Wednesday, 25 September 2019 01:28

Natural Brightening: A Holistic Approach to Hyperpigmentation

Written by   Kris Campbell, L.E.

Globally, ingredients to brighten and lighten the skin are highly sought after by clients. Every skin type can experience a variety of different types of pigmentation including brown spots, discoloration, redness, or pigmented areas. Pigmentation can be caused by several issues, like sun damage, medications, cosmetic intolerance syndrome, hormonal issues, and more.


The skin care professional should do a thorough intake form to determine the cause of pigmented skin and also the length of time the client has had this issue. Many clients are looking for a quick fix, but also wanting to go the more natural route. The two terms – quick fix and natural – do not usually go together, as the natural route usually takes a longer period of time to repair damaged skin versus harsher, more aggressive chemicals. Skin care professionals also need to take into consideration medications, occupation, and even hobbies when determining the process to work on the pigmented areas.


Melanocytes are the melanin-producing cells that are located in the bottom layer (stratum basale) of the epidermis. This lower layer controls color of hair and pigmentation of skin. Most people want a nice even tone of both color and tone. Skin care professionals look for treatments, as well as ingredients, that will help to achieve this perfection that their clients desire. These ingredients need to help remove the existing pigment, interfere with development of more pigment (inhibit tyrosinase), and try to block the delivery of pigment loaded melanosomes to the keratinocytes. Another newer theory is called the endothelin antagonist. It inhibits the influence of endothelin protein on the melanocyte membrane and stops melanin formation. The best lightening of pigmentation comes from a good mixture of different ingredients that focus on different phases of pigmentation.



Natural brightening ingredients are showing up more and more in skin care products. With the natural brightening process taking longer than the more advanced quicker chemical options, many of the below ingredients are put into the same skin care products. By having several of them in a product, the process is quicker than using just one. The below ingredients are just a handful of what is available in the marketplace.


Bearberry: The leaves of the common bearberry plant contain arbutin. Arbutin is commonly seen in skin care and peels as it is a natural compound that has been shown to inactivate the enzyme responsible for skin pigmentation. Alpha arbutin can also protect the skin from free radical damage. It can calm the skin with its anti-inflammatory effects and help with acne issues due to antibacterial properties. This lightening ingredient is also safe to use on sensitive skin, as it does not cause irritation, unlike more aggressive ingredients, such as hydroquinone.



Licorice: Glycyrrhiza glabra or licorice root extract is from a legume plant. It contains two specific ingredients that can help brighten the skin, liquiritin and glabridin. Glabridin is a type of isoflavonoid, and it can help to recondition tyrosinase, the enzyme that produces melanin. Liquiritin tears apart and removes melanin in pigmented skin. When licorice root is added to a skin care routine, it can also aid in the overall tone of the skin. Licorice is also anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial and stimulates immune response within the skin.


Mulberry: A variety of mulberry extracts have been used globally for years. It is now becoming more widely known in the United States skin care market. The anti-tyrosinase activity of mulberry plants produces known lightening effects but has also been said to slow down the aging process. Wrinkle formation can be slowed because of the beneficial antioxidants in the mulberry extract. The wonderous healing properties of the roots, leaf, and extracts, while offering lightening to pigmented skin, can also help to achieve a more even and smooth skin tone.


Papain: Papaya, sometimes known as pawpaw, comes from the fruit produced by the carica papaya tree, primarily grown in regions of Central America and Mexico. Papaya is known to be rich in papain enzyme, amino acids, and vitamins A, B, and especially C. The enzyme papain is very widely used in skin care to help breakdown the tough keratin proteins that bind skin cells together. Papaya is a naturally occurring alpha hydroxy acid. Professional skin care products that have papaya or papain offer natural exfoliation properties that give skin a smoother, brighter complexion.


Mushroom: Mushrooms of various varieties have also taken over the skin care industry for many benefits, including but not limited to lightening and brightening for hyperpigmented skin. Shiitake, cloud, oyster, maitake, songyi, snow, chaga, reishi, and portobello mushrooms all have a certain degree of lightening properties. Some mushrooms contain kojic acid, which has shown to be the natural equivalent to the ingredient hydroquinone, which has been banned in many countries due to carcinogenic effects. Hydration, antiaging, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties have also been proven through using different mushroom species. These other benefits will also keep the skin healthier and more reparative when working on pigmentation issues.


Lactic Acid: Lactic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid. It is naturally occurring in milk and is made when milk goes sour. This is a nice, gentle acid, especially for sensitive skin. Lactic acid is proven to gently remove the effects of hyperpigmentation. It will also help the skin’s own natural moisture factor and stimulate collagen production. It is found in a variety of washes, toners, serums, creams, and peels in different strengths. Clients must be wary of always using sun protection when using any products with lactic acid.


