Tyrosinase Inhibitors in Skincare

Another ingredient that requires consistency and patience is tyrosinase inhibitors. Tyrosinase inhibitors should be incorporated in-home care for clients whose concerns are hyperpigmentation. To fully understand tyrosinase inhibitors, we first need to be clear about where the excess pigment on the skin comes from.

Let us define a couple of terms first.

From Milady Standard Esthetics: Fundamentals (2012): 

  • “Melanocytes: cells that produce skin pigment granules in the basal layer” (Page 742).
  • “Melanosomes: pigment carrying granules” (Page 236).
  • “Melanin: tiny grains of pigment (coloring matter) that are produced by melanocytes and deposited into cells in that stratum germinativum layer of the epidermis” (Page 742).

To put it all together…

Melanocytes are cells that produce pigment granules (melanosomes), which then carry and produce a protein called melanin, which is transferred from the melanosomes into the keratinocytes.

This process is known as melanogenesis.

So now we know how melanin is produced in the skin, but what about when melanin is produced to create an uneven skin tone, sun spots, or acne scars?

When trauma occurs to our skin in the form of an acne pustule, sun exposure, or other damaging external factors, inflammation is created in the skin.

Inflammation signals to our melanocytes to produce extra pigment as a form of protection for the skin. This chemical process of pigment creation can also be seen when you cut an apple in half and leave it on the counter for a few hours.

The browning of the apple is caused by something called tyrosinase. This is the same enzyme in our skin creating uneven brown pigment.

According to Milady Standard Esthetics: Fundamentals (2012): “Tyrosinase is an enzyme that converts tyrosine, an amino acid, into melanin” (Page 316).

Tyrosinase is an enzyme responsible for starting the chemical reaction that leads to the production of melanin. A way for us to combat melanogenesis is by utilizing ingredients that stop tyrosinase, known as tyrosinase inhibitors. 

When helping a client with pigmentation issues of the skin, it is not enough to exfoliate the pigmented cells at the surface- the root of the problem must be addressed as well. Tyrosinase inhibitors allow us to slow or stop the melanogenesis cycle, targeting the origin of the pigmentation chemical reaction.

Common Tyrosinase Inhibitors

1. Kojic Acid 

A by-product of Japanese rice wine.

2. Azelaic Acid / Dicarboxylic acid 

Derived from grains like barley, wheat, and rye, or created synthetically.

3. Vitamin C / L-ascorbic acid 

Naturally derived or synthetically created, the efficacy depends on the formulation, the stabilizers, and product packaging.

4. Hydroquinone

A long-time gold standard for treating hyperpigmentation with a lot of controversies. This ingredient is legal in The United States and can be bought over the counter or by prescription.

5. Licorice Root Extract/ Glabridin

Studies suggest this to be more effective than kojic acid and ascorbic acid as a tyrosinase inhibitor.

6. Bearberry/ Arbutin

Can be synthetic or naturally derived, seen as an alternative to hydroquinone.

7. Retinoids

This is a small list, but there are tons of different ingredients being tested all the time for the efficacy of a tyrosinase inhibitor. Always look for scientific studies supporting the claims of any new ingredient.

Additional information on Tyrosinase Inhibitors

Zolghadri, S., Bahrami, A., Hassan Khan, M. T., Munoz-Munoz, J., Garcia- Molina, F., Garcia-Canovas, F., & Saboury, A. A. (2019). A comprehensive review on tyrosinase inhibitors. Journal of Enzyme Inhibition and Medicinal Chemistry, 34(1), 279–309. https://doi.org/10.1080/14756366.2018.1545767

Pillaiyar, T., Manickam, M., & Namasivayam, V. (2017). Skin whitening agents: Medicinal chemistry perspective of tyrosinase inhibitors. Journal of Enzyme Inhibition and Medicinal Chemistry, 32(1), 403–425. https://doi.org/10.1080/14756366.2016.1256882 

Leave a Comment