This table shows a list of skin whitening ingredients, their efficacy and whether they are safe for use on darker skin tones.
|Ingredient||Description||How it works||Efficacy||Safe on darker skin?|
|Arbutin||A hydroquinone derivative (glycosylated benzoquinone) extracted from the bearberry shrub.||Inhibits tyrosinase to prevent the formation of melanin.||Arbutin found to inhibit melanin production in B16 cells induced with alpha-MSH and decreases tyrosinase activity. Less effective than kojic acid.||Yes.|
|Alpha-Arbutin||Alpha-Arbutin is an epimer of arbutin (4-hydroxyphenyl alpha-glucopyranoside)||Inhibits tyrosinase to prevent the formation of melanin. Said to have a stronger effect than arbutin.||Melanin synthesis was reduced to 40% with 250 microg of alpha-arbutin.||Yes.|
|Magnesium ascorbyl phosphate||A stable vitamin C derivative||Suppresses melanin formation and protects against skin damage caused by UVB rays.||A significant lightening effect was seen clinically in 19 of 34 patients with melasma and solar lentigos.||Yes.|
|Kojic acid||Derived from fungus||Suppresses tyrosinase activity.||Less efficacious than 2% hydroquinone.
May cause contact dermatitis and erythema.
|Retinoic acid/Vitamin A acid||Boosts epidermal turnover, which promotes keratinocyte proliferation. Discharges epidermal melanin but not dermal melanin.||Tretinoin was used as monotherapy in a study on 38 African- American patients with melasma and 68-73% of patients improved.||Yes.|
|Liquorice extract/Licorice extract||Glabridin||Inhibits tyrosinase activity (similar to kojic acid).||A combination product of 0.4% licorice extract, 0.05% betamethasone, and 0.05% retinoic acid was found to be effective in the treatment of melasma.||Yes.|
|Hydroquinone||An industrial chemical||Inhibits DNA synthesis and mitochondrial enzymes, has direct cytotoxic effects toward melanocytes. Also competes for tyrosine oxidation in active melanocytes.||One of the most effective inhibitors of melanogenesis in vitro and in vivo. Evidence of improvement is usually observed at 4-6 weeks. Tretinoin has been used to enhance the efficacy of hydroquinone.||Mostly safe, but risks exist.
Exogenous ochronosis observed in black patients who have used high concentrations for years.
Thus, it should be discontinued if no improvement occurs within 4-6 months.
|Mulberry extract||Derived from root of paper mulberry plant (Morus alba root).||Inhibits tyrosinase activity.||Low concentrations shown to inhibit tyrosinase activity. Significantly lower compared to the concentrations needed for kojic acid and hydroquinone.||Yes.|
|Azelaic acid||Derived from yeast.||Inhibits DNA synthesis and mitochondrial enzymes, has direct cytotoxic effects toward melanocytes.||A 20% concentration of azelaic acid is equivalent to 2% hydroquinone. However, azelaic acid has no lightening effect on normally pigmented skin, freckles, senile lentigines, and nevi. It has selective effects on only abnormal melanocytes.||Yes.|
|Niacinamide||Vitamin B3, niacin, nicotinamide||Inhibits melanosome transfer from melanocytes to keratinocytes.||In skin culture tests, niacinamide significantly inhibited the transfer of melanosomes from melanocytes to keratinocytes (by 25–45%; p activity.||Yes.|
|Salicylic acid||A beta hydroxy acid (BHA) used to make aspirin.||Increases cell turnover.||Effective on minor skin discolorations.||Yes, in lower concentrations.|
|Undecylenoyl phenylalanine||Amino acid derivative. Commercial names include Skinwhite MSH and Sepiwhite MSH.||Acts as an antagonist to melanocyte stimulating hormone (MSH). Prevents the start of melanin synthesis.||In testing, melanin levels were significantly reduced by 53% after 13 days.||Yes.|
|Topical corticosteroids||Several forms of corticosteroids include Hydrocortisone,
Clobetasol Propionate, Fluocinolone Acetonide or Betamethasone Dipropionate.
|Unknown. It is possible that steroids reduce the production of melanocyte stimulating hormones (MSH).||Fast temporary skin lightening, but prolonged use is dangerous.||No.|
|Monobenzone||Monobenzyl ether of hydroquinone||Permanently depigments normal skin.||Used for vitiligo patients.||Used for vitiligo patients only.|
|Mequinol||Monomethyl ether of hydroquinone||Cytotoxic to melanocytes.||Can be effective when used in conjunction with tretinoin.||Yes, in lower concentrations.|