How To Whiten Your Skin At Home – Safety, Products, Reliability, Dangers

how to whiten skin

Skin whitening can be a controversial topic for some people. But what it comes down to is how you feel about your skin and how you want it to look. If you want to lighten your skin, then do what you want to do. Other peoples opinions are just opinions.

There are two main reasons behind whitening skin. The first is specifically targeting areas with pigmentation problems – which could be darker or lighter areas than the surrounding skin. The second is simply wanting a lighter overall tone to your skin.

Both reasons will tend to require the same approach. Although the degree of lightening you want will determine what product or treatment is best, and exactly how you approach it.

In short, here’s how to whiten skin:-

  1. Decide if you are treating a problem area, or lightening generally.
  2. Is it a sensitive area of skin or not.
  3. Choose if you want a natural product or don’t mind.
  4. Shortlist the best products (see below) for you.
  5. Read our tips below on getting the best out of whitening products.

But let’s get into the details you need.

Skin Whitening Products

They come in various forms from pills and potions to soaps and lotions. Skin whitening products are however generally based on the same range of ingredients. Although research is always ongoing, and older ingredients get replaced as new more effective or safer ingredients are discovered.

Skin Whitening Creams

This is definitely the most popular method to lighten skin, blemishes or areas of dark pigmentation. Creams or lotions are convenient to use, and can of course be applied exactly where you want them.

There are however a LOT of different whitening creams available. The quality varies significantly, and price alone is not a good guide to the best. That is, cheap does not necessarily mean bad, neither does expensive automatically mean good! Which is why we have started to publish our whitening cream reviews, to help you find the better products.

A lot of creams are quite similar, but there are a couple of important things to watch out for.

Firstly, creams come in different strengths and formulations depending on the area of the body on which you want to use them. Some people want to lighten the more intimate parts of their body (which is absolutely fine – no judgements here!). Many products are not suitable for this purpose so you would need to choose an intimate whitening product specifically for this use.

Underarms are also a popular area in which to lighten skin – but again, it can be quite a sensitive area for some of us. As can our face. So it’s wise to be cautious in these areas and use a product that specifically says it is suitable for armpits or facial use. Or at least to do a sensitivity test by only applying a very small amount of cream on a small area, then wait and see if your skin reacts at all badly. This is actually a pretty useful approach when trying any new cosmetic or beauty product.

Secondly, some lightening ingredients are definitely harsher than others. Personally I always favor products that use more natural ingredients. But not everyone shares those concerns.

Creams can be a very economical approach, particularly if you are using them to treat smaller targeted areas such as for lightening your face. A little cream often goes a long way if applied correctly though, so you might be surprised how long a cream can actually last even if used on larger areas.

What Ingredients Work?

So what makes a whitening cream actually work? Well, the active ingredients is the short answer. All creams and lotions contain things like water or vegetable based oils. These base or carrier ingredients are what make the product into a cream that you can apply to your skin.

Active ingredients however are what make things happen. These are some of the more common ones you will find that are known to have some skin lightening effect:-

  • Kojic Acid – a substance produced by certain mushroom species, this has been scientifically shown to be highly effective for skin discoloration problems [2]. It’s been replacing hydroquinone in a lot of products as people have found it just as effective.
  • Arbutin – this ingredient is an extract from the bearberry plant. Although it’s also found in the skins of pears and in small amounts in wheat too. It has been shown by studies to significantly block melanin production [3] allowing skin to lighten.
  • Vitamin C – a well known ingredient to all of us, Vitamin C has been linked to so many useful functions in the body. Many skin creams use it (and Vitamin E) anyway as it can help protect skin from UV damage [4]. But it has also proven very effective when tested on melasma for example (a condition causing darkening of facial skin) [5] as a skin whitening treatment.
  • Vitamin B3 (niacinamide) – another vitamin we are all familiar with. But again when used in a cream and applied to skin niacinamide has been proven an effective skin lightening compound [6]. It’s even been tested against hydroquinone and shown to be just as effective but with significantly less side effects [7].
  • Glycolic Acid – you may not have heard of this but you may have heard of AHA or alpha hydroxy acids. AHA’s are commonly used in skin care products for their ‘rejuvenating’ qualities – that is, they help remove dead skin cells faster for that ‘healthy glowing skin’ effect. Although they are also supposed to reduce wrinkles too. Glycolic acid is also commonly used in skin peel treatments, although in a far stronger concentration. The value for skin lightening appears to in speeding up removal of darker skin to allow lighter skin to start showing through sooner.
  • Retinoids (e.g. retinol, tretinoin) – chemically related to Vitamin A, they control cell growth. Studies have also shown though that retinoids like tretinoin can provide a significant lightening effect [8]. It is slower to show benefits than other ingredients but does work.

These are far from the only ingredients used. As you can see though these are not used lightly, they do come with scientific studies to back up their use in skin whitening products. So if you’re looking for an effective skin whitening cream then it pays to know your ingredients.

Other ingredients to also look out for are Gigawhite (a trademarked blend of plant extracts designed specifically for skin whitening), glutathione or l-glutathione (reduced glutathione) [10], salicylic acid, emblica extract, azelaic acid, mulberry extract – even extracts from lemons.

WARNING: Be Careful Of These Ingredients

Some ingredients are less desirable however.

