ESC, Brightening Creams

There's a squatter on your land—and it just won't go away. We're talking about those dark spots or healed acne scars creating uneven skin tone—and as a result, leaving makeup application that much harder. Sure, these pigmented facial colonists are pretty harmless in the end. Still, you're ready for them to pick up and scat. Enter: skin-brightening products.

There is a certain cultural controversy that surrounds brightening products, especially when something is touted for its "bleaching" effects. (Many believe such products are marketed to consumers to achieve a more Western, lighter-skin appearance.) However, if you're just looking to revitalize a skin patch from too much sun exposure or the aftermath of acne, here's what you need to know.

Ingredients Matter: "Most brightening formulas will contain vitamin C, glycolic or lactic acid or retinol—all of which will even and lighten the skin tone over time when used correctly," said celeb dermatologist Dr. Harold Lancer. While celeb aesthetician Kate Somerville recommended products containing licorice root extract (which helps with skin elasticity), Resveratrol and/or Niacinamide, which has anti-inflammatory properties.

Watch for Timing: "Many products claim [results] within four, six or eight weeks, but it depends on the original condition of the skin tested (and amount of pigmentation) and the actual results achieved," advised Kate. "For best visible results, it can take up to 12 weeks."

Prescription vs. Over-the-Counter Brighteners: What you use should really depend on your skin. "For example, if someone has, say, a small dark mark left after a blemish healed, an over-the-counter glycolic acid cream should return the skin to its normal color after a few weeks," noted Dr. Lancer. "On the other hand, if someone has post-partum melasma (dark skin discoloration) on 50 percent of their face, a prescription hydroquinone solution may be the only thing strong enough to correct the excess pigment." Besides hydroquinone, dermatologists often look to ingredients like Azelaic acid and melanozyme to help block melanin (pigment) production.

Buy FDA-Approved: "In other countries, we see many, many cases of people burned or scarred from so-called ‘skin bleaching' products that are in fact noxious chemicals not intended for the skin," warned the skin expert.

Luckily, gentle brightening ingredients are available in pretty much every beauty product nowadays. To incorporate the best ones into your skin-care regimen, click here.

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