Skin lightening products cause skin sensitivity?

It seems more and more people are getting sensitive skin, based on some of the feedback I gathered from the beauty salons I visit. I asked them what could have caused such sensitivity and most tell me that it is probably due to excessive beauty treatments or even chemical products used by the customers. I guess other factors like stress and environment pollution play a part too but I often wonder if it also has to do with the skin whitening and lightening products that we slather on – considering we have tons of such products in our Asian market. I for one, have been using whitening and lightening products for the longest time I can remember; I can’t really do without them given the state of my skin.

Causing skin sensitivity and drying
In fact, a few days ago, a reader by the name of Lianna, expressed her surprise that I used a product with Kojic acid in my review of the Marie Veronique Organics Skin Lightening Vitamin C Supplement. I remember reading some bad press about this ingredient but I did not pay too much heed for I believe that most skin whitening / lightening ingredients would cause some amount of skin sensitivity, depending on one’s skin type. For example, even vitamin C, which is included in many of such products would cause sensitivity, especially if the content is high in the formulation. I mean if my face is stinging and turning a little red with this ingredient, then it surely isn’t mild and gentle at all. The same goes for using lemon juice, commonly used in homemade remedies to rectify pigmentation or acne marks.

How whitening ingredients work
First of all, most active skin lightening ingredients work to slow down melanin production and prevent darkening of the skin – what is known technically as counteracting the activity of tyrosinase. Many of such ingredients are also exfoliant, and some of them induce a mild skin peeling to help slough away the top layer of dead, dull skin cells to reveal the fresher and lighter-coloured skin layer underneath. Hence, it is no surprise that the skin can become thinner, and develop sensitivity plus irritations after prolonged usage of such products. In some serious cases, the ingredients can cause an allergic type of dermatitis in the skin.

Common skin whitening & lightening ingredients
Skin whitening and lightening products may use different ingredients. At the extreme, you have those containing Hydroquinone and Glutathione, which are really potent. The former is not recommended because of the health hazards plus it really thins out our skin. The latter, Glutathione, is used in skin whitening pills but may pose dangers because I understand that you have to consume in high dosage for the lightening effects to be evident. But it is also said to be great for topical application in the case of reducing hyperpigmentation but in some cases, may result in heavy peeling. Other common whitening ingredients include Kojic Acid, Licorice Exctract, Mulberry Extract, Arubtin, Vitamin C (L-Ascorbic Acid), Retinol, Glycolic Acid, Lactic Acid, Lemon Juice Extract, and Papain.

5 tips to use skin whitening / lightening products
As I mentioned, I’ve used whitening products for a long time – 15 years thereabout. I realized that it’s not good to use such products continuously as my skin did get thinner over time. Plus I developed sun sensitivity. But I still need to use them so here’s what I do:
1. Use the whitening product just once a day, in the night.
2. Do not use them every night but about 3 times a week.
3. Do not use them continuously; stop after one bottle and resume later.
4. Moisturize well so that skin will not be dry.
5. Use sunscreen in the day diligently.

Know your skin type
I found that it’s best to choose a whitening / lightening skin care product which include antioxidants. Some of the whitening ingredients like vitamin C work as antioxidants. You also need to take note of your own skin type and condition to determine what whitening / lightening ingredients are suitable for you. Some products contain a mixture so you have to do some research. If your skin is very sensitive, it’s best to avoid those potent ingredients and stick to the milder ones. I’m not going to cover the scale of potency but you can search around and find some materials covering the ingredients you’re specifically looking at. Personally, I try to avoid those that cause peeling.


  1. AtelierGal says:

    I attended an EA event recently. The product trainer did mentioned that regular usage of whitening products -exfoliators in particular- can thin the skin and cause sensitive. Some acids are the culprits so make sure to do research before purchase.

    The White Glove Extreme are formulated for Asian skin, and is suitable for those with sensitive skin. -This is not a commercial lol-

  2. sesame says:

    It uses a marine mineral extract? I am trying out a new product using something of the like…seems quite okay. Let’s see what happens.

