Top 6 Safe & High-Performing Skin Lightening Ingredients

Consumers are always looking for new ways to promote the health and appearance of their skin. For those asking for skin lightening, brightening, or even toning benefits, consider these six safe and high-performing ingredients.  

Lightening agents have been used in dermatology for years to help people reduce hyperpigmentation or dark spots, resulting in a lighter and more even skin tone. Consumers who want to age gracefully with radiant, even skin will incorporate products with skin lightening ingredients into their routine.

Safety and efficacy go hand in hand. As you seek to make skin lightening claims on your product label, don’t sacrifice safety for performance.

Skin Lightening Ingredient to Avoid: Hydroquinone

Hydroquinone is one of the most widely used skin lightening ingredients, which works by inhibiting melanin production. It can be effective in treating hyperpigmentation, dark spots and melasma.

However, hydroquinone is also linked to safety concerns, including skin rashes, facial swelling and ochronosis (discoloration of skin). Because of these concerns, the U.S. FDA banned hydroquinone for over-the-counter sale in 2020, and it can only be prescribed in limited amounts by a health care provider.

What else can you incorporate into your skin care line to provide skin lightening benefits to your customers? These six ingredients are excellent options that promise both safety and performance.

Top 6 Safe & High-Performing Skin Lightening Ingredients

#1. Hexylresorcinol

Hexylresorcinol (HR) is an organic compound that works as a skin-brightening agent to correct hyperpigmentation or dark spots. HR is an alkylresorcinol. Alkylresorcinols are found in nature and are abundant in whole-grain wheat and rye.

With GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) status, hexylresorcinol is a great choice for beauty brands seeking to provide skin lightening and even toning benefits in their next skin care formula.

Hexylresorcinol was introduced to the skin care market in 2007 under the trade name Synovea® HR. Today, it’s known as the gold standard in skin brightening and even toning, in part due to Sytheon’s ability to attain highly purified hexylresorcinol (>99.5-99.9%), which is essentially free of resorcinol (a known skin irritant) and its intermediate, hexanoylresorcinol.

Synovea® HR is characterized by:

In fact, 1% Synovea® HR has been found to match the effectiveness of 2% hydroquinone, without the safety concerns of hydroquinone. Synovea® HR brightens the skin’s complexion, provides effective melanin inhibitory activity, and shows a significant improvement in skin clarity, complexion, and hydration.

#2. Ethyl Linoleate

Ethyl linoleate is an essential fatty acid known for various attributes of skin nourishment, including antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-acne. Available under the trade name Synovea® EL, ethyl linoleate is clinically proven to:

  • Maintain stratum corneum acidity
  • Protect barrier function
  • Decrease sebaceous gland activity
  • Regulate follicular keratinization
  • Inhibit post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation
  • Reduce skin pigmentation

As a synergist with multiple skin benefits, Synovea® EL is a clinically validated active that allows you to deliver skin lightening claims while supporting high levels of safety and performance. Its skin lightening effects can be enhanced even more when combined with Synovea® HR.

#3. Hexylresorcinol & Ethyl Linoleate with Caprylic/Capric Triglycerides

Asyntra® SL is a synergistic skin lightening blend that combines hexylresorcinol and ethyl linoleate with a skin-friendly emollient: caprylic/capric triglycerides.

Asyntra® SL is easy to formulate with and clinically proven for skin lightening and even toning. It provides statistically significant (p <0.05) skin lightening within 4 weeks of treatment and reduces extracellular melanin by 40% and intracellular melanin by 35%.

#4. Bakuchiol

Bakuchiol is a plant-based compound that provides anti-acne and anti-aging characteristics without the side effects of retinol.

While not traditionally categorized as a skin lightening agent, Bakuchiol stimulates key genes for graceful aging and is clinically proven to improve the skin’s texture and tone. In a double-blind clinical study validated by UC Davis Dermatologists, Bakuchiol showed a 59% reduction in hyperpigmentation after 12 weeks.

Bakuchiol is high performing with an excellent safety profile, as long as you’re using the best form of Bakuchiol. Some forms contain high amounts of sensitizers and can cause harmful side effects, defeating the purpose of your claim for high-performing and safe skin lightening effects.

Sytenol® A is 99%+ pure Bakuchiol. This level of purity guarantees performance, safety, and stability in your formula. Sytenol® A is also the only REACH registered and China-allowed Bakuchiol, and it has been rigorously tested to ensure customers get the best results.

#5. Acetyl Zingerone

Acetyl zingerone is an organic compound that offers various anti-aging applications, including anti-pollution, sun preparation, and daily skin care.

Available under the trade name Synoxyl® AZ, acetyl zingerone is a multi-targeted molecule that reverses key signs of photo-damaged skin, including pigmentation. In a clinical study, acetyl zingerone showed a significant reduction in pigment intensity (>25%) in 4 weeks as compared to placebo.

While targeting pigmentation, acetyl zingerone also prevents further skin damage and nurtures the skin’s ability to maintain the integrity of the epidermal extracellular matrix for optimal health and appearance.

#6. Terminalia Chebula Fruit Extract

Terminalia chebula fruit extract is a natural ingredient that helps to reverse the signs of skin aging and photo-damage. Sytheon offered the first topical grade terminalia chebula product under the name Synastol® TC.

Key results from clinical studies of Synastol® TC shows significant improvement in aging parameters within 4 weeks and a significant reduction in under-eye dark circles. For consumers seeking multifunctional benefits from a skin lightening product, Synastol® TC will make a safe and high performing leading active.


The pursuit of radiant and even-toned skin has led beauty brands to explore safer and more effective alternatives to traditional lightening agents like hydroquinone. These six ingredients are promising contenders to deliver the benefits your customers are seeking at a high level of safety and performance.

Help your customers achieve radiant skin with confidence – and without compromise. Use our product finder to find the right active ingredient for your claims.