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Looking to lighten dark spots? Brighteners might be your solution.
updated 8/16/2012 9:54:21 AM ET 2012-08-16T13:54:21

According to consumer research, hyperpigmentation has become one of the top skin concerns world-wide. The "skin lightening" trend started more than 20 years ago in Asia with "whitening" products, but now "brightening" products — which are essentially the same thing with a less controversial name — are selling like crazy in the U.S.

"There are so many over-the-counter topical products that can actually make a difference," says New York City dermatologist Francesca Fusco, M.D.  The trick, she says, is to find an ingredient that works well for your skin type and your specific kind of dark spots. We list six of the most common brightening ingredients to help you figure out which one you should try.

Elure
The key ingredient in Elure Advanced Skin Lightening Lotion is a safe, mushroom-derived enzyme.

Try enzymes for dark spots

If you're looking to lighten dark spots your dermatologist might recommend a product that contains hydroquinone. However, there's been a lot of controversy surrounding this ingredient, which has been banned in several countries because of nasty side effects, such as excessive redness, dryness and a burning sensation when applied. Fusco recommends Elure Advanced Skin Lightening Lotion as an alternative that works just as well. The key ingredient is a mushroom-derived enzyme called melanozyme, which breaks down melanin (dark pigment) in your skin. Clinical data shows a change in just one week. "I tell my patients that they'll probably need to go through two bottles before they see dramatic results," says Fusco. But the lack of side effects makes it worth the wait.

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Use soy for acne scars

When you're trying to lessen the red mark left behind from a recent breakout, opt for a product that contains soy, like Aveeno Positively Radiant Daily Moisturizer SPF. "The proteins in soy help diminish redness and blotchy coloring," says Warren Wallo, a research scientist with Johnson & Johnson. Plus, sun exposure can turn a temporary red mark into a permanent scar (because the "new" skin is more susceptible to hyperpigmentation). So, the sunsceen is an added bonus that'll help prevent scarring.

Apply vitamin C for overall brightness

Vitamin C is a classic brightening ingredient because it not only works to lighten the hyperpigmentation you already have, it also helps prevent further spots. "It's a great antioxidant," says Miami dermatologist Leslie Baumann, M.D. "But it's very unstable, so you have to strategically pair it with other ingredients." The recently-launched Kiehl's Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution contains a new, more stable version of "activated" vitamin C coupled with white birch and peony extracts to maximize skin brightening.

Opt for acids after you exfoliate

While acids like alpha hydroxy and glycolic won't directly target brown spots, they do help even out overall skin tone. "They remove dead cells to reveal healthier, dewy skin," says New York facialist and skin care guru Christine Chin. And Fusco recommends pairing one of these exfoliating acids with another lightening ingredient. "Once you've started using the lightening product and you know your skin is tolerating it well, try applying it right after exfoliating," she says. "The skin will be more receptive, the ingredients will absorb better, and you'll see more significant results." Fusco suggests using Bliss That's Incredi-Peel.

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Botanicals work for improved texture and tone

There are lots of plant-derived skin-brightening ingredients out there — and more will probably be discovered in coming years. Shiseido White Lucent Intensive Spot Targeting Serum contains a  mix of yomogi and angelica root extracts — Japanese botanicals that have been shown to speed up cell turnover and break down melanin. "The serum helps diminish dark spots, age spots, and acne marks, and even out skin tone," says Shiseido scientist Kiyoshi Sato. Clinical data shows results can be seen in as little as 14 days.

Reach for licorice for prevention

Licorice has been used in Chinese medicine for more than 4,000 years, and recently it's showing up as a brightening ingredient in skin care. Nuance Salma Hayek Renewing & Brightening Serum uses licorice root as its key ingredient. "Studies on licorice have shown significant [skin brightening] results," says Baumann. By prohibiting the production of tyrosinase, the enzyme that triggers your cells to produce melanin, it helps prevent spots from forming.

Click here to see skin care secrets from a celebrity facialist

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Photos: One makeup artist’s daily makeover project

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  1. The Daily Face

    By Rina Raphael

    Putting on one’s daily makeup is hard enough. Now imagine coming up with a new look every day.

