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White is Bright

Face the year on a lighter note

young woman making facial expressionsThe obsession with skin whitening is apparently an exclusively Asian thing. In fact, skin whitening has a long history in Asia, dating back to the Tang Dynasty, when yoghurt and wine were used for washing because they contain natural skin-whitening alpha-hydroxy acid.

Culturally, white or fair skin colour was thought to be more attractive, aristocratic or noble – poor people and the working class worked outdoors and therefore assumed a more ‘inferior’, darker complexion, while the rich or noble ladies did not have to work under the sun and remained indoors most of the time, hence their whiter skin.

My Fair Lady

But these days, it’s not just about having a fairer complexion. Women now want brighter and more radiant skin that “glows from within”.

In the article “Who’s The Fairest of Them All” (Asian Scientist Magazine September 2012), the beauty business in the Asia-Pacific region is estimated to be worth an enormous US$80 billion and the skin lightening market alone is valued at over US$13 billion.

Elements of Light

So what are some of the ingredients people should look out for in a product to be assured it is safe and effective?

Kojic Acid

Kojic acid is a tyrosinase inhibitor derived from various fungal species such as Aspergillus and Penicillium. It is used in food processing to prevent browning and to promote the reddening of unripe strawberries. It is used commonly in Asia both topically as a skin lightening agent and also in the diet.

Woman caring skin and face by mirrorRetinoids and Retinol

Other ingredients such as naturally occurring retinoids and retinol are derived from vitamin A. Retinol and retinoids have been used to treat pigmentary disorders including melasma and the post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation that is a frequent sequel to acne.


Glutathione is a very good anti-oxidant. It helps in skin lightening and enables the skin to glow. This can be taken primarily in the form of a pill or delivered into your blood via an intravenous drip. The product BRIGHTENEXTM by Dr Zein Obagi contains triple action glutathione, soy isoflavones, and N-acetyl glucosamine that minimises the appearance of age spots and uneven colour.

Azelaic Acid

Azelaic acid is a naturally occurring dicarboxylic acid derived from Pityrosporum ovale. Azelaic acid at a concentration of 20% was found to be a more effective treatment than 2% hydroquinone and produces both a greater lightening of pigmented lesions and reduction in lesion size.


Soy has recently become a popular cosmeceutical in facial moisturisers to even skin discolouration. Natural soybeans contain the small proteins Bowman-Birk inhibitor and soybean trypsin inhibitor. However, it is important to note that this cosmeceutical effect is present only with fresh soy milk and not with pasteurised soy milk.


Fight for White

One can consider treatments and oral products as well. For example, Laser Skin Whitening treatments use light and heat energy to lighten pigmentation, and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and skin irregularities such as pimples and enlarged pores.


Some oral products contain phytoene and phytofluene that absorb ultraviolet rays and protect the skin from sun exposure whilst reducing existing pigmentation. They also inhibit the formation of additional melanin. They are super anti-oxidants that protect against free radical damage by environmental aggressors. There are also oral sunscreens that contain polypodium leucotomos and may protect your skin from ultraviolet damage as well as lower the possibility of sunburn.

Dr Karen Soh is the Medical Director of Privé Clinic. She graduated with a medical degree from the National University of Singapore, and founded Privé with a desire to help everyone, young and old, look and feel their best. Trained in Botulinium Toxin A, dermal fillers, lasers and light treatments and with many years of experience in this field, Dr Soh has a strong intuition of what is best for each of her patients, and helped many patients realise their goals of aesthetic perfection. For more information, visit or email to
Posted by ezyhealth on Jan 8 2015. Filed under Aesthetics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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