If there was a magic pill you could take to get rid of pigmentation instead of slapping on skin-lightening creams that barely lighten spots, never mind erasing them totally, would you take it?
The skincare industry says that you will, which is why every so often a so-called breakthrough product comes on the market that promises to make you instantly - or at least eventually - free from all beauty woes.
That magic pill has since appeared - supposedly for the first time - in the form of Crystal Tomato Skin Whitening, an oral supplement which claims to give you fair and spot-free skin in two to four months.
Skincare distributor Gromark teamed up with scientist Alain Khaiat to develop Crystal Tomato, which contains a special Colour Less Carotenoid (CLC) ingredient derived from "crystal" or white tomatoes. The supplement is meant to reduce melasma and also prevent hyper- pigmentation.
Dr Khaiat, who considers himself a skin biologist, has worked on skin for the last 32 years. He's trained in chemical engineering and biology, with a post-doctorate in hormonology.
For Gromark's supplement, Dr Khaiat used research by Israeli scientists who have developed a breed of "white" tomatoes which are extremely rich in phytoenes and phytofluenes.
Carotenoids are a class of natural chemicals that primarily function as antioxidants. Only two, phytoenes and phytofluenes, out of the 600-over carotenoids, are colour- less, explains Dr Khaiat. These carotenoids, when eaten, also goes preferentially into the skin. They absorb UV and inhibit melanin synthesis which cause the skin to darken.
To heighten the supplement's function, L-cysteine, an amino acid, has also been added. When ingested, L-cysteine transforms into glutathione, also a potent antioxidant.
Glutathione can only be absorbed in the body as L-cysteine, because the body doesn't metabolise glutathione itself. It changes the colour of melanin from black to a light pink. "Glutathione protects the cells in the body, and its other function is to switch the melanin formation," explains Dr Khaiat.
"Together, the L-cysteine gives skin a pinkish tone, while CLC gives it a whiter, porcelain-like tone," he adds.
On average, people who consume Gromark's Crystal Tomato are expected to see the effect on their skin after 2-4 months, he says. "It's not a miracle drug so it's not going to happen overnight. And the effect stops when you stop taking the supplement," he says, adding that the supplement is completely safe.
Pigmentation problems are partly due to UV exposure, inflammation such as acne, and oxidative stress. CLC promises to act against all these.
"We haven't found out how CLC reduces existing melanin in skin - but we have found that when you put CLC with cells that contain a high level of melanin, they become whiter," he reveals. Dr Khaiat is also an adviser to Singapore's Health Sciences Authority.
Melasma is much more prevalent for those with Asian skin, with possibly over 75 per cent of cases worldwide, notes Dr Khaiat. In a study he once conducted on ageing skin, he notes that Caucasian women tend to get wrinkles from 18 years old, but experience pigmentation problems after 60. The opposite is true for Asian women, who have pigmentation problems as young as 14 years old, and start getting severe wrinkles after 50.
Even though one is on this supplement though, it doesn't replace sunscreen, which acts as a shield. "This pill works from the inside out; sunscreen prevents," Dr Khaiat stresses.
As for South Asian women, this supplement claims to address their pigmentation problems by lightening and evening out the skin tone.
Gromark's Crystal Tomato supplements are priced at $169 for a box of 30 caplets, and is available from Woffles Wu Aesthetic Surgery & Laser Centre, Nu Reflections Pte Ltd, Aesthetic & Medical Clinic, TCS at Central Clinic, DR Z Aethestics, and DermaCare Aesthetic & Laser. Alternatively, enquiries can be directed to Gromark Consumers Enterprise, tel: 6253-4388.
This article was first published in The Business Times.