    But that’s just what Annamarie Tendler, 26, did on her popular blog. The creative makeup artist, who noticed a lack of simple and approachable beauty blogs, challenged herself to post a few new makeup tutorials a week in March 2011."

    “I wanted to make something that didn't inundate the viewer with information, but rather offered up a simple concept in a simple way,” Tendler told TODAY.com. “As in, here is a look, this is how you do it, this is what you use.”

    The tutorials range from practical (“how to curl your eyelashes) to wild (a Lichtenstein-inspired look for Halloween), and the work can often be exhausting. “I need to be generating so much material and I'm only one person, who also works on other shoots and projects,” said Tendler. “I find that every couple of months I need to take a two week break."

    Surprisingly, Tendler isn’t even a makeup junkie. Her personal regimen is “extremely simple,” consisting of not much more than Josie Maran Argan Oil moisturizer. But after posting dozens of makeup applications, she does have one beauty she recommends to all women: “Wear mascara.”

    Click through some of Annamarie’s favorite looks: (Annamarie Tendler) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Apr. 13, 2011

    "I was inspired to do today’s look when looking at Brassai photos of the 20s," Tendler wrote. "Everyone looks so cool and glamorous."

    Under-eyes: Make Up For Ever HD Concealer in 325
    Eyeliner: MAC Blacktrack gel liner

    Eye shadow: NARS in Galapagos, Make Up For Ever in Aqua Cream 15, MAC in Satin Taupe

    Eyebrows: The Body Shop black eye pencil

    Eyelashes: False lashes by Mattesse on top (#1565) and bottom (#49)

    Cheeks: MAC in Harmony

    Lips: NARS Shanghai Express

    See the full tutorial (Annamarie Tendler) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. July 14, 2011

    "The best way to wear bright lipstick is with almost no other makeup. I used no liner for this look, only a wash of bamboo-colored shadow (a light brown) over my lids (diffused above the crease) and a ton of mascara."

    Under-eyes: Make Up For Ever HD Concealer in 325

    Eyeshadow: MAC in Bamboo

    Eyebrows: MAC in Fling

    Eyelashes: Lancome Hypnose Drama

    Cheeks: MAC in Harmony

    Lips: NARS in Schiap

    See the full tutorial (Annamarie Tendler) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Aug. 12, 2011

    "Red seems like a weird choice for eyeliner, since most people don’t want to look like sleep-deprived junkies, but it works as a bold liquid liner. Also, by coupling it with bold brows, you will achieve a defined look, instead of it looking like you might have allergies."

    Under-eyes: Make Up For Ever HD Concealer in 325

    Eyeliner: Blacktrack, Make Up For Ever Aqua Eye liner in shade 10 (red)

    Eyebrows: The Body Shop eye pencil in black

    Eyelashes: Lancome Hypnose Drama

    Cheeks: MAC in Harmony, MAC Highlighter in Pearl

    See the full tutorial (Annamarie Tendler) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Aug. 23, 2011

    "This is definitely something I’ll have to experiment with at a dark, nighttime party."

    Under-eyes: Make Up For Ever HD Concealer in 325

    Eyeliner: NARS liquid liner pencil

    Eyeshadow: MAC in Copperplate, NARS pencil in HollywoodLand

    Eyebrows: Make Up For Ever Aqua Eyes in shade 21 (teal)

    Eyelashes: Lancome Hypnose Drama

    Cheeks: NARS in Penny Lane

    See the full tutorial (Annamarie Tendler) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Oct. 18, 2011

    "I will warn anyone who tries this [Roy Lichtenstein-inspired look] out that pulling this one off if a lot like cleaning your bedroom: it looks worse before it looks good."

    Face: Ben Nye Creme Color in White

    Dots: Ben Nye Creme Color in Red

    Tears: Ben Nye Creme Color in Blue, Cosmic Blue, and White

    Eyeliner: MAC Blacktrack

    Eyelashes: Lancome Hypnose Drama

    Lips: NARS Lipstick in Heat Wave

    See the full tutorial (Annamarie Tendler) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Nov. 21, 2011

    "This is a great party look because it’s dark, goes with anything, and you feel festive without being over the top. Yeah, you don’t need to wear green eyeshadow and red lipstick to get the point across that you love Christmas."

