Clarins Vital Light Serum Review

Reviews, Skin Care

The advertising campaign is extensive, the packaging is classic, and it seems every beauty editor in town is recommending Clarins Vital Light Serum ($85.00, Macy’

NOT for Darker Skin Tones!

The first thing I have to say about Clarins Vital Light Serum is that it is NOT for anyone with darker skin tones.  Clarins Vital Light Serum contains hexylresorcinol, a phenol derived from plants.  Resorcinol has been shown to cause a rare condition called ochronosis, a rare paradoxical darkening of the skin, in patients with darker skin types (Journal of Dermatological Treatment, 1997; American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, 2001).  The effect typically appears after six months continued resorcinol use, with the highest reported incidence in South African Blacks.  The mechanism involves effects on tyrosinase or inhibition of homogentisic acid oxidase, resulting in local deposition of pigment (Dermatology Online Journal2008).

In case you are wondering why Clarins scientists would still use resorcinol, the reason is two-fold:  One, ochronosis is rare, even amongst patients with darker skin.  (It is extremely rare in patients who do not have dark skin).  Ochronosis is much more common when a patient combines use of resorcinol with hydroquinone, as the hydroalcoholic lotion increases bioavailability of hydroquinone.  Ochronosis with resorcinol/hydroquinone formulations was well-documented in South Africa before 1984 (Journal of Dermatological Treatment, 1997), so I definitely would not recommend using Clarins Vital Light Serum with any product containing a trace of hydroquinone.  Secondly, 0.5% Hexylresorcinol has been found to be four times as effective as 2% hydroquinone in treating dark spots (Clarins, 2011).

Cochlearis officinalis, Waltheria, Spergularia

I feel like I’m talking about a spell from Harry Potter or something here, and I must say, Clarins scientists really reached back into some archaic methods for these ones.  Cochlearia officinalis was always known as scurvy grass.  Practitioners of holistic medicine used Cochlearia officinalis for hundreds of years as an antiscorbutic, meaning that it defeated scurvy, due to its high vitamin C content (Medicines and Their Modes of Administration, 1844, no that is not a typo).  Though traditionally eaten, topically-applied Cochlearia officinalis is likely to give the skin-brightening, collagen-stimulating effects of a mild vitamin C cream.

Waltheria is a genus of flowering plants.  Like Cochlearia officinalis, it is an age-old folk remedy, as Hawaiians called it ‘uha loa and munched on its bark to aid sore throats (Treasury of Hawaiian Words in 101 Categories, 1998).  Such a remedy makes sense, as Waltheria has been found to inhibit inflammatory macrophage-stimulating cytokines in fairly recent studies (Biological and Pharmacological Bulletin, 2005).  In the skin, Waltheria may very well then act as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.

Spergularia are also known as sea-spurreys and sandspurreys.  Their effects are not well-documented by scientific research.  According to ClarinsSpergularia belong to a plant family that botanists call ‘pioneers’ due to the fact that they take root and spread in some of the most desolate areas on Earth. In doing so, they help recreate biodiversity.  Which may be true, but until a study is released demonstrating its effects, I’m not impressed.

Bottom Line

Expect results somewhere between a 2% and 4% hydroquinone  serum with Clarins Vital Light Serum.  Definitely do not combine Clarins Vital Light Serum use with any product containing hydroquinone, as this is practically asking for ochronosis/irregular skin darkening.  I also would not use Clarins Vital Light Serum or any other product with resorcinol/phenols/hydroxyalcohol solutions if I had darker skin.  Although it is rare, ochronosis is more likely with these agents in those with darker skin types.

Basically,  Clarins Vital Light Serum is a good product, but not my favorite.  I still prefer Lumixyl, MaMa lotion (with mandelic and malic acid), or straight 4% hydroquinone from a dermatologist (again, not for darker skin types).

Other FutureDerm Posts about Hyperpigmentation Products

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  • The references about ochronosis are correct. The confusion between resorcinol and Alkylresorcinols is not. Both have nothing in common in terms of toxicology and biological effects.
    Resorcinol is a biphenol which has sensitizing properties and exfoliating effect. It is restricted to hair color applications and some rare dermatological applications for treating scars and acne. The cases in South Africa was reported on cross-reactions induced by the use of Hydroquinone and “systemic” resorcinol in anti-malarial treatments. As a matter of fact, alkylresorcinol are present in whole grain wheats.
    Hexylresorcinol is a food additive used as preservative for shrimps. It prevents melanosis.
    It is also used in throat lozenges for its antibacterial properties. It has very extensive toxicological data over 70 years of use on consumers, and has a GRAS status . It is recognized as safe by the EU SCC.
    Hexylresorcinol used in cosmetics contains almost no free resorcinol (less than 0.001% in the finish products)
    Unlike hydroquinone, hexylresorcinol has no destructive effect on melanocytes, and on the contrary has a very strong antiglycation effect (Cheriot SC, Billaud C, Nicolas J, J Agric Food Chem, 54(14):5120-5126, 2006) . The hyper-reticulation of collagen involved in ochronosis is the result of a glycation process, and it could be assumed that Hexylresorcinol would on the contrary oppose to that disease.
    However, the author is perfectly right to recommend not to use Clarins product with an hydroquinone parallel treatment.
    Not for the reasons expressed, but simply because noone should use hydroquinone anymore.

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  • Caryn

    I just bought the vita-light and wonder if I should still use my 30% vitamin c with and if so what order and if I can use with retinal,again what order? My 30% revision vitamin c is a creamy form and heavier then the serum?

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