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Is Ellagic Acid The New Alternative To Hydroquinone?

is ellagic acid an effective alternative to hydroquinone

Have you heard? There’s a new skin-lightener on the block. It’s called ellagic acid. Rumour has it, it’s as effective as hydroquinone, the gold standard for treating dark spots. Hydroquinone works but has severe side effects. It’s harsh on the skin, can lead to dryness, and even lead to permanent blue patches on darker skin tones (I’m not kidding).

Ellagic acid is said to give you all the benefits of hydroquinone without the irritation and blue patches. And it doubles up as an antioxidant to keep premature aging at bay too. Is this a case of, it’s too good to be true or should we all switch to ellagic acid immediately? I’ve delved into the scientific literature and here’s everything you need to know about ellagic acid for skin:

What Is Ellagic Acid?

Ellagic acid is a powerful antioxidant found in many plants but especially dark fruits, including strawberries, pomegranates, grapes, and blackcurrants. In plants, ellagic acid provides natural protection against both UV rays, infections and pests. Women use it to keep both wrinkles and dark spots at bay.

Ellagic Acid Benefits: Is It Good For Skin?

Ellagic acid has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and skin-lightening properties that help repair sun damage:

1. It Prevents Wrinkles

Like all antioxidants, ellagic acid helps treat wrinkles and protect skin from sun damage. Dr. Michele Farber, a board-certified dermatologist at NYC’s Schweiger Dermatology Group, explains: “This antioxidant effect helps neutralize free radicals to protect the skin from harmful damage via UV radiation.”

Here’s how this works. A free radical is a molecule that has lost an electron after suffering from damage, usually from UV rays or pollution. Desperate to be whole again, it looks for another molecule to steal back the electron from. It’s the start of a nasty chain reaction that leads to the destruction of collagen, elastin, and all the good stuff that keeps your skin healthy and young.

Ellagic acid, like all antioxidants, is part of your skin’s police. It patrols your body looking for free radicals. When it spots one, it neutralises it before it can wreak its damage on your skin, thus keeping premature wrinkles at bay.

2. It Boosts Collagen

Elaggic Acid keeps your skin younger and wrinkles at bay in another way. A 2010 study shows that ellagic acid prevents inflammation and collagen breakdown, two of the main causes of wrinkles.

In case you’re wondering, it works in two ways. First off, ellagic acid blocks the production of MMP (matrix metalloproteinase enzymes), enzymes that break down collagen. Block them and your collagen won’t degrade as fast.

While it’s at it, ellagic acid also reduces ICAM, a molecule that causes inflammation. Inflammation is responsible for premature wrinkles, dark spots, acne, rosacea… Any skin woe basically. The catch? The study was done on rats. Not the same as human skin. Still, it shows promise.

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3. Ellagic Acid Helps Reduce Dark Spots

Even more impressive, ellagic acid can lighten dark spots. You don’t even need that much of it. 0.5% will do the job! Really.

A 2013 study (done on humans this time!) compared a 0.5% ellagic cream with salicylic acid, 1.1% hydroxyphenoxy propionic acid, yeast extract to a prescription combination of 4% hydroquinone cream and 0.025% tretinoin cream applied every night for 12 weeks.

The results? Both creams reduced dark spots. But the ellagic acid cream did so without irritating skin. There was none of the peeling or redness that prescription formula left behind. If your skin can’t take tretinoin, hydroquinone or other strong skin-lighteners, giving ellagic acid a go makes sense.

Related: Battle Of The Skin-Lighteners: Which Is The Best Alternative To Hydroquinone?

How To Use It

How to use ellagic acid depends on the type of product it comes in. If it’s a moisturiser, it’s the last step of your skincare routine at night. If it’s in a serum, it goes after cleansing/exfoliation, but before hydrating serums and moisturisers. If it’s an essence, straight after cleansing/exfoliation.

Who Should Use Ellagic Acid?

Everyone benefits from antioxidant protection, so this is a wonderful ingredient that all skin types can use. Due to its skin-lightening properties, it’s particularly suitable for women (and men) who want to fade away dark spots faster.

Can You Use Ellagic Acid With Other Acids?

Ellagic acid isn’t a replacement for other acids. It’s a separate ingredient that works better for wrinkle prevention and dark spots that you can use together with other acids. “Each acid has a different effect on the skin, so they are good in conjunction. For example, alpha and beta hydroxy acids are wonderful exfoliants and help greatly with skin texture and pigment, but don’t have the same antioxidant effect,” says Dr. Farber.

Ellagic Acid Side Effects: Is It Safe During Pregnancy?

Ellagic acid is generally considered to be a safe alternative to powerful skin-lighteners, like hydroquinone and tretinoin, during pregnancy. It also rarely cause irritations. But if you have sensitive skin, it’s always a good idea to do a patch test first.

What Are The Best Products With Ellagic Acid?

Unfortunately, there aren’t many products with ellagic acid on the market yet. But here’s the best of what’s available:

  • Allies Of Skin Retinal & Peptides Repair Night Cream ($118.00): Retinal is a form of Vitamin that’s more effective than retinol at treating wrinkles and dark spots, yet it’s better tolerated by skin. Ellagic acid and niacinamide help to fade away dark spots while the moisturising base, made up of hyaluronic acid and natural oil, keeps skin softer and smoother. Best suitable for dry skin. For best results, use it every other night. Available at Boots, Cult Beauty, Dermstore, and Sephora.
  • Cellex-C Skin Hydration Complex ($122.00): A hyaluronic acid serum with ellagic acid to deeply hydrate skin, plump up fine lines and wrinkles, and prevent premature aging. Available at Cellex-C.
  • Then I Met You The Giving Essence ($50.00): This multitasking essence uses ellacgic acid and niacinamide to brighten the skin tone and fade away dark spots, probiotics to soothe irritations, antioxidants to prevent premature wrinkles, and hyaluronic acid to hydrate skin. It has everything you need in one bottle! Use it right after cleansing/exfoliation. Available at Cult Beauty and Soko Glam.

The Bottom Line

Ellagic acid is a powerful antioxidant that’s showing promise as a skin-lightener. Initial research shows it works as well as hydroquinone and tretinoin – but without the drying side effects. If you have sensitive skin, it’s totally worth a go.


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