    Under-eyes: Make Up For Ever HD Concealer in 325

    Eyeliner: MAC Fluidline in Blacktrack

    Eye shadow: Benefit Creaseless Cream Shadow in Strut, Make Up For Ever Flash Color in Silver

    Eyebrows: MAC Eye Brow Pencil in Fling

    Eyelashes: Dior Blackout

    See the full tutorial (Annamarie Tendler) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Nov. 28, 2011

    "I probably wouldn’t wear my makeup like this out on the street, but it’s definitely a look that can be modified for everyday wear."

    Under-eyes: Make Up For Ever HD Concealer in 325

    Eyeliner: MAC Fluidline in Blacktrack, Make Up For Ever Aqua Liner in Shade 10 (red)

    Eye shadow: NARS Duo in Scorching Sun, MAC Goldenrod, MAC Goldmine

    Eyebrows: MAC Eye Brow Pencil in Fling

    Eyelashes: Dior Blackout

    Lips: NARS Lipstick in Heatwave

    See the full tutorial (Annamarie Tendler) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Dec. 19, 2011

    "This is more of a dark look. I started by lining the eyes with Blacktrack, including both the upper and lower inner rims and winging the liner."

    Under-eyes: Make Up For Ever HD Concealer in 325

    Eyeliner: MAC Fluidline in Blacktrack, Make Up For Ever Aqua Eyes Pencil in shade 10L (gold)

    Eye shadow: Make Up For Ever Aqua Cream in Shade 15, MAC Shadow in Satin Taupe, NARS Duo in Cordura, MAC Highlighter in Pearl

    Eyebrows: MAC Eye Brow Pencil in Fling

    Eyelashes: Lancome Hypnose Drama

    Cheeks: MAC Blush in Harmony

    See the full tutorial (Annamarie Tendler) Back to slideshow navigation
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Video: Top six complexion-improving products

  1. Closed captioning of: Top six complexion-improving products

    >> this morning on "today's beauty," the best fact products. "prevention" magazine reviewed items for his beauty awards. they're ready to unveil the winners for the best complexion category. jennifer, good to see you. what does celebrate your beauty mean? is it obvious?

    >> other magazines do things that want to fix flaws or hide things about your face. we want to find products that give you the healthiest skin you can have so your real beauty shows through. 1,700 products were reviewed, we had 300 readers test the products under the supervision of a doctor.

    >> let get to your list.

    >> sure. this is the best cleanser or cleansing system. it's the clarasonic mia2.

    >> can you use your regular products with it?

    >> it comes with a cleanser. j .

    >> awesome. gets that skin nice and clean.

    >> this is philosophy miracle workeri-aging fluid. one of the reasons we liked it is it has spf-5. readers complain some of the sunscreens are heavy and feel goopy on the skin. it also has peptides which boosts collagen in your skin.

    >> that's good stuff. moving on. this is our best night serum or cream.

    >> what's a night serum?

    >> if you have dry skin , you put a moisturizer on. if you want a booster you use a serum. it's only $22. it won out against a lot of products that cost more than $100. it has ret inol which will smooth your skin and help up have fewer wrinkles.

    >> this is the first time we tested fact hair removers. we get questions all the time from our readers, how do you deal with fact hair.

    >> i'm covering my mustache now.

    >> we're bringing it out of the closet. so this is gentle for your face?

    >> yes. it has the accident -- it has this for fine rare. and one for medium.

    >> this i see everywhere.

    >> this is the roc retinol treatment. this takes care of all the problems. you can put on the cream and serum. we had readers who had 20% fewer wrinkles after using this for six weeks.

    >> i love the price point.

    >> this is $27. you can add it in to your regular skin care .

    >> and the last one here?

    >> this is our eye cream winner. we had a tester who had crow's feet. she measured after using this for a month 32% fewer crow's feet. so that's really good. the cream has jojoba to moisturize. and the best thing is at the top there's a little concealer you can use, it has spf 15. it comes in three shades.

    >> that's $78. these days eye creams are $400, $500.

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