Hydroquinone for example is one of the more controversial ingredients. It has been known to be effective at stopping melanin production (which leads to lighter skin) since at least 1965 [1]. Unfortunately though whilst effective it comes with significant risks, such that certain countries (the UK, Malaysia and the Europe Union generally for example) have banned the use of it in cosmetic products. Other countries only allow it’s use under the supervision of a doctor.

Other ingredients to look out for are mercury which is highly toxic and corticosteroids. These can sometimes hide a little, e.g. mercuric iodide is a form of mercury and should really be avoided. Steroids have some complicated unfamiliar looking names such as fluocinonide or clobetasol propionate – so if you see an ingredient you aren’t sure of it’s best to look it up and find out what it really is.

What Makes The Best Whitening Cream?

Clearly a cream that actually works! But if you’re trying to decide what to buy, then in our humble opinion a product that uses ingredients with some science to back them up is important. So, know your ingredients and find out what is in the product you are buying.

If you are also looking for a more natural skin whitening cream, then shortlist those that use plant based extracts and ingredients derived from vitamins. And avoid hydroquinone, mercury and steroids.

Skin Whitening Soaps

These are a fairly controversial product in our opinion. Some people swear by them, but logically they don’t really stand up to scrutiny.

Here’s what I mean. They use the same active ingredients as creams, e.g. arbutin or glutathione for example, yet you apply them and wash them off. If you wash the ingredients off your skin how can they have any effect?

What I think is most likely with these products is that people are leaving them on their skin for a while, then washing off. And with regular use are therefore getting some ‘skin renewal’ effect (from drying out skin mainly!). That is, I don’t think there is any real whitening happening here, more of an exfoliation. For those active ingredients to really work they need to be absorbed into the skin – and that’s not going to happen from using a soap.

What About Skin Whitening Pills?

There is surprisingly some good evidence for skin whitening supplements. Glutathione is known to be effective when used in a cream, but taking glutathione in pill form can actually have an overall whitening effect across the entire body [9]. However, the study (from 2010) does indicate that safety of taking glutathione orally for skin whitening hasn’t really been established long term.

It is definitely an interesting area of study though. The much greater convenience of a pill form over applying creams cannot be denied.

Incidentally glutathione has also been used via injection or intravenously (a glutathione IV). Studies of this use are completely unrelated to skin whitening however as it is also a powerful antioxidant. But some therapists do offer glutathione injections specifically for skin whitening. There aren’t however any scientific or safety studies to back up this use, so it remains a risky practice at present.

How To Whiten Your Skin Fast?

Whitening creams do work, but they are not fast. If you’re looking for an instant whitening cream you’re going to be disappointed. Expect results to take weeks to start being visible and months before you see the full effects of a product. It does work, but you have to be patient.

If you want to know how to whiten skin fast, then you may need to look into chemical peels or dermabrasion. It’s a more expensive approach, and may not give as much of a whitening effect overall. The initial results will come quicker though. Other than that, you’re into the significantly more risky territory of things like IV use of glutathione.

TIP: Stay Out Of The Sun

It may be obvious to say, but don’t forget that the sun darkens our skins. It’s a natural response. So if you’re trying to lighten your skin, then you need to minimize the amount of sun that hits your skin. That means staying out of the sun, covering up or wearing sun screens. A little sun is unlikely to do any harm, and we do need a bit of UV light on our skin to aid Vitamin D production. Just don’t expect to be able to sun bathe and lighten your skin at the same time!

IMPORTANT: Some lightening ingredients/products make your skin more sensitive to UV light. Which makes it even more important to avoid sun on any areas you treat, and protect them with sun screens if necessary.


[1] Arndt, Kenneth A., and Thomas B. Fitzpatrick. "Topical use of hydroquinone as a depigmenting agent." Jama 194.9 (1965): 965-967.

[2] Garcia, Alicia, and James E. Fulton. "The combination of glycolic acid and hydroquinone or kojic acid for the treatment of melasma and related conditions." Dermatologic surgery 22.5 (1996): 443-447.

[3] Maeda, Kazuhisa, and Minoru Fukuda. "Arbutin: mechanism of its depigmenting action in human melanocyte culture." Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics 276.2 (1996): 765-769.

[4] Lin, Jing-Yi, et al. "UV photoprotection by combination topical antioxidants vitamin C and vitamin E." Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 48.6 (2003): 866-874.

[5] Huh, C-H., et al. "A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of vitamin C iontophoresis in melasma." Dermatology 206.4 (2003): 316-320.

[6] Hakozaki, T., et al. "The effect of niacinamide on reducing cutaneous pigmentation and suppression of melanosome transfer." British Journal of Dermatology 147.1 (2002): 20-31.

[7] Navarrete-Solís, Josefina, et al. "A double-blind, randomized clinical trial of niacinamide 4% versus hydroquinone 4% in the treatment of melasma." Dermatology research and practice 2011 (2011).

[8] Griffiths, C. E. M., et al. "Topical tretinoin (retinoic acid) improves melasma. A vehicle‐controlled, clinical trial." British Journal of Dermatology 129.4 (1993): 415-421.

[9] Arjinpathana, Nutthavuth, and Pravit Asawanonda. "Glutathione as an oral whitening agent: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study." Journal of Dermatological Treatment 23.2 (2012): 97-102.

[10] Arjinpathana, Nutthavuth, and Pravit Asawanonda. "Glutathione as an oral whitening agent: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study." Journal of Dermatological Treatment 23.2 (2012): 97-102.