Beauty Solutions: Lighten Up, Babe… Naturally

by Sonja on February 25, 2009

Skin Lightening

It seems like everywhere I turn there’s a product to brighten the skin, whether it’s a serum, mask, or makeup with light diffusers. And every one of them catches my eye, because I’ve got spots, spots, everywhere spots. I’ve got freckles, brown spots from sun damage, and red spots left behind from various pimples that have come and gone. All these spots bug me. I’m half Korean with that porcelain skin ideal (have you noticed all the Asian skin care to lighten and brighten?).

I used to covet hydroquinone… I always thought it curious that there were warnings to not use it when pregnant. But I wasn’t pregnant so I figured, “Who cares?”

It seems like most of my spots are from sun damage from my early years of not using enough sunscreen or not using it at all. I was just chatting about the days when people didn’t even wear sunscreen or fried themselves in baby oil. Thankfully, I never did the baby oil thing. But my mom sure did. Remember those days? Eek. And to top it off, last year, the Environmental Working Group found that there’s a good chance we’re not protected even if we use sunscreen. They found that four out of five sunscreens don’t provide the protection they claim to – and we’re talking some of the biggest brands (check out the report and a list of sunscreens that actually work here). No wonder so many of us are covered in spots.

Step Away from the Hydroquinone

With my fixation on spots, I used to covet hydroquinone, an ingredient long used to bleach the skin. I always thought it curious that there were warnings to not use it when pregnant. But I wasn’t pregnant so I figured, “Who cares?” Well, now I care. Researchers have linked hydroquinone to cancer in several studies. In the EWG Cosmetic Safety Database, this ingredient gets a ten out of ten hazard score (yeah, it’s an overachiever). It’s been banned in Europe and Japan (why not in the U.S.??). Now it’s been banished from my home. Fortunately, I’ve been able to find safer, natural alternatives. Many companies, even in the U.S., are skipping the hydroquinone and opting for natural lighteners, like kojic acid, lactic acid, and vitamin C.

I’ve been trying some really great hydroquinone-free alternatives and have been very pleased with the results. Here are a duet of heavy hitters, a quickie, some newly introduced, and a unique specialist that I recommend for lightening and brightening safely.

The Heavy Hitters

Marie-Veronique Organics is a small company here in the San Francisco Bay Area that makes amazing, highly effective, natural products. The Complexion Lightener and Brightening Supplement Duet is a combo of two such products that were designed to be mixed together and brighten skin immediately. After using the Duet for about three weeks, I could see a dramatic change. My skin became brighter and less spotty. A friend I hadn’t seen for awhile commented right away about how beautiful and glowing my skin was.

The Complexion Lightener is a serum with all-natural lighteners and brighteners, like kojic acid, lactic acid, licorice, paper mulberry, DMAE, and vitamin C. The Brightening Supplement is a powder that has kojic acid and vitamin C. Marie Veronique says that the powder is more effective in its original powder form, because it loses its effectiveness when exposed to air or sun. They put it in a UV-resistant, black bottle to keep it stable.

The Duet is part of MVO’s super potent, safe, natural Renewal spa line. The mission at MVO is to “provide the most effective skin care that not only improves the appearance of the skin but improves overall health and does not pollute the body with toxins.” The Duet is quite pricey at $175. But you can be purchase each product separately. Of course, they won’t be as potent and work as fast on their own; but they’ll still deliver results. The Supplement can also be added to any water-based moisturizer. Marie Veronique says it also works very well as a brightening toner when diluted in green or white tea, or in a few drops of water.

The line is available at and Clary Sage Organics in San Francisco. They are also working on expanding into Europe. Coveted beauty bonus: Marie-Veronique is offering a special for Coveted readers. Get 20% off all orders that include the Complexion Lightener, Brightening Supplement, or Brightening Duet. This offer is good through the end of March. Enter the code COVETED.

The Quickie

I just discovered this fantastic mask. Liz Earle Naturally Active Skincare has a Brightening Mask ($24) that works in the time it takes to brush your teeth. Want some instant radiance and softening in the morning or whenever? Put this on for just 30 seconds to two minutes. It feels nice and tingly and really refreshing. It contains wonderful natural ingredients, including organic aloe vera, purifiying white clay and green mineral silt, toning witch hazel, stimulating camphor oil, and softening sweet almond oil. Available worldwide.

