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Saffron for skin lightening?

Saffron is an ingredient used in various fields: culinary, therapeutic, cosmetic... When incorporated into topical treatments, it offers several benefits to the skin, notably due to its moisturising and antioxidant properties. Saffron extract is also attributed with brightening virtues. But what is the reality?

Published June 4, 2023, updated on February 8, 2024, by Pauline, Head of Scientific Communication — 5 min read

Lightening the skin to conceal brown spots.

Skin lightening is often driven by the presence of brown spots on the skin. They form as a result of an accumulation of melanin in the epidermis. This dark brown pigment is an essential element that plays a protective role against UV rays. However, in the case of overproduction, it impacts the uniformity of the complexion. We distinguish three categories of pigment spots depending on the cause.

  • The sun spots caused by prolonged and repeated exposure to the sun's UV rays.

    When exposed to the sun, melanocytes initiate the production of melanin (melanogenesis) to protect DNA and cellular constituents. Sunspots gradually form throughout life, as sun exposure is repeated. That's why it's important to apply a sunscreen daily. Tobacco or pollution can also play a role in their appearance, as these elements generate oxidative stress in cells and accelerate skin ageing.

  • The pregnancy mask is linked to hormonal changes.

    During pregnancy, levels of oestrogen and progesterone increase within the body. These hormones have the ability to stimulate melanogenesis and cause the appearance of melasma. This can also occur following the use of contraceptive pills or hormone replacement therapy.

  • Thepost-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

    These brown spots form as a result of skin inflammation or lesions. Indeed, during inflammation (acne, burn, injury...), pro-inflammatory cytokines stimulate the activity of melanocytes.

Does saffron extract have lightening properties?

Saffron is often regarded as an intriguing ingredient for skin lightening. Indeed, it is believed to possess depigmenting properties and could have an effect on brown spots. However, to date, no scientific study has been able to demonstrate that saffron extract has such an effect.

However, it is true that this botanical extract possesses antioxidant properties, making it a good ally for preventing hyperpigmentation. Saffron indeed contains several active ingredients capable of acting in this regard. For instance, we can consider crocin and crocetin, molecules that act against lipid peroxidation, a chain reaction causing damage to cell membranes and disrupting the hydrolipidic film. Their chemical structure, rich in double bonds, allows them to rearrange and donate an electron to free radicals, thereby neutralising and stabilising them.

Saffron also contains safranal, a compound capable of stimulating the activity of certain antioxidant enzymes, such as superoxide dismutase (SOD) and glutathione peroxidase (GPx). These are essential proteins involved in the elimination of free radicals. GPx, in particular, facilitates the transformation of organic hydroperoxides before they can damage cells. SOD, on the other hand, catalyses the dismutation of superoxide anions O2.- into oxygen O2 and hydrogen peroxide H2O2.

Finally, a study has highlighted that saffron extract possesses photoprotective properties. Indeed, the safranal it contains has an SPF (Sunburn Protection Factor) of 6.6. However, this is relatively low considering that a sun care product is deemed effective when its SPF reaches 15. The SPF is theindex measuring a product's ability to block UV rays responsible for sunburn. Nevertheless, it has been shown that the addition of saffron extract to a chemical-based SPF 20 sun care product canincrease the SPF by 43%. This natural ingredient, therefore, has interesting potential for preventing hyperpigmentation.

Note : If you wish to diminish brown spots or lighten your skin, we advise you to rely on active ingredients that possess proven lightening properties, as demonstrated by scientific studies. For instance, you could consider using the vitamin C, azelaic acid, arbutin acid, liquorice extract, tranexamic acid or even glycolic acid.


  • SHOJAOSADATI S. & al. Evaluation of antioxidant activities of bioactive compounds and various extracts obtained from saffron (Crocus sativus L.): a review. Journal of Food Science and Technology (2015).


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