Types of Whitening Creams

There are many different whitening products available nowadays, both online and in-store. They are available in a variety of forms, including lotions, soaps, creams, and even vitamins. Unfortunately, whitening creams usually have a negative reputation, largely because of the perception that their advertising and very presence favor one type of beauty – fair-skinned – over another.

Even though there are certain controversial aspects of the whitening cream industry, we don’t have to avoid the product entirely. Even while it’s generally acknowledged that fair skin doesn’t equate to beauty (inside or out), there may be some neural benefits to using these products. For instance, some people may have age spots, pigmentation, and skin discoloration. Taking good care of your skin, however, may help to lessen the effects of such problems, whether they are symptoms of a disease or simply the result of aging. Skin lightening and whitening creams can actually help to restore the appearance of a glowing, healthy face because skincare and beauty enthusiasts don’t want the skin to look dry or dull.

What Are Whitening Creams?

Millennial woman applying hand cream from tube over pink background, blank space. Panorama

Creams that lighten and bleach the skin are known as skin whitening products. Skin whitening products target the skin cells which are responsible for the production of melanin – melanin is a pigment that determines how light or dark our skin appears.

There are a variety of skin whitening creams that are available both online and over-the-counter. The best course of action is to see your doctor before utilizing skin lightening lotions, though. Contrary to OTC products, which might include hazardous substances, prescription drugs are frequently examined for their efficacy and safety.

How Do Whitening Creams Work?

mechanism of skin pigmentation / skin spot illustration (with explanation)

The ingredients used in skin whitening creams work to reduce your body’s production of melanin. The cells known as melanocytes produce the pigment melanin. The amount of melanocytes in your skin is reduced by bleaching products [1].

The hydroquinone used in many skin whitening creams is known to reduce melanocytes.

Vitamin C is an antioxidant that is frequently found in skin whitening creams and is believed to reduce the production of melanin in our cells.

Glycolic acid, which is also present in many skin whitening creams, functions as an exfoliator. By getting rid of dead skin cells, it aids in brightening the skin.

You can also use retinoids, which are medications derived from vitamin A, to fade dark spots [2]. They function by accelerating the skin’s surface cell turnover. Retinol, adapalene gel, tazarotene, and tretinoin are some examples of them. 

Conditions Treated by Whitening Creams

Whitening creams can be applied to treat a number of discoloration-causing conditions. These consist of:

Age Spots

An elderly woman grandmother's arm with wrinkles and age spots and her sleeve rolled up.

Flat brown, gray, or black spots on the skin are called age spots. They typically appear on exposed skin, such as the backs of your hands and your face. The terms liver spots, senile lentigo, solar lentigines, and sun spots are also used to describe age spots. It’s not unusual for one age spot to show up or for several to group together.

The main cause of age spots is an excessive amount of melanin, or skin pigment. While the specific cause of age spots is unknown, some people are predisposed to them genetically. In other words, if age spots run in your family, you might be more likely to get them. Sun exposure, skin aging, and exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from sources like tanning beds are additional potential reasons. Because of this, the parts of your body that get the most sun exposure—such as your face, the backs of your hands, your shoulders, your upper back, or your forearms—are the ones most prone to develop age spots.

There are many over-the-counter (OTC) skin whitening creams available that are marketed as age spot treatments. Although they are not as efficacious as prescription creams, these creams could be able to help reduce excessive skin pigmentation. Choose an OTC cream with one of the following ingredients if you want to use one: deoxyarbutin, glycolic acid, alpha hydroxy acid, or kojic acid.


Macro shot of face with freckles of young natural woman with no-makeup on her eyes

Freckles are tiny, unharmful marks that develop on the skin. The main causes of freckles are heredity and sun exposure. By avoiding the sun, people can prevent or lessen the appearance of freckles. Although it won’t make existing freckles less noticeable, sun protection can stop new ones from developing.

According to a 2012 study [3], products with trichloroacetic acid (TCA) and phenol can effectively lighten freckles. These substances are found in a range of topical treatments and spot peels. Additionally, alpha hydroxy acids, azelaic acid, cysteamine, vitamin C, and retinoids may aid in the fading of freckles.

Acne Scars

closeup acne on woman's face with rash skin ,scar and spot that allergic to cosmetics

Because your body is attempting to heal the acne, scars develop. You will develop scarring if and to what extent, depending on how your particular body reacts to a wound. Collagen production is a part of the healing process. The elevated scars develop when there is an excess of collagen. Pits or indentations in the skin are the result of further scarring, which is brought on by tissue loss.

It is better to use over-the-counter creams. Find out which is best for your skin type and type of scar by consulting your dermatologist. There are numerous potent creams available. They consist of one or a combination of the following ingredients: salicylic acid, retinoids, lactic acid, and alpha hydroxy acids.


