to its original, much-lighter shade but you cannot “convert” medium brown Asian skin, for example, to very pale Caucasian skin

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