How can you tell if skin brightening products really work?

Emi’s inquiry: I have a question about a product from a natural skincare company “ Dr. Hauschka’s Moisturizing Day Cream“. It purports to brighten dull skin. I know all of the ingredients are supposed to be biodynamically grown and are all natural (and it smells nice), but what is it in there that can actually “brighten” dull, pale skin?

The Right Brain’s bright reply:

We`ll avoid the temptation to continue the Left Brain`s debate about natural products and focus on the question of skin brightening claims.

First, you have to realize that there is no rule book that tells cosmetic companies what they have to do to support their claims. The law (at least here in the US) only says that you have to HAVE supporting data for your claims and that you have to make that data available when necessary. The law doesn`t say anything about the quality of that data. Now, most of the larger companies in the industry are pretty careful to make sure they have supporting data. But some of the smaller companies are a bit more¦flexible, shall we say.

Big or small, there are two basic approaches that companies use when supporting claims: They can document that the ingredient or the formula is generally recognized to be efficacious, or they can actually test their formula.

Case in point, Dr. Hauschka’s Day Cream. Looking at their ingredients, we don’t see anything in the formula that is widely known to have skin brightening properties. That doesn’t mean that the formula WON’T brighten your skin, it only means that the burden of proof is on the company to demonstrate that efficacy. But since companies don’t have to cough up any proof unless they’re legally challenged, we’ll probably never know for sure.

If we had to guess, we’d say that if they did any testing, it was probably some kind of perception study that shows people think their skin looks brighter after using this lotion. Or, if this were a skin cleanser, they could have made the claim based on simple exfoliation. If the product is stripping off the upper dead, dull layers of skin on the surface, then it`s revealing the brighter layers beneath.

This is pure speculation on our part. There`s no way to tell how this company would support this claim. Dr. Hauschka may have a very nice moisturizer, but the idea of brightening is really not very meaningful.

In case you’re interested, here are the ingredients:

Water, Anthyllis Vulneraria Extract, Apricot Kernel Oil, Alcohol, Witch Hazel Extract, Sweet Almond Oil, Olive Oil, Carrot Extract, Peanut Oil, Wheat Germ Oil, St. John’s wort, Glycerin, Calendula Officinalis Extract, Lecithin, Jojoba Oil, Fragrance/Parfum, Limonene, Linalool, Farnesol, Benzyl Benzoate, Geraniol, Citronellol, Benzyl Salicylate, Citral, Algin, Xanthan Gum

One final note: there is another approach to skin brightening that involves blocking the mechanism that causes skin to develop dark spots. That’s the glycosamine technology used in Olay’s Definity. But that’s a story for another post.