Your summer tan, freckles, brown spots, and hyperpigmentation disorders like melasma all have something in common – melanin. This pigment in your skin gives it color and protects it from the damaging effects of the sun’s rays by absorbing or deflecting them. The more melanin you have the darker your skin. So, when you go out in the sun, your skin starts producing more melanin and gets tanned. While melanin can slow down signs of aging and even lowers your risk for skin cancer, excessive deposits can often lead to discolored patches of skin, brown spots, or even a stubborn tan. 1 If this a problem you are grappling with, we’ve got some easy natural remedies that can reduce melanin levels in your skin and brighten up uneven skin.
1. Apply Avocado Pulp
Creamy rich avocados have created quite a buzz as a heart-friendly health food. But did you know that they can also decrease melanin levels? They contain an antioxidant called glutathione which inhibits tyrosinase – an enzyme crucial to the production of melanin. Apply some mashed up avocado pulp to hyperpigmented skin and watch it brighten up.2
2. Rub In Unpasteurized Soy Milk
Protein- and fiber-rich soybean is another food favored by health aficionados. And they can also reduce melanin. They contain proteins known as Bowman-Birk inhibitor and soybean trypsin inhibitor which interfere with a biological pathway for the transfer of melanin to the outer layers of the skin.34 Apply a little unpasteurized soy milk to pigmented areas. And make sure it’s unpasteurized as pasteurization can wreck the skin-lightening property of soy milk.
3. Slather On Some Turmeric Paste
Southeast Asian communities have traditionally used turmeric as a skin-lightening agent for ages. And here’s the science behind it. According to research, curcumin, a bioactive compound found in turmeric, inhibits melanin production.5 Mix turmeric powder and milk to make a thick paste. Apply this to darkened skin and leave it for a bit before rinsing it off.6
4. Dab On A Little Sunflower Oil
Linoleic acid, a major component of sunflower oil, has been found to have skin-lightening properties. Research indicates that it can suppress melanin production and reduce hyperpigmentation from exposure to ultraviolet radiation. It is also thought to reduce melanin content of the skin by accelerating the shedding of the outermost layer of the skin (stratum corneum).7
5. Apply Arnica Infused Oil
According to research, arnica flowers can inhibit melanin synthesis.8
To prepare arnica flower infused oil, place the flowers in a clean jar and top up with a carrier oil like sunflower oil. Let the flowers steep in the oil for around 2 to 6 weeks. Make sure you shake the jar once a day. Then strain the oil into a jar and apply as needed.9
6. Try Aloe Vera Gel
Aloe vera has a place in so many skincare products thanks to its moisturizing and soothing properties. But you may not know that this amazing plant can also tackle hyperpigmentation.10 A compound in aloe vera known as aloesin has been found to inhibit tyrosinase activity and can, therefore, reduce the production of melanin.11 Break open an aloe vera leaf, scoop out the gel inside and apply to areas that you wish to lighten.12
7. Apply Licorice Tea
Licorice contains glabridin, a component that like aloesin is able to inhibit tyrosinase activity and retard melanin production.13 Steep licorice root powder in hot water for around 3 to 5 minutes and strain to make your own depigmentation concoction. Apply it to tanned or pigmented skin to tone down excessive pigmentation. You can also make a face pack with cooked oats and licorice powder for a skin-lightening and moisturizing effect.
8. Use A Seville Orange Peel Mask
Seville oranges may conjure images of a yummy marmalade rather than skin care, but this delicious fruit can help ease hyperpigmentation too. Research shows that Seville orange peel extracts inhibit the enzyme tyrosinase.14
Grate the orange peel and mix with a little orange juice, honey, and yogurt to make a paste. Apply this paste and let it work for about 5 minutes before rinsing it off. You should start to see results in days by meticulously applying this every day.15
9. Smear On Buttermilk
Here’s another unlikely candidate for your arsenal of skin-lightening agents! Buttermilk contains lactic acid. Research shows that skin treated with this alpha-hydroxy acid has lower deposits of melanin. As a bonus, lactic acid also increases collagen in the skin and can ease wrinkles and make your skin smoother.16 17 No wonder Cleopatra was a fan of a buttermilk bath! So go ahead and wipe darkened skin with some buttermilk to lighten it.
10. Dab On Radish Juice
Radishes perk up your skin as much as the salad you are making. Studies show that radish can inhibit tyrosinase, thereby decreasing the production of melanin. But that’s not all – radish is rich in antioxidants and may have an anti-aging effect too.18 19 So dab on a little radish juice and wash once dry to make your skin lighter.
Can These Remedies Change Your Skin Color?
