Dr Rachel Ho, aesthetic medical doctor at La Clinic gives us the low-down on the top three skin brightening ingredients to look out for when shopping for skincare products.
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is possibly one of the most effective and well-studied skin-brightening and collagen-boosting ingredient in dermatology.
Vitamin C brightens skin and lightens pigmentation by reducing melanin formation. It achieves this by blocking tyrosinase, the enzyme responsible for forming melanin. Dull skin and other signs of aging, such as pigmentation and wrinkles, are caused by DNA damaging free radicals from UV rays and environmental pollution. Vitamin C also has the additional ability to neutralise these free radicals and boost the skin’s natural production of collagen for anti-aging benefits and brighter skin. Sunscreens only block out 55% of the free radicals from the sun’s UV rays, so layering your sunblock with a vitamin C serum or moisturiser underneath provides additional protection against dull skin, pigmentation and the other effects of sun exposure.
Compared to other pigmentation reducing ingredients like hydroquinone, Vitamin C is much safer with no risks like rebound (i.e. worsening of pigmentation with prolonged use) and is safe for topical use in skincare for pregnant and nursing mothers.
The concentration of vitamin C is also important; look for a concentration between 10-20%. Studies have shown that a concentration beyond 20% does not result in additional skin absorption and may in fact cause skin irritation.
Retinoids belong to another family of active ingredients that will give your skin the glo-up you so desire.
First of all, retinoids brighten the skin by also blocking the formation of pigmentation (melanin) through the inhibition of activity of the enzyme tyrosinase. At the same time, retinoids increase the cell turnover of the most superficial layer of the skin (the epidermis), which helps slough off melanin-laden skin cells for a brightening effect. Retinoids also increase collagen levels in the skin, thus helping to improve the appearance of wrinkles and the texture and elasticity of the skin.
Do note that regular use of retinoids require tolerance building of your skin, as it can cause skin irritation, such as peeling and dryness, for most first-timers. Start by using it once a week for two weeks, then twice a week for the next two weeks before gradually adding on an additional night for every two weeks until it becomes a daily affair. Also remember to use retinoids only at night because it can cause irritation when used in the day time.
Salicylic acid is a fantastic product for brightening your skin and removing blackheads and whiteheads without needing painful extractions. It works by breaking up the ‘glue’ holding cells together, which then facilitates exfoliation of dull skin, grime and comedones. Although it is more effective when done as a chemical peel in the clinic (where the concentration is higher at 20 to 30 per cent), salicylic acid can be bought off the counter in skincare at lower concentrations and a minimum concentration of two per cent is needed for it to be effective.
Salicylic acid also reduces pigmentation such as the dark marks from pimples and acne and thus enhances the brightening effect.
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