  3. Raelynn says:

    apparently licorice extract and kojic acids are not very effective lightening products.. when i was a the skin pharmacy recently, they were hesitant to recommend me whitening and lightening products as i was already on sunblock and didnt really have pigmentation problems aside from the acne scars which will fade on their own after months. but i got the serum anyway as a spot treatment for the acne scars because they can be quite a confidence dampener since i dont fancy putting too much makeup.

    for the record, i’m currently using their cream cleansers (remember i commented that it seemed to dry me out many posts back?? ). apparently, because i stopped using ss high in alcohol (or at least mix it with something else to minimize) and because of proper balance in the sunscreen, it is easier to remove the ss now. after double cleansing, i will still get a slight dehydration tight, but the onset is much later compared to when i double cleansed with cleansing oils, and less tightness.

  4. sesame says:

    I have tried some products with licorice extract…agree not that great. Usually those that work for me have a combination of products. The MVO supplement for example has l-ascorbic acid, kojic acid, dipotassium glycyrrhizate, n-acetyl glucosamine, niacinamide! That’s why it’s working so well for me.

    You tell me about confidence dampener with acne scars. I still have the remnants of it from the breakout last year. ?

  5. pf1123 says:

    I can’t seem to do enough for my brown spots! There are more on my nose and more obvious now. And dark shadows on my cheek bones. T_T

  6. sesame says:

    Are you using any product containing vitamin C. I found the ingredient good…only probably is the stability.

  7. sesame says:

    Forgot to add that it might also have to do with the amount used in the formulation. Plus I understand koji acid is quite unstable so the form might cause it to be ineffective.

  8. Audris says:

    When I recently came back with a darker face from snorkelling, as compared to my neck, 10% l-ascorbic Vitamin C Serum (C+E+Ferulic formulation) actually helped to lighten my skin back to almost neck-matching in just a couple of weeks. I didn’t notice it until a pal that met me post-trip and again after 2 weeks pointed that out. Pretty impressed.

    I do apply the same Vit C Serum on these couple of brown spots I have on my thighs. It’s been about 3 months but I don’t think there’s any perceptible lightening of them. Nevertheless, shall persevere on.

  9. Dee says:

    I’ve never experienced any dryness or sensitivity from whitening products, but thanks so much for bringing this subject up and nice tips.

  10. Chukulec says:

    Do you think continuously using rice water and cucumber would also cause thinning of the skin?

  11. sesame says:

    Thinning I don’t think so but possibly drying and photosensitivity. But if you moisturize properly and use sunscreen, this should be fine. Best to use the rice water in the evenings.

  12. sesame says:

    That’s good! It all depends on skin type and the formulation as some products include good moisturizing ingredients to buffer the dryness.

  13. sesame says:

    It seems the products work better on face than on other parts too. I do the same…sometimes apply some of my facial products on my hands with spots. Maybe some fading but nothing impressive.

  14. stella says:

    i’m not a big fan of whitening products but i do use them a couple of times a week for evening out my skintone. my personal take on this is that anything which promises to change your skin drastically and quickly (e.g. lighten it by a few shades, zap zits in one night etc.) must be pretty ‘potent’ and could potentially damage your skin (even if mildly like making it a little sensitive) if used in the long run

  15. kelly says:

    L-ascorbic acid,e,and ferulic acid is supposed to protect your skin 8 times better from sun damage when you put it under your ss.How do you feel about that kind of serum? I hope its protecting my skin not making it worst.

  16. sesame says:

    They are good I believe. I was using vitamin C products (mainly containly L-Ascorbic Acid) in the day for a period of time under my SS too but these days, I prefer to use them in the night. It’s more of a personal preference.

  17. sesame says:

    Good point…normal skin can become sensitive overtime. I believe that’s what happened with mine.

  18. pf1123 says:

    Not at the moment. I should try.

  19. df says:

    the only thing that has worked for me is mixing honey + cinnamon and applying it to my skin daily before I shower…my marks are fading very fast..

