Botanical remedies for lightening and whitening the skin have existed for centuries. Some people seek an all-purpose formula to whiten hands, body or the complexion, while others look for natural whiteners to fade age spots and freckles. In most cases, the same formulas can be used for either all-over whitening or targeted fading. There is no scientific evidence that these herbs work better or even as well as over-the-counter or prescription skin lighteners, and some may cause allergic reactions, so use with caution.
Named for its reputed ability to aid a number of women’s problems, from heavy periods to sagging breasts, lady’s mantle also boasts a reputation for lightening and softening skin. To fade freckles and age spots, herbalist Lesley Bremness suggests crushing fresh leaves to extract their juice. Dab this juice on the skin you want to lighten, leave for several minutes and rinse off. Alternatively, infuse the leaves in hot water and use this herbal water in place of plain water in lotion recipes. Ask your dermatologist about using lady's mantle, and test a small patch of skin before applying it to a large amount of skin. The herb is a traditional, rather than well-researched, whitening remedy.
More famous as a hair lightener than a skin whitener, chamomile nonetheless works effectively to whiten hands and the complexion, according to Bremness. Infuse the flowers or a few bags of chamomile tea for use as a facial steam. Alternatively, cool and strain the mixture and use as a skin-whitening hand soak. Ask your dermatologist about using chamomile, and test a small patch of skin before using this traditional whitening herb on a larger area.
The acidity of lemon juice gives the citrus fruit its ability to strip away darker outer skin layers and reveal lighter skin underneath. The juice works best for targeted areas, such as age spots and freckles, or even for removing tobacco stains between your fingers. Apply the juice with a cotton ball. Lemon juice can irritate the eyes and sting open wounds; use caution when squeezing and applying the juice. Avoid if you have citrus allergies, and check with your dermatologist.
Because red onions contain acid compounds similar to those found in lemons, a red onion slice represents another targeted approach for dark patches of skin. Rub a fresh slice on the area daily. Be careful to not rub the onion near your eyes or an open wound, and do not use if you are allergic to onions. Ask your doctor before trying any herbal cures.
Horseradish is a traditional bleaching agent for the skin, according to herbalist Kathi Keville's "Herbs for Health and Healing." To whiten pigmented skin on the face, she prescribes a face mask comprised of horseradish, vinegar, lemon juice and rosemary essential oil. Grate 1 tsp. horseradish, or use 1 tsp. prepared horseradish. Combine it with ½ tsp. each lemon juice and vinegar, as well as three drops rosemary essential oil. Gently apply to your face, leave on for a few minutes and rinse and dry your face. Alternatively, use natural beauty expert Jeanne Rose's daily treatment of grated horseradish and yogurt. Mix to a paste-like consistency, rub on your face and wash off. Avoid contact with your eyes and open wounds while using this potent mixture, and check for allergies before using over large areas of your face and body. Check with your doctor or dermatologist before trying this traditional whitening remedy.
Solomon’s Seal, Wild Strawberry or Ground Ivy Leaves
Three common wild ground covers form the basis of Rose's whitening face wash formulas. Gather the fresh leaves of wild strawberry, Solomon's seal or wild strawberry leaves during woodland hikes. Cultivated strawberry leaves also have whitening properties, but don't confuse cultivated English ivy with ground ivy. Dry the leaves for later use. Infuse them as you would tea leaves. Cool, strain and splash your face with the herbal waters. Rose notes that the mixtures are gentle enough to use daily, but do check with your practitioner to rule out side effects or other potential problems.
- "Herbal Body Book"; Jeanne Rose; 2000
- "The Complete Book of Herbs"; Lesley Bremness; 1994
With a focus on food, nutrition, cocktails and the latest dining trends, Melissa J. has been a freelance writer for more than 15 years. Her specialties include articles for such publications as SF Chronicle and National Geographic Green Living, as well as blog posts for the hospitality industry. Her previous positions include newspaper staff reporter and communications specialist for a nonprofit agency.