1. Hydroquinone: Inhibits pigment (melanin) formation. The most widely available ingredient with 2 percent strength over the counter and 4 percent through a dermatologist. Hydroquinone works well, but has been under scrutiny for questionable health risks with long-term, widespread use. Risks include allergy, skin irritation and potential to darken skin. It is best to use for two- to three-month bursts and use a safer alternative the rest of the time. It is not safe to use during pregnancy. Derivations products do not contain Hydroquinone.
2. Arbutin: A natural form of hydroquinone derived from plants, including bearberry, blueberry, mulberry and cranberry. Has similar mechanism and effects as hydroquinone with better safety profile. Derivations Brightening Creme contains Arbutin.
3. Kojic acid: Antioxidant that works by breaking down the pigment in the skin and preventing its production. May cause skin irritation and is unstable in many formulations. Derivations Purifying Cleansing Fluid and Brightening Crème contain Kojic Acid, which are effective in treating discoloration.
4. Licorice (glabridin): Non-toxic and slows pigment production, and is anti-inflammatory.
5. Glutathione: An antioxidant that inhibits pigment production. Difficult to absorb into cells, it is enhanced with vitamin C or E. N-acetyl cysteine orally will also boost its level. Derivations Brightening Crème contains Glutathione.
6. Niacinamide: A form of vitamin B3 that inhibits the transfer of pigment to the skin’s upper layer. Also anti-inflammatory, reduces acne and increases skin moisture. Derivations Hydrating Cleansing Fluid and Ultimate Rejuvenation Night Crème contain Niacinamide.
7. Azelaic acid: Also works for acne and selectively works on overactive melanocytes so it won’t affect normal pigment on skin.
8. Vitamin C: An antioxidant, also protects from sun damage but is unstable.
Penetration of these lightening agents will be enhanced if you apply a product that will exfoliate and loosen the bonds of the top layer of the skin. Plus, exfoliation will provide a healthy glow to skin and remove those top layers containing old pigmentation. Look for products containing retinol and glycolic acid.
Avoiding sugar is also helpful in controlling skin discoloration, as a sugar molecule is needed in pigment production. Other dietary changes, which may assist, include consuming foods with carotenoids and vitamin C.