A high-level cosmetic executive once told me that the roots of the pale skin Asian beauty ideal have more to do with a desire for unblemished skin, since aging manifests on Asian skin with spots, rather than wrinkles. When I repeated this theory to Dr. Anne Chapas, board certified dermatologist and Medical Director of Union Square Dermatology, she agreed that it makes sense. People who have darker complexions tend to have more melanin in their skin. “They have so much natural melanin in the skin, they don’t get the sun damage that cause wrinkles. Sun damage causes more uneven pigmentation,” she told us. “It’s not unusual to see someone of Asian, Latin, or African American descent come to see me and tell me that as they’re getting older, their skin is more pigmented and they’re looking for something to even it out.” Looking at the perennially unlined face of my 85-year-old grandmother, I’m inclined to agree.
Calling these Asian-specific lines “whitening” is a bit of a misnomer, since these products aren’t actually skin bleaching products, but rather they brighten and add radiance. Case in point: The main ingredient in Kiehl’s Whitening line, available in Australia and Asia, is Vitamin C, a staple in dark spot corrector formulations.
Despite the differences between Asian and Western beauty ideals, there is some overlap in ingredients between Asian brightening lines and stateside dark spot correctors. Here’s a simple who, what, why, and how behind dark spot correctors and how to make sure you’re buying the right one, no matter where you do it: