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Concept: Skin whitening


Glutathione is a low molecular weight thiol-tripeptide that plays a prominent role in maintaining intracellular redox balance. In addition to its remarkable antioxidant properties, the discovery of its antimelanogenic properties has led to its promotion as a skin-lightening agent. It is widely used for this indication in some ethnic populations. However, there is a dichotomy between evidence to support its efficacy and safety. The hype around its depigmentary properties may be a marketing gimmick of pharma-cosmeceutical companies. This review focuses on the various aspects of glutathione: its metabolism, mechanism of action and the scientific evidence to evaluate its efficacy as a systemic skin-lightening agent. Glutathione is present intracellularly in its reduced form and plays an important role in various physiological functions. Its skin-lightening effects result from direct as well as indirect inhibition of the tyrosinase enzyme and switching from eumelanin to phaeomelanin production. It is available in oral, parenteral and topical forms. Although the use of intravenous glutathione injections is popular, there is no evidence to prove its efficacy. In fact, the adverse effects caused by intravenous glutathione have led the Food and Drug Administration of Philippines to issue a public warning condemning its use for off-label indications such as skin lightening. Currently, there are three randomized controlled trials that support the skin-lightening effect and good safety profile of topical and oral glutathione. However, key questions such as the duration of treatment, longevity of skin-lightening effect and maintenance protocols remain unanswered. More randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials with larger sample size, long-term follow-up and well-defined efficacy outcomes are warranted to establish the relevance of this molecule in disorders of hyperpigmentation and skin lightening.

Concepts: Antioxidant, Randomized controlled trial, Effectiveness, Sun tanning, Evidence, Hydroquinone, Skin whitening, Whiteness in Japanese culture


The aim of the present study was to evaluate the efficacy and safety of lignin peroxidase (LIP) as a skin-lightening agent in patients with melasma. A self-controlled clinical study was performed in 31 women who had melasma on both sides of the face. This study involved 8 weeks of a full-face product treatment. The skin color was measured at days 0, 7, 28 and 56 using a chromameter on the forehead and cheeks. Standardized digital photographic images of each side of the face of all subjects were captured by a complexion analysis system. Clinical scores of the pigmentation were determined by two dermatologists. After using the LIP whitening lotion for 7 days, the luminance (L*) values of the melasma and the normal skin were significantly increased from baseline. The L* values continued to increase at days 28 and 56. The melasma area severity index (MASI) score was statistically decreased after 28 days of treatment. No treatment-related adverse events were observed. LIP whitening lotion was able to eliminate the skin pigmentation after 7 days of treatment, and provides a completely innovative approach to rapid skin lightening. The LIP whitening lotion exhibited good compatibility and was well tolerated.

Concepts: Clinical trial, Skin, Melanin, Normal distribution, Adverse event, Human skin color, Sun tanning, Skin whitening


Glutathione in its reduced form (GSH) is an antioxidant and also is involved in pheomelanin formation. Thus, it has been long believed that GSH has a skin whitening effect. However, its actual or direct effect is unproven. We evaluated the anti-melanogenic effects of GSH and its derivatives in vitro. We examined change of melanogenesis and its related proteins by GSH itself and its derivatives, including GSH monoethyl ester (GSH-MEE), GSH diethyl ester (GSH-DEE) and GSH monoisopropyl ester (GSH-MIPE) in Melan-A cells, Mel-Ab cells, and B16F10 cells. GSH and GSH-MEE did not display cytotoxic activity, but GSH-MIPE and GSH-DEE did. Intriguingly, GSH itself had no inhibitory effect on melanin production or intracellular tyrosinase activity. Rather, it was GSH-MEE and GSH-MIPE that profoundly reduced the amount of melanin and intracellular tyrosinase activity. Thus, GSH-MEE was selected as a suitable candidate skin-whitening agent and it did not alter melanogenesis-associated proteins such as microphthalmia-associated transcription factor (MITF), tyrosinase, tyrosinase-related protein (TRP)-1, and TRP-2, but it did increase the amount of suggested pheomelanin and suggested pheomelanin/eumelanin ratio. GSH-MEE was effective for anti-melanogenesis, whereas GSH itself was not. GSH-MEE could be developed as a safe and efficient agent for the treatment of hyperpigmentation skin disorders.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Amino acid, Melanin, Melanocyte, Tyrosinase, Acetylcysteine, Skin whitening


