How Skin Brightening Products Work and What to Avoid

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Young, old, male, or female- we can all benefit from a little improved brightness. It's probably why there are an endless amount of brightening products, from serums to bar soaps that promise a more radiant complexion. Brightening products can diminish skin dullness, decrease dark spots, and provide an overall healthy looking glow, as long as you're using products that are safe and effective. There are 2 ways skincare manufacturers go about improving your skin's radiance.

Exfoliating to Brighter Skin

One way skin brighteners work is by using physical or chemical exfoliators to improve skin-tone and hyper-pigmentation. Exfoliating your skin removes the top layer, allowing young, new, fresh skin to become visible. Dark spots caused by acne, scars, or rashes benefit the most from exfoliation because it encourages the younger, less hyper-pigmented skin below to be revealed. We recommend sticking to products that use chemical exfoliants like alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) and beta hydroxy acid (BHA). If used in the right dosage, acid exfoliants can effectively remove dark-spot-plagued skin with ease. Alder New York's Everyday Face Cleanser is formulated with glycolic acid, an AHA, that's perfect for everyday brightening.

Scary and Bright

Brightening products often also work by preventing the production of melanin in your skin. That's the stuff that makes us tan and some of us to have darker skin. This form of brightening is most often found in skin bleaching products. Commonly used ingredients include kojic acid and hydroquinone. Both have some serious health concerns.

Very Uncool Ingredients

Kojic acid is a by-product of rice wine, soy sauce, and sake, and it is also derived from fungi, aka mushrooms. It is likely to be safe in topical skincare products when used at 1% or lower. However, some users of kojic acid can develop contact dermatitis, especially those with sensitive skin. Even those with less sensitive skin types can end up developing an allergy to the acid after prolonged use. And there's some evidence that it's a carcinogen in test mice. Kojic acid use can also increase your skin's sensitivity to getting sunburned.

Blue Da Ba Dee

Hydroquinone has been deemed even less safe. It's completely banned in the European Union, Japan, and Australia and even the FDA is unsure of it's safety- and if the FDA is taking notice, that's really saying something. Hydroquinone is a suspected carcinogen and is connected with a condition called Ochronosis which turns skin a dark blueish black - yikes! And the scariest part is that it's so easy to find in products in the US market, including in Murad's Lightening Serum and Paula's Choice's Dark Spot Eraser.

The Magic of Vitamin C

On the safe ingredient side, Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a very special ingredient that really does it all when it comes to skin brightening. Like hydroquinone and kojic acid, vitamin C can help prevent melanin from forming, but without the scary health risks. It also encourages cell turnover and skin healing. It's additionally a potent antioxidant that will fight free radicals and prevent skin damage. When paired with a exfoliant, like in Alder New York's Brightening Face Mask, it's the most effective and safest way to lighten dark spots, improve skin texture, and defy dullness.


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