LYTERA Skin Brightening Complex

by SkinMedica  
$125 - 2 fl. oz.
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Skin Care > Retinol Products > Lighteners Without Hydroquinone
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This skin-lightening product takes a cocktail approach to treating brown spots and similar discolorations caused by sun damage. The lightweight, thin lotion texture contains an impressive amount of niacinamide along with stabilized vitamin C (tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate), two ingredients with good research supporting their ability to improve discolorations. Also on hand are retinol and licorice root, which also have research confirming their ability to lighten discolorations, among other benefits. In essence, this skin-lightening product stands a very good chance of giving you a more even skin tone as claimed!

The chief drawback of this product is its price. You can find equally good lightening products from philosophy and Paula's Choice, though SkinMedica does offer a larger size (2 ounces vs. the more standard 1-ounce size). Still, even with the size differences there's no question this is pricey. If you decide to try this, it's suitable for all skin types, but contains fragrance in the form of 4-ethoxybenzaldehyde, so is not recommended for sensitive skin.

As with any skin-lightening product, its effectiveness is tied to how diligent you are about protecting your skin from sun damage. That means applying a sunscreen rated SPF 15 or greater (and greater is better when brown spots are your concern) every day, rain or shine, clouds or full sun. It really is that important—and you will be amazed how much better your skin looks and acts overall when it is protected from further sun damage.

LYTERA Skin Brightening Complex contains antioxidants, too, chief among them being vitamin C but vitamin E and a type of algae with antioxidant benefits are also included. What about the peptide the company claims can decrease excess melanin (skin pigment) production "deep in your cells"? There is minimal but intriguing research showing certain peptides may indeed help reduce the impact melanin has on skin discolorations, but not enough to rely on it all by itself (Source: Korean Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, Volume 16, August 2012, pages 287–291). We could not find any studies proving the exact peptide in this product has an effect on brown spots, but the previously cited study suggestions an association. In any event, it's good that SkinMedica uses a series of proven skin-lightening agents in LYTERA rather than rely on a peptide.

  • Contains several ingredients proven to lighten dark spots.
  • Antioxidants help repair skin and reduce further damage.
  • Lightweight texture works for all skin types.
  • Expensive (but it does come in a larger-than-usual size).

SkinMedica LYTERA Skin Brightening Complex targets, corrects and helps prevent hyperpigmentation to promote a radiant, more even complexion. Licorice root extract diminishes age spots while advanced peptides decrease excess melanin production deep in your cells. Retinol speeds new, healthy cell growth and vitamin E neutralizes free radicals to prevent further environmental damage.

Water/Aqua/Eau, Niacinamide, Butylene Glycol, Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate, Polyacrylate-13, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Tetrapeptide-30, Hexylresorcinol, 4-Ethoxybenzaldehyde, Retinol, Glycyrrhiza Glabra (Licorice) Root Extract, Ethyl Linoleate, Dunaliella Salina Extract, Tocopherol, Squalane, Cetyl Ethylhexanoate, Glycerin, Polyisobutene, Polysorbate 20, Phytic Acid, Disodium EDTA, Ethylhexylglycerin, Potassium Sorbate, Phenoxyethanol.

California-based SkinMedica offers a range of dermatologist-developed skin-care products aimed at the symptoms of aging skin, such as wrinkles and skin discolorations. (Is there anyone whose skin isn't aging?) They also offer products to manage acne and for skin discolorations. Regrettably, the products for acne are a giant step in the wrong direction, and the skin-lightening options are paltry (although the latter do contain a potentially effective amount of vitamin C). So, as far as SkinMedica's anti-aging products (a subcategory labeled TNS) go, they are far more senseless than significant.

All of the TNS products contain an ingredient complex the company refers to as "human fibroblast conditioned media." Before we launch into a discussion of the technical aspects, let me point out that "human fibroblast conditioned media" doesn't really tell the consumer anything. Fibroblasts are connective tissue cells that secrete proteins that help generate new tissue (such as collagen). Collagen, as we know, is damaged by sun exposure and is depleted with age; the number of fibroblasts, which produce collagen, also decreases with age (Source: The FASEB Journal, 2000, pages 1325–1334). In the International Cosmetic Ingredient and Handbook, human fibroblast conditioned media is "the growth of media removed from culture of human fibroblasts and human keratinocytes [skin cells] after several days of growth." The handbook also mentions that the "media" used to begin the process are Dulbecco's Modified Eagle Medium mixed with Ham’s Nutrient Mixture F-12 and calf serum.

What are these media and mixtures, and what is their relevance for aging skin? Both the Dulbecco and the Ham media, which contain glucose along with varying blends of salt, minerals, and/or the amino acid L-glutamine, are used in laboratories to grow cell cultures and keep them stable so they in turn can be evaluated and/or used in experiments. Neither of these media have relevance for aging skin; they are merely the substrate on which these human fibroblast cells grow in a petri dish. As for the calf serum, we assume that it's a source of various growth factors. We make that assumption based on a comparative study published in the May 2006 issue of Dermatologic Surgery. In this study, the TNS (Tissue Nutrient Solution) mixture used in all of the NouriCel-MD products was detailed as containing "a variety of growth factors, including TGF-beta(1), vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), and human growth factor (HGF)."