Niacinamide: Niacinamide is a form of vitamin B3. This is an essential nutrient to help support the processes of the cell. It has been effective in many products, both retail level and professional. It can be an effective natural skin lightener, as it inhibits melanosome transfer from melanocytes to keratinocytes. Niacinamide is also an anti-inflammatory, offers barrier protection, and increases moisture retention.


Neem: Neem oil comes from the tropically indigenous neem tree commonly known as the Indian lilac. It is rich in essential fatty acid, calcium, antioxidants, triglycerides, tocopherol (vitamin E), and limonoids (known to have an anti-cancer effect). Neem also contains carotenoids. These will act as antioxidants for the skin. Carotenoids will help in brightening the skin, evening skin tone and firmness, offering photoprotection, and fighting free radical damage. Neem has a strong, sometimes unpleasant odor and has to have some type of natural fragrance added to make it more appealing in skin care applications.


Daisy: The extract of the daisy flower can help block the formation of melanin. This can help in preventing pigmentation or dark spots. Daisy is commonly found in many leave-on items in professional skin care. Often, it is combined with licorice root and emblica (Indian gooseberry) to combat development of dark spots, as well as to naturally lighten those areas of concern.


Saffron: The elegant and expensive, globally known spice saffron has been used internally for many years. Now, those benefits that help with the body’s health, from eating or drinking it, are also being seen when introduced topically into a variety of skin care products. It is definitely being used as another alternative to chemical skin lightening. Saffron has many other benefits that will help improve the skin’s overall health, including anti-inflammatory, antifungal, and antioxidants like vitamins A, B, and C. It also has high levels of manganese, which helps regulate blood sugar that can also give the skin a natural glow.


Hops: Hops are the flower of the humulus lupulus plant. Primarily, hops are used in conjunction with the brewing of beer or ale. Hops, however, have several other benefits, including natural skin lightening, when included in the preparation of skin and hair products. Hops are rich in tannins, which are anti-inflammatory. Hops can also help detoxify the skin, as they are a natural remedy to flush out toxins. Hops inhibit the elastase enzyme that is responsible for causing cross-linking in collagen. Antioxidants in hops help to fight free radicals which lead to aging of the skin.


Artichoke Leaf: Artichoke leaf extract (cynara scolymus) is being added to many skin care formulations as a natural brightener. It decreases the number of melanocytes in the skin. This extract also has many other benefits that help to strengthen the skin’s barrier. Artichoke leaf extract has been proven beneficial, especially for menopausal skin issues. Studies have shown that it can help to normalize keratinocyte growth by restoring epidermal growth factor receptor expression and maintaining the structure of the dermal matrix by stimulating the synthesis of matrix components and limiting matrix break down. This will definitely help hydration levels in the skin, along with soothing wrinkles and retaining loss in thickness.


Peonies: Peonies, widely grown, are a beautiful flower with delicate pink petals. Used in skin care preparations for centuries with several benefits for the skin., brightening is one of the properties that make peonies a great natural hyperpigmentation fighter. Peonies are also known to help protect the skin from free radical damage caused by ultraviolet rays. Because of this, peony extract is found in several sunscreen formulations. Peony is also known to help protect the skin against oxidative stress. Oxidative stress occurs when free radicals combine with oxygen and the free radicals are greater than the body’s ability to detoxify them. Oxidative stress can cause the skin to prematurely age, make the skin’s tone and texture uneven, and cause skin sagging conditions by breaking down essential proteins.


Turmeric: Turmeric (curcuma longa), a commonly used spice throughout the world, has been shown to exhibit antimicrobial, antioxidant, and anti-neoplastic (acting to prevent, inhibit, or halt the development of neoplasm properties) benefits. Turmeric contains curcumin. This is a type of polyphenol that has anti-inflammatory properties. Turmeric has been shown to inhibit melanin production, in return helping to brighten dark spots.


White Willow Bark: There are several types of willow trees, each with their own unique extract. The type most commonly used in professional skin care is derived from white willow bark. White willow bark helps to exfoliate skin by sloughing off dead skin cells, allowing for bright and radiant skin. This ingredient is also anti-inflammatory.


Ascorbic Acid: Ascorbic acid or vitamin C suppresses the enzyme tyrosinase, which helps to prevent melanin production. Ascorbic acid is a potent antioxidant that can be used topically in skin care to treat and prevent changes associated with photoaging of the skin. Vitamin C is an anti-inflammatory and can also aid in would healing. Collagen production may also be increased with the use of vitamin C. A newer version that is very stable and potent for brightening is called 3-ethyl L-ascorbic and is extremely gentle on sensitive skin types.


Retinaldehyde: Retinaldehyde is a natural form of vitamin A and is much gentler on the skin compared to retinol or retin-A, derivatives of vitamin A. Very stable with little to no downtime, retinaldehyde is an excellent choice for treating fine lines, wrinkles, sun damage, pigmentation, rosacea, and acne. It is used in serums and moisturizers in the professional skin care market.