Skin problem, Closeup skin face asian women with spot melasma.

Melasma is a common pigmentation condition that mostly affects the face and results in brown or gray patches of skin. The nasal bridge, the forehead, the cheeks, the upper lip, and the chin are the facial features where melasma most frequently develops. Other parts of the body, particularly those that receive a lot of sunshine, may also develop melasma. The shoulders, neck, and forearms are a few examples of these places.

Your dermatologist might prescribe a drug to lessen the extra pigment in your skin. Most patients get a prescription for a drug to be applied topically at home. One or more of the following may be recommended by your dermatologist:


  • Hydroquinone: Melasma is commonly treated with hydroquinone. It serves to even out the skin tone when applied to the skin. Unfortunately, the products that you can buy without a prescription no longer include hydroquinone.
  • Tretinoin and a mild corticosteroid: Combining retinol with a moderate corticosteroid can balance out skin tone because it contains both a retinoid and an anti-inflammatory.
  • Triple combination cream: Tretinoin (a retinoid), a corticosteroid to relieve inflammation, and hydroquinone to even out your skin tone are all present in the triple combo cream.
  • Other medications: Your dermatologist may recommend a drug that is less harsh on your skin, such as vitamin C, kojic acid, or azelaic acid.
  • Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation (PIH)

Dark, blotchy spots can be caused by melasma and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH). Common areas include cheeks and the forehead, which are exposed to the sun.

Inflamed skin damage areas become darker in color as a result of PIH. For instance, severe acne can leave dark patches when it clears up, or scarring may result in darker areas.

Your PIH may heal more quickly and be less severe if the source of the inflammation is identified and treated. Hyperpigmented areas may also go away on their own without medical intervention.

There are numerous different types of topical medications that can lessen PIH skin spots and speed up the process:

  • Skin whiteners like hydroquinone and azelaic acid can help lessen the production of melanin.
  • Steroids and retinoids help speed up skin cell renewal.
  • Salicylic or glycolic acid chemical peels to get rid of melanin-rich skin cells.

Hormonal Imbalances

Hormone imbalance and its effects directly affect the skin. Women frequently experience skin discoloration brought on by hormonal imbalance. The most prevalent conditions brought on by hormonal imbalance are melasma or chloasma. This happens when the body produces too much melanin, especially when the skin is exposed to strong sunlight. This is due to an increase in the hormones estrogen and progesterone.

Identifying the precise causes of skin pigmentation should serve as the foundation for any optimum treatment plan. However, there are numerous treatment alternatives for hyperpigmentation that are available as over-the-counter or OTC medications. Some of them include retinoid (a vitamin A derivative), whitening or skin-lightening treatments, and face peels.

Addison’s Disease [4]

The adrenal glands create insufficient amounts of certain hormones when someone has Addison’s disease. A high quantity of adrenocorticotropic hormone is produced by people with Addison’s disease, and this hormone encourages melanocytes to create more melanin, which darkens the skin.

Types of Whitening Creams

closeup woman hand applying cream ,taking moisturizer for skin hand ,face

Many of the active ingredients used in skin whitening creams work by preventing melanin from being produced. Arbutin, licorice extract, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), hydroquinone, and kojic acid are some of these ingredients.


Arbutin, a relatively recent addition to the skin whitening industry, touts itself as a safer, odorless substitute for creams that include hydroquinone. Arbutin is an extract from the bearberry tree. Arbutin asserts that it can prevent free radical damage in addition to giving skin-whitening advantages, making skin look younger. It is occasionally used to lessen the symptoms of sun damage.

Vitamin C

Another naturally occurring ingredient that might be included in some whitening creams is vitamin C. The benefits of this vitamin must be obtained through supplements because the body cannot generate it on its own. Vitamin C-based skin whitening products are frequently used to promote collagen formation in the skin and minimize melanin production. The skin might look younger and have fewer creases and wrinkles with increased collagen.

Vitamin A or Retinol

Retinol or vitamin A may be present in additional types of skin whitening creams. This vitamin has been used to heal acne, reverse sun damage, and brighten skin, among other skin-related benefits. For some users, it produces a brighter, more even complexion by eliminating the top layer of skin. 


Creams for skin whitening can be applied topically to target specific dark spots or to lighten the skin in general. For certain skin conditions including melasma and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, they may be recommended.

These creams, however, may have harmful side effects. Exogenous ochronosis, a condition that results in the skin turning black and blue, can be brought on by those who have hydroquinone as an ingredient. Some skin whitening products may include mercury, which can cause mercury poisoning or nephrotic syndrome, a kidney disorder.