It is a very long time – probably years, possibly a decade – since I embraced Clarins. Long ago I dismissed it as an uninspiring department store brand masquerading a high-end French, plant-based line. So when I was sent Clarins’ new Vital Light Serum ($85), I wasn’t expecting too much and I was even less enthusiastic to find that the harsh preservative phenoxyethanol was sixth ingredient .The fifth, a polymer called sodium polyacrylate, has been associated with toxic shock syndrome in tampons. Nonetheless, Clarins Vital Light claims to zap dark spots with some innovative new ingredients. So, in the pursuit of science, I’m taking a closer look and will try this out over the coming weeks.

Vital Light’s star spot fader is an enzyme inhibitor called hexylresorcinol. An anaethetic and antiseptic, this chemical compound has been used for years in oral products such as toothpaste and throat lozenges. Recently, however, hexylresorcinol has been seen in a new light, as a treatment for hyperpigmentation. It works as a tyrosinase inhibitor. An in vivo study conducted on .5% hexylresorcinol in 2007 demonstrated lightening results that were just as effective as 2% hydroquinone over an eight-week period.

Hexylresorcinol isn’t unique to Clarins. Copley came across it in PrescribedSolutions’ A Bolt of Lightning. It should be noted that, according to Wikipedia, a 2009 study concluded that it mimics estrogen actions.

Clarins has also enlisted the support of a plant extract, spergularia rubra, which is known as red sandspurry. There is hardly any information (in terms of cosmetic use) about this plant and just about all that I could find out about it is that it is “soothing to the mucous membranes” and that it is being studied as a potential anti-diabetic. There’s no evidence that I could find to support that helps lighten dark spots”. Clarins gets around this by saying that it is a “pioneering plant extract”. We shall see.

Not quite as obscure is atractyloides lancea root extract. It is a stalwart of Chinese medicine and has been used to make potions to treat psoriasis. There are some patents that include it in formulas for combatting hyperpigmentation and, specifically, melasma. But there is no research to back this up. Another “pioneering” plant perhaps.

Clarins may be on firmer ground with cochlearia officinalis, an interesting plant that is so full of vitamin C that it is was used to fend off scurvy. It has also been used by herbalists as a wound healer. On the other hand, I’m not sure what cedrelopsis grevei bark extract is doing here other than it is a favorite of Clarins and pops up in many of its formulations.

I can’t say that I’m hugely confident about Vital Light, but maybe it is a genuine pioneer. And in that spirit, I’m trying it out and will report back in a few weeks.

Ingredients: Water, Glycerin, Methyl Gluceth-20, Butylene Glycol, Sodium Polyacrylate, Phenoxyethanol, Hexyresorcinol, Sodium Hyaluronate, Fragrance, Biosaccharide Gum-1, Atractyloides Lancea Root Extract, Citric Acid, Cochlearia Officinalis Flower/Leaf/Stalk Extract, Spergularia Rubra Extract, Cedrelopsis Grevei Bark Extract, Tiliroside, Sodium Benzonate, Palmitoyl Dipeptide-5 Diaminohydroxybutyrade, Ascorbicacid, CI 14700/RED 4.