Tyrosinase is the rate-limiting enzyme of melanin production and, accordingly, is the most prominent target to inhibit hyperpigmentation. Numerous tyrosinase inhibitors have been identified, but most of those lack clinical efficacy because they were identified using mushroom tyrosinase as the target. Therefore, we used recombinant human tyrosinase to screen a library of 50,000 compounds and compared the active screening hits with well-known whitening ingredients. Hydroquinone and its derivative arbutin only weakly inhibited human tyrosinase with a half-maximal inhibitory concentration (IC50) in the millimolar range, while kojic acid showed a weak efficacy (IC50 > 400 μM). The most potent inhibitors of human tyrosinase identified in this screen were resorcinyl-thiazole derivatives, especially the newly identified thiamidol (isobutylamido thiazolyl resorcinol), which had an IC50 of 1.1 μM. In contrast, thiamidol only weakly inhibited mushroom tyrosinase (IC50: 108 μM). In melanocyte cultures, thiamidol strongly but reversibly inhibited melanin production (IC50: 0.9 μM) while hydroquinone irreversibly inhibited melanogenesis (IC50: 16.3 μM). Clinically, thiamidol visibly reduced the appearance of age spots within 4 weeks and after 12 weeks some age spots were indistinguishable from the normal adjacent skin. The full potential of thiamidol to reduce hyperpigmentation of human skin needs to be explored in future studies.

Concepts: Skin, Enzyme inhibitor, Inhibitor, Xanthine oxidase inhibitor, Human skin color, Melanocyte, Tyrosinase, Skin whitening


During the last years, the EU market is flooded by illegal cosmetics via the Internet and a so-called “black market”. Among these, skin-bleaching products represent an important group. They contain, according to the current European cosmetic legislation (Directive 76/768/EEC), a number of illegal active substances including hydroquinone, tretinoin and corticosteroids. These may provoke as well local as systemic toxic effects, being the reason for their banning from the EU market. To control this market there is a need for a fast screening method capable of detecting illegal ingredients in the wide variety of existing bleaching cosmetic formulations. In this paper the development and validation of an ultra high pressure liquid chromatographic (UHPLC) method is described. The proposed method makes use of a Waters Acquity BEH shield RP18 column with a gradient using 25 mM ammonium borate buffer (pH 10) and acetonitrile. This method is not only able to detect the major illegal (hydroquinone, tretinoin and six dermatologic active corticosteroids) and legal whitening agents, the latter having restrictions with respect to concentration and application (kojic acid, arbutin, nicotinamide and salicylic acid), but can also quantify these in a run time of 12 min. The method was successfully validated using the “total error” approach in accordance with the validation requirements of ISO-17025. During the validation a variety of cosmetic matrices including creams, lotions and soaps were taken into consideration.

Concepts: European Union, United Kingdom, PH, Switzerland, Cosmetics, Borax, Norway, Skin whitening


Lightening skin tone is an ancient and well-documented practice, and remains common practice among many cultures. Whitening agents such as corticosteroids, tretinoin and hydroquinone are medically applied to effectively lighten the skin tone of hyperpigmented lesions. However, when these agents are used cosmetically, they are associated with a variety of side-effect. Alternative agents, such as arbutin and its derivatives kojic acid and nicotinamide have been subsequently developed for cosmetic purposes. Unfortunately, some cosmetics contain whitening agents that are banned for use in cosmetic products. This article provides an overview of the mode of action and potential side-effects of cosmetic legal and illegal whitening agents, and the pattern of use of these types of products. Finally, an EU analysis of the health problems due to the presence of illegal products on the market is summarized.

Concepts: Immune system, Morphine, Antibiotic, Alternative medicine, Adverse effect, Cosmetics, Iatrogenesis, Skin whitening


Skin lightening products are types of cosmetics (creams, gels, lotions and soaps) applied voluntarily on skin. Several of these products contain a variety of active ingredients that are highly toxic. Among those toxic agents, the present study focuses on mercury, hydroquinone, and clobetasol propionate. Out of the 93 lightening soaps and 98 creams purchased in large city markets in sub-Saharan West Africa and in small ethnic shops in Canada, 68-84% of all creams and 7.5-65% of all soaps exceeded regulatory guidelines for at least one active ingredient when considering different regulations. Mercury was found in high concentrations mainly in soaps, while hydroquinone and clobetasol propionate concentrations exceeded US FDA standards in some creams for all countries included in our study. Concentrations of the three compounds declared on labels of soaps and creams usually did not correspond to concentrations actually measured, particularly for mercury and hydroquinone. Overall, our results indicate that most studied skin-lightening products are potentially toxic and that product labels are frequently inaccurate with respect to the presence of toxic agents.

