Next to raging pimples, we see post-acne marks, sun spots, dark patches, and uneven skin tone as some of the main skin concerns for many.
They can be as dramatic and even more stubborn to get rid of.
Enter tyrosinase inhibitors — compounds that can take on the task of lightening the appearance of hyperpigmentation of all types.
If you’re here to learn more about these powerful ingredients, I’m here to offer you all the knowledge you need.
About melanin formation
Melanin is a skin pigment present in varying amounts in our skin. This pigment is made by melanocytes.
The amount of melanin produced in the skin is controlled by tyrosinase.
Sometimes, due to skin damage or as a result of acne, tyrosinase tells your body to overproduce melanin in that area of damage, so this is how hyperpigmentation and uneven skin tone is formed. This is called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and it takes a lot of time to fade.
So, to control the formation of melanin and aid with faster spot-lightening, we can use tyrosinase inhibitor skincare which can lighten those overly pigmented areas of skin and return them to their natural state.
Unfortunately, tyrosinase inhibitors can’t control the overall color of your skin.
Skin color depends entirely on genetics, so if you see someone promote skin-lightening products that promise to change your overall skin color, they’re likely lying to you.
Benefits of tyrosinase inhibitors
So, how exactly are melanin inhibitors helpful for people who suffer from post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation? There are many ways in which tyrosinase inhibitors can help, namely:
- By reducing hyperpigmentation — tyrosinase inhibitors work directly on diminishing hyperpigmentation of all kinds such as dark spots, age spots, sun spots, and PIH (post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation).
- By evening out the skin tone — another positive of tyrosinase inhibitors is that they promote an even skin tone by balancing the distribution of melanin.
- By brightening the skin — some tyrosinase inhibitors brighten the skin and make it look more radiant, luminous, and healthy.
- By treating melasma — some melanin inhibitors can benefit people with melasma, which is a patchy, irregular brown or grayish-brown spotting on the face.
- By reducing the look of scars — tyrosinase inhibitors help to fade the hyperpigmentation that accompanies acne scars.
- Preventing dark spots from appearing — if you use melanin inhibitors regularly, this will help prevent any new spots from appearing. This is especially true if you’re a regular sunscreen user.
- Minimal side effects — tyrosinase inhibitors are generally well-tolerated even by people with sensitive skin. They have fewer side effects than other skin-lightening compounds, which makes them perfect for long-term use.
- Non-invasive dark spot lightening — using melanin inhibitor products is a non-invasive way to treat any hyperpigmentation. These compounds are a safe alternative to chemical peels and laser therapy.
- Supporters of healthy skin — most tyrosinase inhibitors have other benefits for the skin such as antioxidant properties. These help protect the skin from damage by free radicals and environmental stressors.
- Highly customizable approach — using skincare with tyrosinase inhibitors allows you to tailor your regime to your specific skin concerns and all within your available budget. There are plenty of awesome products with tyrosinase inhibitors out there!
Side effects of tyrosinase inhibitors
As great as tyrosinase inhibitors are, some folks can experience some of the side effects of these compounds:
- Irritation — some melanin inhibitors, especially products with a high concentration of active ingredients, can cause itching, redness, burning sensations, and irritation.
- Allergic reactions — people with sensitive skin or allergies might experience contact dermatitis due to products containing tyrosinase inhibitors. I always advise performing a patch test!
- Uneven results — if you apply your tyrosinase inhibitor product of choice unevenly, this can result in a patchy effect.
- Over-lightening — if you use tyrosinase inhibitors excessively, you risk getting a “bleached” and unnatural appearance. This is more true for people of color.
- Increased photosensitivity — tyrosinase inhibitors can increase the skin’s sensitivity to the sun, which is why I always advise using sunscreen!
- Dryness — some skincare products with tyrosinase inhibitors can result in overly dry skin, flakiness, and even peeling. This is especially true if you’re using other exfoliating products.
- Consistent usage — to see long-lasting results, you need to use tyrosinase inhibitors consistently, over long periods. If you stop using your products, you risk losing your progress.
Tyrosinase inhibitor skincare ingredients
Now that we know the ins and outs of tyrosinase inhibition, let’s see what are the most effective tyrosinase inhibitors out there:
Vitamin C — applied topically, vitamin C (and specifically l-ascorbic acid) is an antioxidant, so it inhibits free radicals which can cause pigment formation. It also inhibits the enzyme tyrosinase which causes dark spots.
Some great products with an effective amount of stabilized vitamin C include SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic and Timeless Vitamin C + E + Ferulic Acid.
Vitamin C serums are best applied in the morning, right after cleansing, and before moisturizer and sunscreen.
Hydroquinone — the gold standard for treating hyperpigmentation, hydroquinone is hard to come by these days. It works by inhibiting tyrosinase but it can be irritating, and if overused, it can cause rebound worsening of pigmentation. This is why it’s only available via prescription in the US.
Arbutin — considered to be a milder alternative to hydroquinone, arbutin, and alpha arbutin also work by inhibiting tyrosinase and the conversion of tyrosine into melanin. It’s widely available in OTC (over-the-counter) skincare products, with some of the best being Beauty of Joseon Glow Deep Serum Rice + Alpha-Arbutin and Cos De BAHA Arbutin 5% + Niacinamide 5% Serum.