The New

The eco-chic Suki line has launched Sukispa for spa results at home. The Renewal Bio-Resurfacing Facial Peel ($75) works really well and definitely gave me similar results as a professional brightening facial. It’s corrective peel mask that made my skin brighter and really smooth. It’s organic, exfoliates, unclogs pores, evens skin tone, and reduces blemishes and inflammation with natural and organic ingredients, like cranberry glycolic alpha hydroxy, vitamin C, and botanical enzymes. Multitasker bonus: it can also be used as a nighttime spot treatment for blemishes.

Sukispa also includes a firming cream and three serums. I really like the Targeted Bio-Brightening Serum ($75), which is highly concentrated, oil-free serum designed to lighten hyperpigmentation, spots, scars, and redness naturally with things like songyi mushroom, lemon peel, vitamin C, and licorice root. Available at

The Specialist

Dermelect Cosmeceuticals has a whole line of products to address discoloration, from serums to a great oxygenating cleanser, which I wrote about in a multitasker article. One product that’s very unique is the Smooth Upper Lip & Perioral Anti-Aging Treatment ($38), which is specifically for the area that gets shadowy under the nose and wrinkles/frown lines around the mouth. Along with brightening, this treatment provides lots of moisture and is said to contour. Dermelect’s founder and President Amos Lavian says that the area below the nose can darken for several reasons, including heredity, smoking, excessive waxing, aging, and sun damage. Dermelect uses arbutin, kojic acid, emblica, and licorice extract instead of hydroquinone. Amos says, “The ingredients we use are as effective, if not more so, and a healthier alternative. You don’t treat one problem and cause another!”

An Ounce of Prevention

All these products work to deal with damage already done. But, of course, it’s best to prevent damage in the first place – be sure to use sun protection everyday, year-round. The sun can still damage skin even on a cloudy, winter day. Some of my favorites are from Marie-Veronique Organics, whose Organic Sun Serum rated in the top ten of the EWG list of safe, effective sunscreens.

Do Tell

Have you got spots? Did you ever bask in the sun for that bronze goddess look or simple not think to use sunscreen? Is your sunscreen on the EWG offender list? Have you used hydroquinone for damage control? Are you opting for more natural alternatives these days? Do tell.

P.S. Check out our regularly updated Beauty Resources page for some amazing beauty deals from companies like Benefit,, and

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violetville February 26, 2009 at 11:29 am

Sonja, thanks for the link to the EWG Database! I’m always curious as to the safety of various ingredients.
It seems like they have a lot of really interesting information!

And yeah, while I can’t imagine my skin being much lighter color-wise, “brightener” is definitely a keyword I always look for. Who doesn’t want to look brighter??

Sonja February 26, 2009 at 12:33 pm

❤ Violetville, you’re very welcome! EWG has done amazing things by investigating so many beauty products and encouraging companies to use safer ingredients. The database is a great resource to see what’s safe and what’s not.

My complexion’s pretty light as well. I just want the spots to match. haha! And yes, “brighter” is definitely a wonderful thing!

skin bleaching February 26, 2009 at 1:17 pm

There are so many offers out there on beauty products. You cannot deduce bad one from good ones.

K-Line February 26, 2009 at 6:21 pm

That database is so interesting - and a bit frightening. My sunscreen isn’t listed - but the company that makes it (L’Occitane) has 2 products listed. Admittedly, neither of those tops SPF20 (mine is SPF40), but the ones they rate are pretty useless. I don’t know what to do, because it goes so well on my incredibly oil prone skin. Egad.

Sonja February 26, 2009 at 6:52 pm

❤ K-Line, it’s pretty scary, huh? Sometimes I just don’t want to look. You might do okay with a sunscreen with lower SPF, especially if it’s one that actually works. I’ve heard a few times that SPF levels above 20 or 25 are only marginally better. The Marie-Veronique sunscreens are very light and would probably work well for your skin. Lavera, another natural brand, also ranked highly on the EWG study. I’ve got oil-prone skin as well and had good luck with their skin care. Hope that helps!

Sonja February 26, 2009 at 6:55 pm

❤ K-Line, another good option is a powder SPF. Jane Iredale’s Powder-Me SPF 30, which I love, ranks #30 on the EWG list. It’s a great natural option that sops up oil while it protects! :)

K-Line February 27, 2009 at 1:06 pm

THanks for those suggestions S.

Sonja February 27, 2009 at 5:42 pm

❤ K-Line, you’re very welcome. Hope the info’s helpful!

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