They didn't specify the origin of the human growth factor in the TNS blend, but it is presumably a component of the lab-grown fibroblast cells. Regardless, the results of this single-blind study involving 31 participants indicated, according to NouriCel-MD, that topical products with growth factors promote better results on aging skin than topical vitamin C. However, they don't mention anything about the effects of other ingredients or of a cocktail of ingredients. All in all, this study is completely meaningless. Even more disappointing is that the improvements were not tremendous, and—here's the kicker—the results were measured based on a physician's assessment of before and after photographs, and on the participant's self-assessment. Who knows if the photographs were doctored, or even if the lighting or the subject's pose was different at the end of the study (a slight tilt of the head or change in lighting can easily make wrinkles more or less prominent). In the end, this isn't a study you should take seriously, and the only other published research on this ingredient complex was authored by Dr. Richard Fitzpatrick, who—Surprise! Surprise!—is the dermatologist behind the SkinMedica line (Sources: Dermatologic Therapy, September-October 2007, pages 350–359; and Journal of Cosmetic and Laser Therapy, April 2003, pages 25–34). That's sort of like a tobacco company writing a report concluding that smoking isn't actually as detrimental to health as common thinking suggests!

Moreover, Dr. Fitzpatrick admits that "More double-blind and controlled studies are needed to confirm the preliminary clinical effects of growth factor products, and more controls on product quality and stability need to be established." Now that's an understatement!

As it turns out, the human fibroblast conditioned media/TNS complex present in all of the NouriCel-MD products is a cocktail of growth factors, none of which have a history of safety when used as part of a daily anti-aging skin-care routine on healthy, intact skin. For detailed information on human growth factor and other growth factors, please refer to the Cosmetic Ingredient Dictionary on the Home page of this Web site. For now, all that can be reasonably concluded is that there are too many unknowns about topical use of growth factors to deem it advisable to look for this group of ingredients when shopping for anti-aging products.

Conceivably, it's a promising field, but your skin doesn't need to be the guinea pig for what may prove to be problematic with ongoing use. The vast majority of research on topical application of growth factors (most notably human growth factor and transforming growth factors) has focused on wounded or diseased skin (think diabetes, ulcers, and skin cancer); essentially, skin that needs to be healed, which is an area where naturally occurring growth factors in the human body work on their own accord. This research is not related to applying growth factors to otherwise healthy (albeit wrinkled or discolored) skin; wrinkles are not wounds, nor does their formation over time have anything to do with how the skin heals itself when cut or ulcerated.

Although SkinMedica tries to establish medical credibility by advertising that its products are available only through dermatologists and dermatology professionals (the latter a term that is open to interpretation, thus allowing non-medical retail sales), the reality is that any consumer can purchase these products from a variety of non-medical sources. As it turns out, despite the concerns described above for the NouriCel-MD products, there are several outstanding options to consider from SkinMedica, so you may indeed want to indulge.

For more information about SkinMedica, call (877) 944-1412 or visit

By the way, SkinMedica's pharmaceutical arm produces such prescription products as Vaniqa, NeoBenz Micro (benzoyl peroxide), and EpiQuin Micro (contains 4% hydroquinone). Any physician can prescribe these products if necessary to address your skin-care concerns (or, in the case of Vaniqa, unwanted hair).

Member Comments

Summary of Member Comments

  1. How would you rate the results? (4 = Best)

    2 / 4 Average
  2. Was this product a good value? (4 = Best)

    2 / 4 Average
  3. Would you recommend this product? (4 = Best)

    2 / 4 Average
Page of 1
  1. Sheryl
    Reviewed on Sunday, June 23, 2013
    • Value
      1 / 4
    • Results
      1 / 4
    • Recommend
      1 / 4
    Did nothing
    • I purchased Lytera as part of a set from my PS's office with high hopes, because she couldn't say enough about it, and I trust her. The set included a cleanser, the Lytera, the ES retinol complex, and a sunscreen. The cleanser was scented, so I wasn't able to use it. I used the rest of the system faithfully, morning and night. Well, it's been about two months, and it looks like my time has been spent in vain. It did a great job lightening my bank account by $225, though! Wouldn't recommend.

  2. white haile
    Reviewed on Tuesday, May 28, 2013
    • Value
      1 / 4
    • Results
      1 / 4
    • Recommend
      1 / 4
    it gave me a big peel on my malazma
    • this product was recomended by my dermatologist and i have been using it for over two weeks. it gave me a big time peel like a phenol chemical peel and rinkled skin not to mention the burn i get when i apply it. I have a senstive skin and it did not work for me .

  3. JH
    Reviewed on Wednesday, May 01, 2013
    • Recommend
      4 / 4
    • Value
      4 / 4
    • Results
      4 / 4
    • I dont' understand how you consider this product "pricy" when compared to the Philosophy... This product is $125 for 2 oz and Philosophy is $64.00 for 1oz (= to $128.00 any way I add it up) I HAVEN'T ORDERED THE PRODUCT BUT THOUGHT THIS SHOULD BE POINTED OUT:)

  4. Anonymous
    Reviewed on Saturday, March 16, 2013
    • Value
      3 / 4
    • Recommend
      3 / 4
    • Results
      3 / 4
    this is NOT fragrance free!!!!
    • Sorry to create a review like this but I don't know where else to inform people that this is NOT fragrance-free!!! Paula's review highlights the alleged "fragrance-free" properties as a Pro bullet point. It is not what I would call "lightly scented" either, it is definitely a strong fragrance (and not very pleasant either). Please be careful those of you who, like myself, CANNOT TOLERATE FRAGRANCE on their skin.

    Paula's Choice Research Team Response
    Replied on: Monday, March 18, 2013

    Thank you so much for your comments! When we initially reviewed LYTERA, we overlooked that one of the ingredients could be a fragrance ingredient. We did go back and amend the review in February to mention that this was the case; however we did not delete the bullet point labeling the product "fragrance-free." We've since gone back and corrected this. Thank you for bringing this to our attention!

    —Paula's Choice Research Team

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About the Experts

Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books on skin care and makeup. She is known worldwide as the Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula's Choice. Paula's expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international television including:

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The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to helping you find the absolute best products for your skin, using research-based criteria to review beauty products from an honest, balanced perspective. Each member of the team was personally trained by Paula herself.

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