THE BLOG
06/26/2012 02:56 pm ET Updated Oct 11, 2012

The Skin Lightening/Brightening Trend

While lightening and brightening the complexion is a relatively new trend in our culture, it's nothing new in the world over. Asian women have been worshipping the perfectly porcelain look forever, and bleaching their skin with toxic hydroquinone to get it.

Here though, Americans still get spray tanned, frequent the beach and even go to the tanning booth to achieve that all-over glow over the creamy-white look. However, what's gaining in popularity, and selling lots and lots of brightening and lightening creams, is the idea that even tone is within reach. Just walk into any Sephora and you'll find a display of skin lighteners now offered by all the major brands. Not the case, a few years ago.

Lightening creams in Japan are marketed completely differently as Asian women are looking for milky, snow white skin tone -- it's what's considered elegant and fashionable. Bleaching the skin is not only trendy, but a normal part of their skin care regimens and skincare products containing hardcore toxin hydroquinone is how it's achieved.

Americans too, used to find hydroquinone in their lightening products, and still can find the ingredient in some products since it isn't banned here (even though it's been banned in several countries for years now). But, now that formulations and ingredients have come so far, finally, American companies have largely given up hydroquinone in favor of equally effective natural, clinically-proven effective ingredients that, rather than bleaching holes in our skin, produce an overall even skin tones, youthful radiance, and scar reduction. None of the products available on the market are meant to bleach the skin, but instead work with individuals of all skin tones to create the desired effects.

This is good news, to say the least -- considering how all we had available to us before were skin lighteners that damaged the skin, sometimes permanently, giving not a youthful and healthy glow, but a sickly pale blue. But, because hydroquinone is still not banned here, it would be wise to, "know your beauty," and look out for the ingredient in any skin lightening or tone-evening product and if you find it in any product you're thinking about using, do yourself a favor and try for something else. There are so many new skin lightening ingredients that work without harm, why bother?

You should also know that different creams with different formulas utilize different ingredient combinations. For example, some Japanese products target melanin production, which is actually aimed at slowing the growth and creation of color in the skin (melanin being responsible for the color of the skin). In contrast, European and American products utilize extracts, vitamins, minerals, and various molecules for which they will not release the details (secret ingredient style). For obvious reasons, avoid these types of formulas. There are so many products out there who's manufacturers are willing and able to have the integrity to be transparent, so you know what you're putting on your skin and therefore, into your body.

How do I get those dark spots anyway?

Well, it's like a lot of things in life. With great power comes great responsibility, and oxygen, which is so essential to us, also has great ability to do us harm. When oxidation occurs (e.g. free radical production), most notably from pollution, cigarette smoke, excessive overexposure to UV rays and other such toxins, as well as the normal aging process, free radicals (unstable atoms or molecules characterized by at least one unpaired electron) go to work on the healthy cells of our skin and body, causing a chain reaction that damages our cells.

How do I even out my skin tone?

I get a lot of questions about how to achieve a brighter, more radiant complexion. People have often had the sad experience of getting 'bleached' or having a spotty appearance from using treatment products with hydroquinone in them.

So, what to do? Since, as I've said, the cosmetic industry has evolved well, let's face it, they've reacted to the pressures consumer wallets are putting on them to come up with better, non-toxic ingredients, and have indeed discovered some amazing ingredient substitutes. In clinical tests, promising ingredients that create real, visible results and an overall radiant glow without side effects include: licorice root, arbutin (actually bearberry), songyi mushroom, lemon peel and resveratrol (a powerful grapeseed extract -- think red wine for the skin).

But helping these ingredients along with a strong commitment to a daily routine is essential. I highly recommend jump-starting your "bright skin routine" by first having either a microdermabrasion and/or a professional peel procedure performed. This will remove a lot of the top layer of dead and dull skin and refresh your complexion, getting that radiant glow started! But to keep that glow going, you must follow a diligent day-to-day routine that enables healthy skin functioning, collagen turnover and fabulous, even skin tone.

Allow three days for your skin to heal from your professional procedure depending on how deep the therapist went in, and how sensitive you are, then start my recommended home regimen:

1. Exfoliate daily with your favorite manual exfoliate (scrub).

2. Use two to three drops of a medicinal brightening serum before your moisturizer and after toning. Always looking for a combination of the above ingredients in all your leave-on products.

3. Use one to two drops of 100 percent pure, botanically-based facial oil while moist from toning and using your serum.

4. Apply your moisturizing cream, infused with actives like the above suggested for brightening.

5. One to two times per week, use a masque specifically formulated for brightening the skin.

6. I also highly recommend using an at-home facial peel at least one to three times per week to continue with the removal of dead skin, to purify pores, continue to ensure collagen production is amplified and that skin is at it's ultimate in radiance, smoothness and evenness.

Obviously, these recommendations are for non-irritated skin. People with conditions like rosacea, for instance, should avoid manual exfoliation and instead stick to brightening serums, masks and creams alone. Use a purifying, anti-inflammatory cleanser until your irritation and redness is reduced, skin is balanced and you can begin a more aggressive regimen.

It's pretty simple. Use premium, non-toxic ingredients, in the right combination, with diligent attention, and you can overcome most skin issues and achieve most, if not all, of your skincare goals, be bright and shiny, maintain a radiant glow and basically have what all good Americans typically want... it all!

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