The regulation of melanin production is important for managing skin darkness and hyperpigmentary disorders. Numerous anti-melanogenic agents that target tyrosinase activity/stability, melanosome maturation/transfer, or melanogenesis-related signaling pathways have been developed. As a rate-limiting enzyme in melanogenesis, tyrosinase has been the most attractive target, but tyrosinase-targeted treatments still pose serious potential risks, indicating the necessity of developing lower-risk anti-melanogenic agents. Sugars are ubiquitous natural compounds found in humans and other organisms. Here, we review the recent advances in research on the roles of sugars and sugar-related agents in melanogenesis and in the development of sugar-based anti-melanogenic agents. The proposed mechanisms of action of these agents include: (a) (natural sugars) disturbing proper melanosome maturation by inducing osmotic stress and inhibiting the PI3 kinase pathway and (b) (sugar derivatives) inhibiting tyrosinase maturation by blocking N
-glycosylation. Finally, we propose an alternative strategy for developing anti-melanogenic sugars that theoretically reduce melanosomal pH by inhibiting a sucrose transporter and reduce tyrosinase activity by inhibiting copper incorporation into an active site. These studies provide evidence of the utility of sugar-based anti-melanogenic agents in managing skin darkness and curing pigmentary disorders and suggest a future direction for the development of physiologically favorable anti-melanogenic agents.
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