Which Plant Products Aid in Skin Lightening?

There is always a need for effective and safe creams or cosmetics that can prevent and reduce skin pigmentation and yellowing of skin. Popular creams use ingredients like steroids, kojic acid, hydroquinone, which are known to have several side effects. This review listed and compared all the studies that have tried to establish the efficacy of certain plant-derived cosmetics and chemicals in skin lightening.

There are several popular creams that promise to lighten the colour of the skin. A few creams can also reduce pigmentation of the skin and make it brighter, but the exact ingredients for the creams will vary considerably. For example, hydroquinone is one of the most established chemicals that are used. However, it is known to have several side effects that can range from skin irritation and allergies to skin cancer. Steroid creams used for this purpose can lead to damaged skin and also cause side effects on all parts of the body. As a result, the search is on for an ideal, effective, and safe skin lightening chemical. Researchers have turned to plants for this. This review looked at studies that have shown that certain plant extracts are capable of reducing the pigment causing material called melanin, in the skin. The effectiveness of these plant products and the side effects of these extracts have been studied.

For this study, the researchers included studies that tested the effectiveness and safety of plant derived products on lightening of the skin. They included human trials as well as laboratory based studies for their review due to many of these agents having not been tried on humans in clinical trials. Some of the plants reviewed included arbutin, aloesin, flavonoids, licorice, niacinamide, and polyphenols.

Data/Results/Key Findings

  • Review of the studies showed that chemicals called arbutins, found in fruits like pear, blueberry, bearberry, and cranberry, are shown to be effective in skin lightening in humans. Aloesin from aloe vera is also found effective in humans.
  • Flavonoids found in most plants have been shown to reduce melanin but only in laboratory in vitro studies. Similarly coumaric acid from ginseng and polyphenols from strawberry and cranberry has also shown effectiveness in melanin reduction in the laboratory.
  • Traditional Chinese creams containing licorice (with glabiridine) and niacinamide from root vegetables have been successful in a few human trials as well. Dried mulberry containing Mulberroside F has antioxidant properties that protect the skin from oxidative damage.
  • Hesperidin can reduce yellowing of skin and protect it against the harmful effects of UVA sunlight on skin.

Next steps/Shortcomings
The authors write that although there are quite a few studies that establish the role of plant-derived extracts as skin lightening agents, many of them have never been tried in humans in clinical trials. Quite a few of these have been successfully shown to be active in the laboratory, at the molecular level. Further studies that establish their role in humans is warranted.

Although many of these agents can reduce melanin concentration in the skin and cause skin lightening, they are still to be tried on humans in clinical trials. The authors find from the studies that these agents have proven to act effectively at the molecular level in the laboratory. They also add that some of these agents possess extra properties such as offering protection from ultra violet rays of the sun. They recommend further clinical trials of these plant-derived agents for obtaining effective and safer ways to prevent and reduce increased pigmentation and skin yellowing or darkening.

For More Information:
The Use of Botanical Extracts as Topical Skin-Lightening Agents for the Improvement of Skin Pigmentation Disorders
Publication Journal: Journal of Investigative Dermatology Symposium Proceedings, 2008
By Wenyuan Zhu; Jie Gao
From First Affiliated Hospital of Nanjing Medical University, Nanjing, PR China

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.

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