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Health, Beauty & Fashion

Go for glow

The latest whitening products focus on brightening from within
The Straits Times - March 30, 2012
By: Gladys Chung
| More

Finally, there might just be a winning formula for effective whitening products.

The latest batch of skin-lightening concoctions comes with new ingredients and technology that promise deeper penetration for brighter skin.

Ms Grace Ban, managing director of Estee Lauder Cosmetics Singapore, says: 'The whitening buzzwords for this year and next would include flawlessness, where skin is unmarked by dark spots, and radiance and luminosity, where the skin looks like it is lit from within.'

She adds that the focus would be on targeted, high-performance ingredients that prevent and break up excess pigmentation deep within the skin.

With March being the month when most beauty brands roll out their annual crop of whitening potions, at least five labels have launched new products that promise to reach inner layers of the skin.

Dior recently revamped its entire Diorsnow whitening range by infusing its products with Icelandic Glacial Water, which has been running through volcanic rock formations for more than 400 years.

The glacial water was chosen supposedly because its water molecules form smaller clusters, thus making it easier for whitening ingredients, such as silver birch extract, to be transported into the deeper layers of the skin.

Clinical associate professor Giam Yoke Chin, senior consultant dermatologist at the National Skin Centre, says that while she would not dismiss the efficacy of glacial water, more studies are needed to validate the claim.

Then there is Lancome's Blanc Expert Crystal Brightness Activating Essence which specifically targets the dermis, with soya, sunflower, mint and rose extracts to address pigmentation problems and brighten the complexion. Dermis is the deeper layer of the skin tissue that supports and provides nutrition to the outermost layer of the skin.

Lancome's formula also contains Actyl P, a new generation of vitamin C which apparently penetrates the skin 10 times better than regular vitamin C.

Prof Giam says as long as the vitamin C is active and stable, regardless of whether it is from a 'new generation', it will penetrate the skin well.

Then there is Astalift, one of the latest entrants into the market. The beauty line by Japanese company Fujifilm uses nanotechnology - the science of manipulating materials on a molecular scale - to carry fine particles of active ingredients deep into the skin layers. Astalift's new Whitening Skincare Series uses the same technology.

Dr Harneet Ranu Eriksson, consultant and specialist in dermatology at the Raffles Skin Centre, says skin-lightening products that allow deeper penetration of active ingredients, especially into the dermis, will be more effective than those which target pigmentation only at the skin surface.

She adds that whitening products with good delivery systems but which contain fewer active ingredients are more effective than formulas that contain pure active ingredients but which are not thoroughly absorbed by the skin.

An example of an effective product would be one that uses nanotechnology, she says.

With the advancements in science and technology these days, many over-the-counter whitening products from reputable brands do get rid of dark spots and brighten the skin, says Prof Giam.

'But you have to be dilligent about using the product for at least a month, put on broad spectrum sunblock with at least SPF 30 religiously and stay out of the sun to see results.'

If you find that skin-lightening creams do not seem to work, it could be that your hyperpigmentation is buried well within your dermis, where skin-lightening lotions and creams cannot reach, Dr Harneet points out.

You would then have to turn to more invasive treatments, such as chemical peels and laser treatments, if the spots really bother you.

However, if your pigmentation is on the epidermal or outer layer of the skin, there is no need to use whitening products that target the deeper dermis layer, says Dr Eileen Tan, a dermatologist who owns Eileen Tan Skin, Laser and Hair Transplant Clinic in Mount Elizabeth Hospital.

Here is a useful list of the kind of spots you may have and how to treat them, as well as new star products that are said to give you brighter, flawless skin.

What are dark spots?

Dark spots are caused by the production of excess melanin or pigment in the skin, often due to sun exposure, hormones and genes.

This leads to hyperpigmentation, a condition whereby patches of skin are darker than the surrounding skin.

Age spots, for example, are made up of cells damaged by the sun and which produce too much pigmentation.

Common types of dark spots 

Freckles: Caused by genes or sun exposure, these light brown flecks can reappear even after laser removal. 


Solar Lentigenes: These age spots are caused by damaging free radicals from the environment and accumulated sun exposure.

Besides the face, they can often be found on exposed forearms and the neck, and can develop once you are over 30.

Sun damage to skin cells occur from early childhood.

However, effects of the damage appear only when one is older and the cells no longer function as well.

This is usually when a person hits his or her 30s.

Left untreated, these spots can grow larger and slightly thicker.

Melasma: These are dark patches usually found on the cheeks and forehead due to sun exposure, genetics, hormonal changes during pregnancy or the use of oral contraceptives.

Hori's Nevus: These are grey spots caused by genes or hormones and are often found on the cheeks and noses of Asian women between the ages of 30 and 50.

Asian women are more prone to this sort of pigmentation probably due to genetics.

Scars: These are caused by pimples, eczema or injury.

Skin layers

The skin is made up of two main layers: the epidermis at the surface and the dermis underneath.

Hyperpigmentation on the epidermis usually includes sun spots and freckles, which are brown in colour.

These types of spots are relatively easy to treat with off-the-shelf skin-lightening creams that contain whitening agents such as arbutin, kojic acid, licorice and vitamins A and C.

One of the most powerful whitening ingredients is hydroquinone.

But, at high concentrations, it can cause skin irritation.

Therefore, over-the-counter whitening skincare products that contain hydroquinone come with only a 2 per cent concentration, while those with a concentration of 4 per cent or more are available only from dermatologists and require a prescription.

Dark spots that occur at the dermis level include melasma, acne scars and Hori's Nevus.

Dermal hyperpigmentation is usually blue-grey in colour.

This type of skin discolouration requires skin-lightening products that penetrate deeper into the dermis or invasive treatments such as chemical peels, intense pulsed light and laser treatments.

Multiple treatments may be needed, depending on the extent of the pigmentation.

Prices start from about $130 for a chemical peel.

A single dark spot can also be caused by hyperpigmentation at both the dermal and epidermal layers.

Caring for your skin

Stick to a skincare regime which includes applying an antioxidant, such as a product with vitamin C or E; layering a broad spectrum sunblock with at least SPF 30 on top; and carrying an umbrella that offers UV protection when in the sun.

At night, help your skin to recover from sun exposure with skin-lightening creams that contain whitening agents such as hydroquinone.


Information from clinical associate professor Giam Yoke Chin,senior consultant dermatologist at the National Skin Centre; and Dr Harneet Ranu Eriksson, consultant and specialist in dermatology at the Raffles Skin Centre


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