Essential oils have long been praised for their restorative, soothing, and protective benefits for the skin. These age-old plant extracts have been rooted in skincare routines since ancient times, and despite the amalgam of modern and fancy treatments we’ve got today, their popularity doesn’t seem to be dipping any time soon.
In fact, there’s a countless, never-ending list of options in terms of good-for-skin essential oils, some of which even possess strong depigmenting and brightening effects. However, don’t make the mistake of assuming that all essential oils benefit your skin, especially when your target is an uneven tone, dark spots, or hyperpigmentation. These conditions need to be addressed at a cellular level, and if you want to get transformative results, you need to stick to research-backed skin lightening oils — like the ones I’m about to share.
Remember that you’re dealing with highly concentrated and powerful ingredients. Hence, essential oils must be diluted before applying to the skin with a carrier oil such as coconut oil.
Essential oils that may lighten the skin
Read on for the best essential oils for skin whitening that’ll get you closer to a brighter complexion.
Lemon essential oil
First on the list is the essential oil from lemon, probably best known for its skin-lightening effects. Contrary to popular belief, lemon oil does not contain vitamin C (since the extraction process doesn’t transfer the vitamins and nutrients into the oil). Still, it contains other components that are very effective in brightening the skin.
More precisely, lemon oil is rich in limonene, pinene, and citral, which have been found to reduce the melanin content (skin-darkening pigment) in skin cells by inhibiting tyrosinase activity — the enzyme responsible for pigment production. The lemon essential oil is also a potent antioxidant that fights free radicals and helps prevent the apparition of dark patches caused by sun damage.
Because lemon oil targets the root causes of hyperpigmentation, it’s one of the most effective essential oils for skin lightening but also the most aggressive one. If you have decided to use lemon essential oil to brighten your skin, proceed with extra caution as the oil can be very irritating — definitely not a good choice for problematic skin. As a note, the International Fragrance Association warns that lemon oil should not exceed 2% concentration in skincare preparations.
The lemon essential oil contains photosensitizing compounds, so you should avoid exposing the skin to sunlight after applying products containing it at all costs.
Mulberry essential oil
Mulberry is another essential oil great for skin brightening as its active compounds can inhibit tyrosinase activity, regulate pigment formation in skin cells as well as scavenge free radicals. As such, mulberry oil is often used to diminish blemishes and improve the appearance of uneven skin tone. During one study, 75% mulberry extract oil significantly improved melasma — a condition caused by an excess of melanin that manifests as dark patches on the skin.
Even though mulberry oil is well tolerated and generally considered safe for most skin types, it still should be diluted with a carrier oil.
Eucalyptus essential oil
Apart from its anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, research shows that eucalyptus essential oil could be a promising skin-lightening agent. During multiple clinical trials, applying the essential oil from eucalyptus drastically inhibited tyrosinase activity and decreased melanin synthesis, resulting in more radiance and even skin tone.
Besides, eucalyptus oil is well known for its antioxidant power, helping protect the skin against environmental aggressors and prevent the excess pigment production triggered by UV damage. This suggests eucalyptus essential oil may be helpful for treating various discoloration conditions (such as hyperpigmentation) and enhancing the overall texture of the skin.
According to research, sandalwood oil has multiple benefits for the skin, including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antimicrobial, wound healing, and skin whitening. Its main active constituent, alpha-santalol, has been found to inhibit tyrosinase and regulate melanin content in skin cells, making it particularly effective for improving pigmentation associated with aging and exposure to UV light.
Since sandalwood oil is slightly softer and more tolerable than other essential oils, it’s a great alternative for people whose skin is on the sensitive side. However, it still should be diluted with a carrier oil.
Lavender essential oil
The lavender essential oil can lighten everything from freckles, sun spots, and acne scars to post-inflammatory marks not only by relieving inflammation but also by suppressing tyrosinase activity. One study found that the daily topical application of lavender oil effectively blocked the tyrosinase enzyme in mushrooms and decreased melanin levels after two months, proposing it as a potent skin bleaching treatment.
Cinnamon is another essential oil possessing skin whitening benefits that, coupled with its antioxidant properties, helps maintain an even tone and a brighter complexion. In two clinical studies, cinnamon essential oil exhibited potent anti-tyrosinase activities through its active compound, cinnamaldehyde. Based on the results, cinnamon oil reduced tyrosinase activity by up to 60% when used in concentrations above 6%.
Other oils that may lighten the skin
Safflower seed oil
Safflower seed oil’s potential to fade the look of discoloration and uneven skin tone is thought to come from its ability to suppress melanin production and increase the skin’s antioxidant defense system.
The research found that safflower seed oil has promising skin-protecting, -moisturizing, and -whitening effects due to its high content of fatty acids (linoleic acid and oleic acid) and tocopherol, a powerful antioxidant. Linoleic and oleic acids not only enhance hydration and consolidate the skin barrier, but they are natural skin brighteners that work to lighten sun-induced hyperpigmentation by inhibiting tyrosinase activity.
Although safflower seed oil is more accurately classified as a carrier oil instead of essential oil, its skin-lightening benefits shouldn’t be overlooked. When used with other essential oils for skin brightening, it can intensify the effects, delivering even more noticeable results.
Evening primrose oil
Evening primrose oil is extremely high in linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid necessary for maintaining skin integrity. In a clinical study, topical application of this oil led to the lightening of skin discolorations induced by UV exposure through decreasing the total melanin production.
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