What used to be the most common ingredient for skin whitening and removing age spots, hydroquinone, has become sufficiently controversial that alternatives are being actively sought. Hydroquinone may, or may not, cause cancer. The FDA thinks it might and proposed a ban in 2006. On the other hand, there are studies that counter this view and regard it as safe. Whatever, hydroquinone is certainly a powerful irritant that can burn those of sensitive skin (which would be me).

One of the newest alternatives that I've just started to notice is Sepiwhite MSH. It is, for example in Nutra Luxe's High Potency Skin Whitening Complex. This ingredient focuses its attention on a molecule called melantropin that regulates skin pigmentation by controlling melatonin. Sepiwhite gets the molecule to inhibit the production and dispersion of melatonin. In a test using a 2% concentration on tanned skin, it apparently sped up the return to normal. Whether it works well or not, the good thing is that it doesn't burn or exfoliate; the actual skin is left intact.

Alpha arbutin, also acts on melatonin production. It is a super form of arbutan, which is found in bearberry plants and is popular in Japan. It is much more powerful than beta arbutin - ten times more, in fact and, therefore, only small amounts are needed. It has been tested on 80 women of Chinese descent with better results than kojic acid, hyroquinone and beta arbutin.

Gamma oryzanol is a vitamin B that is derived from rice bran. Assuming claims made about it are true, then its a worth looking out for it in age spot treatments because, as well as inhibiting melatonin, it is an anti-oxidant and an anti-itch.

Another melatonin inhibitor is kojic acid. This comes from a fungi. It has a high incidence of allergic reactions, so approach with caution. It is unstable and can turn a cream yellow after a while.

Tetrahydrocurcuminoids sounds like an affliction. It is actually derived from the Indian spice turmeric. It sounds almost too good to be true: it boosts collagen, is an anti-oxidant, whitens the skin and protects against UVB rays.