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Skin Lightening Challenges

By: Zoe Diana Draelos, MD
Posted: February 3, 2009, from the February 2009 issue of GCI Magazine.

page 5 of 5

Skin lightening is a definite challenge. Many substances have been reported to inhibit melanin production in vitro but these same results are not seen in vivo. Melanocytes are extremely difficult cells to grow in culture, and it is possible that many skin lightening ingredients that did not produce clinical results were toxic to the cultured melanocytes. It is important that skin lightening ingredients only suppress pigment production and do not destroy the melanocytes. Melanocyte destruction results in permanent skin lightening, which must be avoided at all costs.

Melanocytes are present at birth and do not divide or reproduce during an individual’s lifespan, making cell preservation extremely important. Furthermore, cell cultures do not have the stratum corneum barrier to prevent penetration of skin lightening ingredients. For a pigment lightening preparation to be effective, it must reach the melanocyte deep within the skin. This is the limiting factor in most skin lighteners. There is no doubt that pigment lightening will be a consumer need that continues to grow during the next decade. Attractive youthful skin is even in color without discrete areas of darkening. Sun avoidance is the best preventive measure but the human desire to seek the sun, especially during youth, will make skin lightening a challenge that must be overcome.


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Zoe Diana Draelos, MD is a dermatologist with Dermatology Consulting Services, High Point, NC USA.