  20. sesame says:

    This recipe helps but it’s also quite strong so best to use it as a spot treatment.

  21. TS says:

    Found your website recently.
    Thanks and great work.

    I am a novice in skin care and have made big mistakes like playing in the harsh tropical sun through my school and college days and later days have bleached my skin without the proper followup skincare and to make things worse have used one of the harshest apricot scrubs everyday for 3 years befoe moving onto a finer scrub.

    I still feel the need to use atleast a mild scrub daily to feel ‘clean’ (I know it’s crazy). You can imagine the thinning of the skin that has happened.

    My question to you is, in your research have you come across a way to reverse the process atleast to some moderate level (what I mean is, is there a way to build thick skin ;))?

  22. TS says:

    Forgot to mention the years of bathing/face wash in hot scalding water -eeks!

  23. sesame says:

    Some ingredients can help with “thickening” so to speak by increasing the collagen in the skin.
    – Vitamin C (l-ascorbic acid)
    – Matrixyl – palmitoyl pentapeptide
    – Copper Peptide
    – Tretinoin – Retin-A

    Personally, I’ve got good experience with vitamin C but the formulation needs to be stable or it might contribute to more free radicals. Matrixyl I’ve tried once but don’t find it fantastic for my skin. As for Retin-A, I tend to avoid that because although it thickens the inner skin, it also thins the outer skin Never tried Copper Peptide products.

    I think you also need to take care of your diet. Something like Fish Oil supplement can also help.

    I’ve written something on how to thicken the skin so you might want to check it out:

  24. Ellie-B says:

    I know this isn’t a natural skin care product, but do you think using Clinique Even Better Dark Spot Corrector would safely remove dark spots? The ingredients seem pretty crazy, although they do not contain Hydroquinone or Glutathione, which is a good sign. I’m cautious about using it because it contains a lot of Silicone and will stop my skin from breathing. What are your thoughts Sesame?

  25. sesame says:

    Sorry, but I’ve never been keen on Clinque’s stuff. Lots of silicone doesn’t sound good either. Have you found any reviews on this? Checked Makeupalley?

  26. Ellie-B says:

    Yeah I’m not too keen on it at all really, but I was given two as a gift, and I’m tempted to try them… I will, however, read some reviews on them before I make my decision. Thanks for the tip Sesame!

  27. TS says:

    Thanks Sesame.

    Wrt Vitamin C when you talk about the stable formulation what exactly do I look for when I buy a product? Are there any products that you have tried or heard about that might be also be available in India or US?

    Btw would lemon juice or any other citrus juice applied on face work atleast partially?

  28. sesame says:

    L-Ascorbic is good but it is not stable when exposed. What I’m using right now is a raw form in powder and I mix in – this so far is the best I’ve found. But it leaves a powdery residue on the skin. The one I’m using is from Marie Veronique Organics, which I just reviewed here:

    They might not ship to India though. You might want to try Varnya, which is formulated from India. It’s my blogger friend Leon and she sent me a sample some time back. I’m currently using the oil and it looks good. I will review it later but you can take a look at her product and discuss your skin concerns with her.

    Lemon juice will work but it’s photosensitive, meaning you should use a sunscreen during the day. Also, it may cause dryness over time.

  29. Thao To says:

    I’ve been wondering about skin whitening products myself. I’ve heard that they can get rid of freckles, but I don’t want to whiten my face. Do you have any spot whitening treatments you could recommend?

  30. sesame says:

    What you do is to use the products only on spots…the only thing is, some of these products only aim to even out skin tone.

    Freckles are tricky. A DIY treatment is to use cucumber and lemon juice and apply as spot treatment. But do this perhaps like twice a week and remember to use sunscreen in the day. It may take a few weeks to notice some results.

  31. koloha says:

    hello… my skin is very sensitive.. i really wAnt to whithen my complexion.. any home remedy i try give me negative effects.. anything which consists of lemon, gram flour or mud maskz increases the sensitivity.. plz recommend me products which i can use

  32. zita says:

    is there a way to prevent skin thinning while using lightening product like kojic acid

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