Concepts: Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, Pharmaceutical drug, Cosmetics, Biological activity, Propionates, Hydroquinone, Skin whitening


The practice of skin lightening has been reported from North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. In literature, some prevalence rates exceed 50%, and both sexes are involved. Common agents used include hydroquinone, mercury, corticosteroids, and caustic agents. The agents are easily accessible and affordable with very little regulation. Cutaneous and systemic side effects occur but do not appear to be a deterrent, as the notion of light skin as a surrogate for beauty is strong. In Ghana, anecdotal reports of high bleaching rates among certain urban communities resulted in a study supported by the Food and Drugs Authority to determine various facets of this practice.

Concepts: Africa, United States, Europe, Ghana, North America, Americas, Hydroquinone, Skin whitening


Objective: To compare the decolorization efficiency of lignin peroxidase (LiP), manganese peroxidase (MnP) and laccase on eumelanin and pheomelanin, and to investigate the effect of topical administration of LiP solution on hyperpigmented guinea pigs skin induced by 308 nm excimer light. Methods: Pheomelanin-enriched specimens were prepared from human hair and cutaneous melanoma tissue using alkaline lysis method.Synthetic eumelanin was purchased from a commercial supplier.The same amount (0.02%) of melanin was incubated with the equal enzyme activity (0.2 U/ml) of ligninolytic enzymes for 3 h respectively.The absorbance at 475 nm (A(475)) in the enzyme-catalyzed solution was measured using ELISA microplate reader.The experimental hyperpigmentation model was established in the dorsal skin of brownish guinea pigs using 308 nm excimer light radiation.LiP and heat-inactivated LiP solution were topically applied at each site.Meanwhile, 3% hydroquinone and vehicle cream were used as control.The skin color (L value) was recorded using a CR-10 Minolta chromameter.Corneocytes were collected using adhesive taping method.The amount and distribution of melanin in the corneocytes and skin tissues was visualized by Fontana-Masson staining. Results: All three ligninolytic enzymes showed various degree of eumelanin and pheomelanin decolorization activity.The decolorization activity of LiP, MnP and laccase was 40%-70%, 22%-42% and 9%-21%, respectively.The similar lightening was shown in the skin treated with LiP solution and 3% hydroquinone.The amount of melanin granules in the corneocytes was 199±11 by LiP, which was less than that in untreated control (923±12) and heat-inactive control (989±13). The amount of melanin was decreased in the whole epidermis treated with hydroquinone, the epidermis thickness was increased as well. In contrast, melanin of LiP group was decreased only in the superficial epidermis, the epidermis thickness seemed to be normal. Conclusion: LiP exerts a potent decolorization activity for hair- or skin-derived pheomelanin as well as eumelanin.It remains to be further investigated whether LiP serves as a substitute for hydroquinone in skin lightening products.

Concepts: Enzyme, Skin, Melanin, Epidermis, Human skin color, Melanocyte, Ligninase, Skin whitening


As interest in skin beauty increases, the development of new skin whitening agents has attracted substantial attention; however, the action mechanism of the agents developed so far remains largely unknown. Tranexamic acid (TXA) is commonly being used to reduce melanin synthesis in patients with melasma and also used as a raw material for functional whitening cosmetics, although its action mechanism is poorly understood. Autophagy has been well known to be essential for tissue homeostasis, adaptation to starvation, and removal of dysfunctional organelles or pathogens. Recent studies have shown that autophagy regulators might have prominent roles in the initial formation stage of the melanosome, a lysosome-related organelle synthesizing melanin pigments. However, there is still no direct evidence showing a relationship between the activation of the autophagy system and the melanogenesis.

Concepts: Organelle, Organ, Melanoma, Skin, Melanin, Melanocyte, Melanosome, Skin whitening