Is it actually possible to lighten your skin? It is, with one important caveat:
You can brighten your complexion—make it look clearer and lighter. You can also significantly improve any pigmentation or dark spots.
However, you can’t lighten your actual skin color (it can appear lighter, as above). Your natural skin color is beautiful! But if you want to make the most of it by evening out tone, clear up any patches or unevenness… then this page is for you!
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How to Lighten Skin: the basics
Why would skin “need” lightened?
Skin cells called melanocytes produce melanin, which is the darker pigment. Some people have more of these skin cells naturally. Other times, melanocytes activity can be increased by the following:
- Hormones – pregnancy (the pregnancy mask), contraception/contraceptive pill, menopause, hormonal imbalance
- Melasma – normally on the face, may be due to hormones or pregnancy
- Sun damage – sun spots, or sun thickened skin can be darker
- Age spots (similar to sun spots)
- Friction or rubbing – especially the underarms, inner thighs, elbows and knees… anywhere the skin rubs together
Depending on the cause, pigmentation can be at least faded, skin tone can be evened out and/or brightened – and yes sometimes skin can be significantly lightened.
Whatever skin lightening treatment you choose remember these two things:
- Everyone’s skin is different so always remember to use your judgement and find what works for you
- All treatments requirement commitment and consistency (like most things in skin care)
Details on all treatments, from natural to doctor-only, below!
How to Lighten Skin Naturally | Home Remedies DIY
Let’s start with the natural/home remedies for lightening skin.
These natural and home skin lightening treatments can be very effective for pigmentation that is recent, an uneven skin tone, or those dark spots left over from pimples or acne scars.
The following natural skin whitening remedies should be done twice a day for at least 30days.
It seems excessive but natural remedies aren’t as strong as other options so do require more time…
Try them and see! It could be well worth it 🙂
Natural Skin Lightening Treatment #1
– The Tomato –
The humble tomato has acids that help lighten and brighten skin.
The big advantage of this home remedy is that it is so easy:
- Cut a tomato in half.
- Take out the seeds.
- Rub it over your entire face or just the pigmented areas and leave on for 20mins.
- Rinse off gently
Remember – these natural skin whitening treatments work better if they are done twice a day.
#2 The Skin Lightening Turmeric Mask
*Note – Turmeric can stain skin!
> Try a small amount of this mask on a hidden area first to be sure – it can be hard to take off.
- 1/4cup fresh lemon juice
- 1.5 tablespoons turmeric powder
- 1/4cup greek yoghurt (or enough to form a thick paste – important for the mask to stay on)
Then use a cleanser with a warm wash cloth.
Follow with a gentle toner or witch hazel/rose water.
It is highly recommended to try this mask on a small patch first to see how your skin stains – it is temporary but it can be hard to remove!
However if your skin does well with this mask it is one of the best natural skin lightening treatments you can use.
#3 Other Natural/Home Options for Skin Whitening
– and what doesn’t work –
- Honey – works to brighten skin and even out your complexion. You can simply apply as a (sticky) mask once a day. It is particularly good for brightening skin, rather than whitening it per se. More details about honey here
- Lemon juice – lemon can work as a spot treatment to get rid of a pimple. It is too harsh to apply directly to skin however, and the lightening effect is very minimal. It works much better when part of the turmeric mask above.
- Hydrogen peroxide – this is fine to use for patches of pigmentation, simply apply with a cotton ball. However it can be drying and the results may not be worth it. You can try adding a small amount to some sesame or coconut oil and massaging into skin at night
- Milk – the lactic acid that can actually do something for skin is not the type found in milk! Applying milk to your skin may provide some hydration and soothing properties, but can’t do much for lightening. See details on the right lightening skin care ingredients below….
Best Skin Lightening Ingredients (aka the ones that work)
These are the skin care product ingredients that actually work to lighten and brighten skin!
All of them help with darker skin, pigmentation ad uneven skin tone – to varying degrees.
- Like all active skin care, they are only effective in the right formula and the right dosage
This is the go-to of all skin lightening treatments.
Hydroquinone is a skin bleaching agent – and works by reducing the amount of melanin produced by skin cells.
You can get 2% Hydroquinone cream over the counter OTC, however it is recommended to see a doctor/dermatologist and get a 4% cream prescribed.
Obviously – this is stronger and at this strength in the right formula it has been shown to work.
– It also means your doctor can provide the right course of treatment and monitor your skin –
2. GLYCOLIC ACID:
Glycolic acid dissolves the glue between skin cells, providing an even exfoliation and resurfacing.
It is able to penetrate the top layer of skin and helps to speed up skin cell turnover.
Both of these aspects are excellent for a skin lightening treatment and brightening effect (also highly effective for blackheads, oil, fine lines, etc).
