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What Is Cysteamine Cream, and How Does It Work?

woman applying Cysteamine cream to her shoulder

With the endless supply of skincare products out there, each claiming to do either one particular thing or seven miracles in a single bottle, it can get overwhelming and confusing trying to keep them straight. Which product does what? Which product is best for me? Will this product actually work? You’ve got a ton of questions, and we get the frustration.

Today we’re talking about cysteamine, and if you struggle with any type of unwanted hyperpigmentation, we’ve got the answers to all of your questions below.


So, What Is Cysteamine?

Cysteamine is a skin-lightening agent that works by reducing the amount of an amino acid known as L-cystine, or cystine. By reducing the amounts of cystine in the body, cysteamine helps to decrease the synthesis of melanin, thus helping combat dark spots and hyperpigmentation.

When used topically, such as in a cream, cysteamine can help lighten areas of the skin that have darkened due to any type of localized increase in melanin. No matter your skin tone, you can be affected by different types of hyperpigmentation such as melasma or inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

Other types of hyperpigmentation that cysteamine may help reduce include:

Hormonal melasma, often called “The Pregnancy Mask.” Lentigo, or “liver spots.” Perioral Hyperpigmentation (darkening around the mouth). Periorbital Hyperpigmentation (darkening around the eyes).

Read on for more details of what cysteamine is and how it works.

What Does It Do?

Get ready; there’s quite a bit of science involved. Cysteamine is a naturally occurring antioxidant that can be found in the human body. This antioxidant can do many things within the body’s cells, including reducing copper and iron ions, increasing glutathione, and controlling melanin-producing tyrosinase. Say what, right? Let’s just say that all of these things affect stubborn dark patches developing on your skin.

The easier to understand, slightly less scientific version of is this:

cysteamine hydrochloride, the main component of the cream, can help metabolize and break down melanin, which reduces the appearance of hyperpigmentation. Whew. Goodbye, dark spots… Hello, even, glowing skin!

Is it Safe?

Of course, safety is everyone’s number one concern. No matter how well something might perform, the last thing we want is for it to do more harm than good.

We all have heard that “our skin is our largest organ,” and we absorb so much of our environment, good and bad, through it every day. So obviously, whatever we place directly on our skin needs to be as safe as possible.

As mentioned before, cysteamine is a naturally occurring antioxidant within our bodies. Scientists have been researching the safety and use of it since way back in the 1960s. From the beginning, it showed promise in reducing melanin during different clinical trials, and in 2010 was approved to be used topically to help battle unwanted dark spots.

Luckily for those dealing with all types of hyperpigmentation issues, cysteamine is generally safe for almost anyone to use, but some mild side effects may occur in some users.

Skin redness, dryness, and temporary tingling are the only side effects that have been reported while using cysteamine. However, people who have vitiligo or pregnant women or are breastfeeding should not use it, as there haven’t been many studies conducted on its safety in these scenarios. If in doubt, reach out to your doctor. Safety first!

How Do I Use It?

Generally, cysteamine is applied topically to the skin of your entire face (not just darker areas) once a day. You begin the process by waiting at least one hour after washing your face to apply the cream to reduce the risk of irritation.

After applying and waiting the recommended amount of time (usually 15-20 minutes), the cream is gently washed off the skin. After patting your face dry, apply a moisturizer, and you’re good to go until the next evening.

If your skin tolerates the cream well with no redness or irritation, you can increase the time you let the cream do its magic before washing it off. If you encounter some redness or dryness, you can give your skin a little break for a few days and slowly start working it back into your daily routine.

Many cysteamine products are approved for long-term use. You can continue using a cream as directed for around four to six months and then move into a maintenance phase of using it a couple of times a week. Maintenance is key, as skin tone has been shown to improve even after the initial period of daily use. The longer you use cysteamine, the more results you will see.

As always, the best way to maintain your glowing skin is to use quality sunscreen. Even though cysteamine does not cause photosensitivity and can be used year-round, sunscreen is a must. Certain types of hyperpigmentation can be hormonal or genetic, but it is most often caused by spending time out in the sun without sunscreen.

A great way to follow up after using any kind of skin treatment is Urban Skin Rx® Sheerglow™ Even Tone Daily Defense Mineral Moisturizer SPF 30. With Sheerglow™, you get a powerful mineral-based SPF of 30 to protect you from hyperpigmentation causing UVA and UVB rays, all with zero white casts left on your skin. You have to protect all that hard work you’ve done to get that gorgeous skin, and you should look flawless while doing it!

What Can I Expect?

We have all been let down by a product that had promised to perform a miracle that ends up falling drastically short. The amount of time and money wasted really adds up, and the experience can be so disappointing. How many bottles of serum or tubes of cream have we all thrown away over the years because they just did not work like they were supposed to?

As we mentioned before, cysteamine has been studied for decades, and the research has shown really promising results in reducing the appearance of melasma and other forms of hyperpigmentation.

If the results really are as great as they seem to be, you could start to see a considerably more even skin tone in as little as eight weeks.

It has also been suggested that cysteamine can pull double duty while using it with other products formulated to help with hyperpigmentation issues. And of course, we have the perfect product to pair with it.

We love our Retinol Rapid Repair & Dark Spot Treatment, which packs a punch by helping with fading dark spots or acne scars and improves the look of fine lines and wrinkles. We call so many benefits from a single product a definite glow-win!

Other Urban Skin Rx® products that would work great alongside cysteamine:

Where Can I Buy It?

We know this stuff sounds great, and we want to get it ASAP, too! Unfortunately, it’s not something that can be found at your neighborhood drugstore. Cysteamine creams are only sold under one brand name, and can only be purchased through an authorized clinic, which means you will need to see a doctor in order to get your hands on it.

The great thing about going through a doctor’s office to get cysteamine is having the chance to talk with a professional about if the product is right for you. A clinician will answer all your questions and discuss the safety and efficacy based on your personal needs.

Cysteamine really does seem to be a product that lives up to the hype. It’s been proven over decades to be both safe to use for most people and highly effective in reducing the appearance of all types of hyperpigmentation.

One of the best parts, it works in a relatively short amount of time… so you can have even, beautiful skin before you know it. If you want to add a gorgeous glow on top of it, take our Skin Quiz to learn which of our products will work the best for your skin type and needs!

By: Ivey Rogers Aesthetician Educator & Community
Engagement Manager