Which Method of Skin Lightening Treatment Works Best?

Skin lightening is used as a way to create a more even skin coloration or lighten abnormally dark or discolored areas of skin such as birthmarks or moles. There are several methods that can be used, including creams, acids, peels and lasers. Consultation with a board certified dermatologist or cosmetic doctor is the best way to determine which method of skin lightening treatment would work best with your individual skin type and problem area.

There are many creams on the market that claim to have skin whitening abilities. Some of them are fairly ineffective and some contain ingredients that can lighten your skin, but can also produce too much of a whitening contrast compared to untreated areas of your skin. If you try any of the over-the-counter creams yourself, be sure to read the label carefully and follow instructions. It would be advisable to research the active ingredients for any potential side effects.

If you chose to have a dermatologist perform skin whitening treatments, he or she will use either one or a combination of methods such as topical creams, chemical peels, microdermabrasion, laser treatments or cryosurgery with liquid nitrogen. It's important to find a qualified dermatologist or cosmetic doctor who has performed the type of skin lightening treatment you plan on having and can answer any questions or ideally provide before and after pictures of previous patients.

The topical creams work by limiting your body's production of melanin. The most commonly used agents are listed below.

AHA or alpha hydroxy acid (glycolic and lactic acid) work by encouranging cells in the top skin layers to regenerate. This helps by removing or exfoliating the old skin cells that usually have more pigmintation and replacing them with new, lighter cells. AHAs also have the ability to slow down melanin production in cells. These acids are usually used at rates of 4% to no more than 15% in solutions. You can also have a peel using a solution of 50% alpha hydroxy acid done by a qualified dermatologist.

Azelaic acid is a natural substance made from grains. It is derived from barley, rye or wheat and formulated into a cream with a concentration of around 20%. Azelaic acid has previously been used for the treatment of acne but is now also used as a method to limit the body's ability to make melanin.

Arbutin or hydroquinone beta D glucoside is also used in skin lightening creams and can be found in extracts of bearberry, mulberry, cranberry, blueberry and even many varieties of pears. Arbutin is mostly commonly used in its alpha form.

Hydroquinone, while very effective in preventing melanin production, is also controversial because some research has indicated it may increase the risk of some cancers. In The U.S. it can be found in over-the-counter creams with less than 4% concentration.

Tretinoin is only mildly effective inlimiting melanin production. The downside of this agent is that it causes the skin to become more suseptable to UVB and UVA sun rays. Because of that, patients need to limit time in the sun or risk sunburn.

Lasers can be used to treat darkened areas of skin and can be very effective. Over use of lasers can cause unwanted reactions such as swelling, redness, hyperpigmentation or hypopigmentation. 

In some cases, liquid nitrogen (cryosurgery) is used to freeze skin cells, causing melanin to surface and then be exfoliated by peeling. This type of skin lightening treatment is normally used only when other methods have been ineffective.

No matter which type of skin lightening method you use, make sure you have the procedure performed by a qualified dermatologist or cosmetic surgeon who is experienced in that particular treatment.