Glycolic acid is best if you are looking to even out your skin tone and brighten your complexion. An exfoliator or glycolic acid peel is great, but a glycolic acid lotion will always provide some skin lightening benefits.
3. SALICYLIC ACID:
Salicylic acid works by dissolving oil and dead skin cells.
It is good for spots of pigmentation like left over pimple scars (the ones that are on the surface of skin not the deeper acne scars).
It can increase pigmentation in patches when first using as it speeds up the turnover – this is temporary and the new lighter skin will be revealed!
4. VITAMIN C:
Vitamin C (L ascorbic acid) is a proven skin lightening treatment and a powerful skin brightener.
When applied to skin topically it acts to decrease the activity of tyrosinase – an enzyme that contributes to melanin production (source).
Vitamin C also stimulates collagen production and is a powerful antioxidant – this is one skin ingredient that should be used by everyone!
5. Retinol / Retinoic Acid
Retinol speeds up cell turnover so darker cells will be shed quicker – so this is an effective skin lightening ingredient for age spots and pigmentation.It is even more successful when combined with Vitamin C (example: a Vitamin C serum followed with a Retinol moisturizer).
6. The Most Important Skin Lightening Ingredient!
You cannot get any successful results with any skin whitening treatment without protecting your skin from the sun.
In fact, using the above ingredients without sunscreen can increase pigmentation.
A sunscreen preferably with zinc oxide – a physical block which is also calming to skin – is your skin lightening best friend!
(It can be possible to fade sun spots purely by being diligent about protecting skin from the sun – especially on areas like the back of hands).
6. Other Skin Lightening Treatment Ingredients
The two ingredients below can brighten skin – and need to be used for a minimum of 4 – 6 weeks to see results.
If your pigmentation is light, or if these ingredients are combined with any of the above, their whitening action is usually more successful:
- Kojic Acid – similar to Vitamin C, Kojic Acid decreases tyronaise activity to lessen the amount of melanin produced. However it is much less strong than a (well-formulated) Vitamin C product
- Soy extract – products containing soy (such as Aveeno Positively Radiant Moisturizer) can have a lightening effect and brightening effect – if used for long enough!
Whitening Skin Care Products
Meladerm Skin Lightening Cream – one of the top skin whitening creams available OTC. Which is why it is quite expensive!
If you don’t want to use a product containing hydroquinone, this is a good option.
Use it sparingly twice a day on any area you are looking to lighten.
Ultimate Skin Whitening Tips
- Pigmentation can come from a “pregnancy mask” which happens during pregnancy or from contraception (common with the pill). This is usually the upper lip and/or across the nose and cheeks
- If it is due to the contraceptive pill see your doctor as it may be best to try a different contraceptive option
- Melasma due to pregnancy will usually fade after birth as hormones rebalance. You can speed this up with the various skin lightening treatments on this page
- If you live in a hot climate, sweat regularly, or workout a lot – use a chaffing cream like Monistat (bonus – this doubles as a great oily skin primer!) or even plain corn starch on the inner thighs or underarms to prevent skin darkening
- Consistency and patience is the key. Skin whitening treatments need at least 4weeks to work due to skin cell turnover – and usually longer to really start seeing a difference
How to Lighten Skin on Your Body
– body skin lightening treatments –
Body skin in certain areas an be darker due to skin thickness and/or friction and rubbing:
- Under arms / arm pits – usually due to rubbing
- Hands and feets
- Elbows and knees – especially because the skin here is thicker
- Neck – movement
- Inner thighs – friction and chaffing
- Pigmention, age spots or sun spots on arms and legs
- Any other area is possible
It can be harder to whiten body skin due to the thickness of skin, but it is possible!
Here are the best options for how to lighten skin on your body:
- Thicker skinned areas like elbows and knees need constant attention to keep the skin exfoliated and soft
- CeraVe SA Lotion contains salicylic acid and is a good daily moisturizer that will help with this
- It is surprising how well an applicatoin of sunblock alone can work to fade sun spots on hands. They can fade simply by protecting them from solar rays with no other treatment
- Pigmentation from sun and age spots (e.g. legs and arms) can be successfully removed via laser treatment (IPL or Fraxel). Be sure to consult a board certified plastic surgeon or dermatologist
- Hydroquinone creams can also be applied to the body. See a doctor for a prescription of 4% Hydroquinone cream for best results
- Inner thighs and underarms darkening can be helped by ensuring there is something between the skin – for example you can try wearing “boy shorts” that provide a layer of material between the two sides of your inner thighs
This page details skin lightening treatments and how to lighten skin the right way.
Remember it takes time and consistency, but with the right products it can be done!
NEXT: Glowing Skin Secrets