The above ingredients are the typical, single ingredients associated with lightening and brightening of hyperpigmentation. Below are the trade names of ingredient mixes used and named in the professional skin care industry.


Brightenyl: Brightenyl is a newer trade name that is popping up as an alternative to the more natural origin. INCI water, glycerin, and diglucosyl gallic acid is a new generation skin melanoregulator that is activated by the skin’s microbium. This patented complex is trihydroxy benzoic acid and alpha-glucosides (THBG). After it is applied to the skin, it is partially converted by the skin’s microbiome into trihydroxy benzoic acid (THBA). THBA is a natural tyrosinase inhibitor and acts synergistically with the THBA. This trademarked complex is primarily found in lotions, serums, and creams.


THBA and THBG work together on seven different levels:

  • Inhibition of reactive oxygen species (ROS) production, reducing skin aging and oxidative stress
  • Prevention of ultraviolet ray-induced DNA damage to skin
  • Reduction of inflammation
  • Saturation of keratinocytes receptors, which stops melanin transfer
  • Blocking of melanin synthesis, even under ultraviolet conditions, lightening the skin
  • Decrease of vasodilation and redness
  • Control of expression of microphthalmia-associated transcription factor (MITF)


Algowhite: Algowhite is an extract of the brown colored algae, ascophyllum nodosum, INCI aqua, ascophyllum nodosum. Algowhite is obtained by lixiviation (patented process) and concentrated by reverse osmosis. This brown alga is extremely rich in polyphenols. Polyphenols are micronutrients that are acquired through plant-based foods and are rich in antioxidants and have several health benefits. Algowhite complex benefits include:

  • Reduction in melanin synthesis
  • Reduction in the pigmentation of synthesized melanins
  • Gentle exfoliation by stimulation of stratum corneum chymotryptic enzyme (SCCE), which is involved in desquamation by means of the lysis of corneodesmosomes. Corneodesmosomesare the main intercellular adhesive structures in the stratum corneum. They are transformed from desmosomes at the most superficial layer of the stratum granulosum of the epidermis.
  • Anti-free radical protection against aging of the skin and the appearance of dark spots


Senestem: Senestem’s main ingredient is plantago lanceolate. It is also known as plaintain, INCI glycerin, plantago lanceolata leaf extract, and xanthan gum. Plaintain is a perennial plant and found in most parts of the world. Besides anti-hyperpigmentation attributes, it is also known for wound healing and anti-inflammatory properties. Benefits include restoration of elasticity and skin firmness, restoration of smoothness and texture, and brightening of senile pigmented spots or discolorations on the skin.


Senile lentigo or age spots are hyperpigmented macules of skin that occur in irregular shapes, appearing most commonly in the sun-exposed areas of the skin, such as on the face and back of the hands. 


Tyrostat: Tyrostat’s main ingredient is rumex occidentalis extract, INCI TS-09 water, glycerin, rumex occidentalis extract, and INCI TS-11 water, glycerin, rumex occidentalis extract, and ascorbic acid. Rumex occidentalis extract has a powerful effect of inhibiting the tyrosinase enzyme. The tyrosinase enzyme is present in both plants and humans alike. The enzyme in plants helps to form the reddish-brown pigmentation in the skins of various fruits and vegetables. Tyrostat can be found in makeup, as well as skin care creams and lotions. Benefits include:

  • Reduction of skin pigmentation by limiting both melanin production (tan) and skin reddening (erythema)
  • TS-09 > 70% inhibition of tyrosinase
  • TS-11 > 95% inhibition of tyrosinase


Chromocare: Chromocares’s main ingredients are siegesbeckia orientalis extract (St. John’s wort) and rabdosia rubescens extract (dong ling cao), INCI butylene glycol, water, siegesbeckia orientalis extract, and rabdosia rubescens extract. The combination of ingredient duos acts as a radiance promoter and antiaging, antioxidant, toning, smoothing, conditioning, and rejuvenating agent. Benefits include impeded oxidative aging, work on the visible chromophores by improving skin uniformity and luminosity, increased collagen density in the skin, and decreased skin pigmentation and dark spots.


Looking at both types of single ingredients, as well as the trade named complexes, one can definitely see that there is an abundance of options for a client who is looking to use a more natural approach to reducing and inhibiting pigmentation on the skin. Many of these ingredients have other properties such as anti-inflammatory, barrier function support, antimicrobial, antibacterial, and free radical fighting. All of these attributes help keep the skin healthier, which also helps in protecting the skin from pigmentation and restoring after removal of hyperpigmentation. Natural pigmentation fighters and brighteners seem to be the best option these days, as there is little or no downtime for the client.


Kris CampbellKris Campbell is the founder and managing director of Hale & Hush, a skin care line dedicated to sensitive and health-challenged skin. Campbell trains, writes for trade publications, and speaks at trade events on a variety of subjects, including ingredients and health challenges. Campbell has worked for an FDA cosmeceutical lab and helped clients in creating their brands. She currently formulates for Hale & Hush.

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