Over the years there have been numerous breakthroughs in skin lightening, most of which have been in the form of topical treatments. However, a growing body of evidence suggests that oral administration of certain ingredients can produce results, offering a novel approach to the complex issue of treating pigmentation concerns.
The skin benefits of Pycnogenol, an extract from the French maritime pine bark, Pinus Pinaste. have been hinted at for quite some time. Most recently, a study published in Skin Pharmacology and Physiology revealed that oral intake of Pycnogenol can increase skin hydration levels, increase collagen and skin firmness, decrease 50-75% of UVA induced upregulation of melanin synthesis, and effectively treat melasma.
Its mechanism of action for reducing skin pigmentation in humans is through its ability to antagonize multiple triggers of tyrosinase (the essential enzyme in creating skin pigment). It also lightens various forms of hyperpigmentation by reducing inflammation via inhibiting the trigger of NF-kB (pro-inflammatory mechanism in immune cells) and providing powerful photoprotective benefits, which mitigate oxidative stress and the pigmentation-inducing effects of UV radiation.
Based on in vivo studies, Pycnogenol can inhibit melanogenesis at dosages ranging from 50mg to 125mg. No adverse effects have been reported at these dosages.
Grape Seed Extract
Oral supplementation of Grape Seed Extract, which is rich in the antioxidant, proanthocyanidin, has been shown to safely lighten cholasma (also known as melasma) at a dosage of 67 mg, three times a day for 6 months. Oral intake of grape seed extract also prevents chloasma from becoming worse, particularly in high UV index months.
Multiple studies indicate that oral intake of tranexamic acid can benefit individuals with melasma. Since melasma is rooted in hormonal imbalances, tranexamic acid is a viable treatment option since it decreases the alpha-MSH (Melanocyte Stimulating Hormone) through its antiplasmin activity.
One particular study published in Aesthetics Plastic Surgery, revealed that 6 months of consuming tranexamic acid at a dosage of 250 mg, twice a day, resulted in mark reductions in epidermal and mixed (epidermal and dermal) melasma lesions. A small amount (9.5%) of subjects in this study reported a recurrence of melasma after discontinuance.
Oral intake of tranexamic acid has a very small side effect profile and is generally well-tolerated by most individuals. However, a small amount of subjects in the above study reported gastrointestinal discomfort (5.4% out of 74 subjects) and hypomenorrhea (8.1% out of 74 subjects). No severe side effects have been reported in regards to the systemic intake of tranexamic acid.
Research indicates that the skin lightening benefits of oral tranexamic acid can be enhanced when combined with other therapies like topical application of tranexamic acid, and/or traditional light or laser based melasma treaments such as IPL and Nd:YAG.
Methyl Sulfonyl Methane (MSM), is a naturally occurring sulfur compound which has been shown both orally and topically, to decrease the ratio of dark melanin to light melanin in the skin. This action is safely and effectively performed through MSM’s ability to increase intracellular sulfur levels, which cause dopaquinone to be diverted towards the production of pheomelanin (the type of melanin found in fair-skinned individuals), rather than eumelanin in the skin. Empirical evidence suggests MSM usage results in a brighter, more even-toned appearance.
In a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial for the skin supplement OptiMSM, 20 female participants received either 3 g (3000 mg) of MSM per day or a placebo over a period of 16 weeks. The results were impressive – revealing an increase in pheomelanin production , which evened out mottled facial pigmentation and reduced redness. The group treated with MSM also exhibited marked improvement in wrinkles and fine lines.
Although the findings of this clinical trial for the supplement OptiMSM are promising, the overall research regarding MSM’s ability to lighten skin are still limited. More independent studies are needed to extrapolate whether MSM can effectively treat pigmentation issues.
Equitance Skin Radiance Dietary Supplement
The Equitance Skin Radiance Dietary Supplement is an amalgamation of antioxidants, minerals, and extracts designed to promote skin health from within. A clinical test of the dietary supplement showed that 100% of subjects involved saw an improvement in overall skin brightness after 60 days of taking the supplement (6 tablets a day). The test was objectively evaluated by dermatologists, who reported an average improvement of 39% in skin brightness and dark spot improvement in all participants.
Most of the ingredients within the Equitance Skin Radiance Dietary Supplement do not directly lighten skin, but instead act as mitigators of inflammatory factors which lead to melanogenesis. The presence of vitamin C in the formulation offers little to no skin benefits, since its bio availability is inadequate when administered orally. Additionally, vitamin C in the gut is limited by an active transport mechanism, which means only a finite amount of the antioxidant is absorbed.
The formulation also contains a small amount of vitamin B12, in which a deficiency of is linked to hyperpigmentation.
Grape seed extract is the only ingredient in the formulation which has been proven to improve pigmentation. This ingredient combined with the anti-inflammatory proprietary blend can improve the overall look of the skin and offset UV-related skin damage to a degree.
The link between nutrition and skin health is undeniable, and emerging evidence demonstrating the benefits of oral ingredients on hyperpigmentation strengthens this fact. Nutritional supplementation as a form of skin care opens the doors for new strategies and acts as both an alternative and complementary treatment to topical agents.