While these remedies cut down melanin production, they cannot change your basic skin color. The melanin content of your skin is linked to your genes and can’t be recalibrated completely. Research on systemic melanin manipulation with components like tranexamic acid, L-cysteine peptide, hyaluronic acid, epidermal growth factor, and even glutathione is underway but nothing is well established. It is also mired in ethical dilemmas and may even backfire. So while skin problems can be tackled by modifying melanin content, the natural remedies listed here will not change your basic skin DNA and will not have side effects.
|↑1||What gives skin its color?. American Academy of Dermatology.|
|↑2||Sonthalia, Sidharth, Deepashree Daulatabad, and Rashmi Sarkar. “Glutathione as a skin whitening agent: Facts, myths, evidence and controversies.” Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology, and Leprology 82, no. 3 (2016): 262.|
|↑3||Paine, Christine, Elizabeth Sharlow, Frank Liebel, Magdalena Eisinger, Stanley Shapiro, and Miri Seiberg. “An alternative approach to depigmentation by soybean extracts via inhibition of the PAR-2 pathway.” Journal of investigative dermatology 116, no. 4 (2001): 587-595.|
|↑4||Parvez, Shoukat, Moonkyu Kang, Hwan‐Suck Chung, Chongwoon Cho, Moo‐Chang Hong, Min‐Kyu Shin, and Hyunsu Bae. “Survey and mechanism of skin depigmenting and lightening agents.” Phytotherapy Research 20, no. 11 (2006): 921-934.|
|↑5||Tu, Cai‐Xia, Mao Lin, Shan‐Shan Lu, Xiao‐Yi Qi, Rong‐Xin Zhang, and Yun‐Ying Zhang. “Curcumin inhibits melanogenesis in human melanocytes.” Phytotherapy Research 26, no. 2 (2012): 174-179.|
|↑6||Fitzgerald, Maggie. The A-Z of Natural Skin Care: Take Care Of Your Skin Using Natural, Herbal, Chemical-Free Homemade Treatments. LiveNatural Press, 2014.|
|↑7||Ando, Hideya, Atsuko Ryu, Akira Hashimoto, Masahiro Oka, and Masamitsu Ichihashi. “Linoleic acid and α-linolenic acid lightens ultraviolet-induced hyperpigmentation of the skin.” Archives of dermatological research 290, no. 7 (1998): 375-381.|
|↑8||Maeda, Kazuhisa, Tomoko Naitou, Kenichi Umishio, Tadao Fukuhara, and Akira Motoyama. “A novel melanin inhibitor: hydroperoxy traxastane-type triterpene from flowers of Arnica montana.” Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin 30, no. 5 (2007): 873-879.|
|↑9||DK. Neal’s Yard Beauty Book. Dorling Kindersley Ltd, 2015.|
|↑10||Surjushe, Amar, Resham Vasani, and D. G. Saple. “Aloe vera: a short review.” Indian journal of dermatology 53, no. 4 (2008): 163.|
|↑11||Jones, Ken, Jennifer Hughes, Mei Hong, Q. I. Jia, and Steve Orndorff. “Modulation of melanogenesis by aloesin: a competitive inhibitor of tyrosinase.” Pigment cell research 15, no. 5 (2002): 335-340.|
|↑12||Olumide and Yetunde Mercy. The Vanishing Black African Woman: Volume One: A Compendium of the Global Skin-Lightening Practice. Langaa RPCIG, 2016.|
|↑13||Yokota, Tomohiro, Hiroyuki Nishio, Yasuo Kubota, and Masako Mizoguchi. “The inhibitory effect of glabridin from licorice extracts on melanogenesis and inflammation.” Pigment Cell & Melanoma Research 11, no. 6 (1998): 355-361.|
|↑14||Adhikari, A., H. P. Devkota, A. Takano, K. Masuda, T. Nakane, P. Basnet, and N. Skalko‐Basnet. “Screening of Nepalese crude drugs traditionally used to treat hyperpigmentation: in vitro tyrosinase inhibition.” International journal of cosmetic science 30, no. 5 (2008): 353-360.|
|↑15||28-day Skin Plan: For Clear and Glowing Skin. Jayden Labs.|
|↑16||Yamamoto, Yuki, Koji Uede, Nozomi Yonei, Akiko Kishioka, Toshio Ohtani, and Fukumi Furukawa. “Effects of alpha‐hydroxy acids on the human skin of Japanese subjects: The rationale for chemical peeling.” The Journal of dermatology 33, no. 1 (2006): 16-22.|
|↑17||Smith, Walter P. “Epidermal and dermal effects of topical lactic acid.” Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 35, no. 3 (1996): 388-391.|
|↑18||Sharma, S. K., Juice Therapy. Diamond Pocket Books Pvt Ltd, 2016.|
|↑19||Lim, T. K. “Raphanus raphanistrum subsp. sativus.” In Edible Medicinal and Non Medicinal Plants, pp. 829-869. Springer Netherlands, 2015.|