Kojic acid — present in sake and derived from mushrooms, kojic acid is a natural tyrosinase inhibitor that chelates the copper ions needed for tyrosinase activity, therefore inhibiting melanin production. It’s well tolerated by most folks and is also widely available in skin care products. A great gentle serum is the La Roche Posay Glycolic Acid Serum with Kojic Acid and Vitamin B5 and PCA SKIN Hydroquinone-Free Pigment Gel is also a great option.
Soy — unless you have a soy allergy, the compound is very well tolerated and can improve hyperpigmentation. It works by blocking the pigment from reaching the top layer of the skin. It’s also anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, and it has some mild anti-wrinkle effects by firming up the skin. It’s present in many skincare products with Nameraka Honpo Sana Soy Milk Facial Lotion being a great budget option and the Aveeno Positively Radiant Daily Gel Facial Moisturizer is more for those of you with oily skin.
Azelaic acid — if you have sensitive skin or acne in combination with hyperpigmentation, then azelaic acid is a great tyrosinase inhibitor ingredient to look out for in your skincare. It inhibits free radical formation and tyrosinase, and it has modest anti-acne effects. It’s also super helpful to deal with rosacea due to its anti-inflammatory properties. It’s available in prescription percentages and also lower ones, as an OTC treatment. I swear by and have reviewed The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10% before, but you can also try Paula’s Choice 10% Azelaic Acid Booster as it has a more elegant formulation.
Topical vitamin A/retinoids — as a skincare multitasker family, retinols are also helpful to treat hyperpigmentation as they inhibit tyrosinase and help exfoliate the topmost layer of the skin. The compound is available in OTC products but also via prescription by dermatologists. Some of the most popular skincare with this tyrosinase inhibitor include Differin Gel and CeraVe Retinol Serum for Post-Acne Marks.
If you’re interested in reading more about how to use Differin to the best of its abilities, check out my article about Differin gel before or after moisturizer.
Salicylic acid — another amazing ingredient for those of you suffering from breakouts, salicylic acid is a well-known melanin inhibitor with potent anti-inflammatory effects. It’s also a skin exfoliant with a brightening effect.
Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Exfoliant is a best seller in this category — it’s one of the most widely-used salicylic acids out there.
Licorice root extract — another great option for sensitive skin, licorice root is a well-known natural tyrosinase inhibitor. It inhibits pigment dispersion in the skin, brightens the skin, and evens out the complexion. It’s great at reducing redness and irritation, which is why people with rosacea will benefit from including this ingredient in their routines.
ACWELL Licorice pH Balancing Essential Cream is an amazing tyrosinase-inhibiting product suitable for sensitive skin. And Versed Stroke Of Brilliance Brightening Serum is a good budget serum with tyrosinase inhibitors – licorice root and niacinamide.
Niacinamide — the ultimate skincare multitasker, niacinamide is another well-known tyrosinase inhibitor ingredient present in a wide range of skincare products. It works by suppressing the transfer of melanin to surrounding areas of the skin, thus decreasing hyperpigmentation. It’s also anti-inflammatory and supports healthy skin barrier function.
My favorite way of getting my niacinamide fix which I’ve reviewed is the NeoGen Real Ferment Micro Essence.
Niacinamide is effective for hyperpigmentation even in low concentrations of 2%, so you needn’t use anything stronger than that.
Sunscreen — the best ingredient for tyrosinase inhibition is hands down everything a sunscreen is made of. Although not specifically a melanin inhibitor, sunscreen acts as a shield for your skin and protects it from oxidative damage and melanin formation. The best sunscreen is the one you’ll enjoy using daily but you get bonus protection points when using blue light sunscreens.
Best tyrosinase inhibitor skincare
Now, I’ve already shared some products that contain specific tyrosinase inhibitor ingredients, so in the following sections, I’ll introduce you to my tyrosinase inhibitor products list that combines several ingredients in each product.
Best tyrosinase inhibitor serums and treatments
Best tyrosinase inhibitor moisturizers
What is the most effective tyrosinase inhibitor?
Hydroquinone is proven to show the fastest and most effective results when it comes to melanin inhibition in the skin, however, it’s available only by prescription by a dermatologist.
What can block tyrosinase?
Tyrosinase is blocked by tyrosinase inhibitors (melanin inhibitors) and by carefully protecting your skin against sun damage.
Is azelaic acid a tyrosinase inhibitor?
Azelaic acid is a tyrosinase inhibitor great for sensitive skin and for treating rosacea and acne.
Is niacinamide a tyrosinase inhibitor?
Niacinamide is a versatile tyrosinase inhibitor with multiple skin benefits and good tolerance levels in many people.
Is salicylic acid a tyrosinase inhibitor?
Salicylic acid is a melanin inhibitor and an acne-fighting ingredient that evens out the skin tone by gently exfoliating it. It also has antioxidant qualities.
Is retinol a tyrosinase inhibitor?
Retinol is a tyrosinase inhibitor with multifunctional properties for the skin — it can help with pimples, post-acne marks, anti-aging, and more.
What is the best natural tyrosinase inhibitor?
Soy extract and licorice root are some of the most effective natural melanin inhibitors widely available in OTC skincare products.
What is the strongest melanin inhibitor?
Hydroquinone is the strongest known melanin inhibitor. It’s available via prescription in the US. Alternatives to hydroquinone include arbutin and alpha arbutin, which are available in OTC products.
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