Hey welcome to SCT!
There are plenty of threads on here to help you with your questions but we understand it can be quite overwhelming. From what I gather, you have up to 2 months and you want to see some results by then? What I would suggest is not to jump straight to HQ4% because it probably wouldn't even work for you. What you need to do first is understand the basics of skin lightening in order to determine what products are best for you depending on what results you want to achieve.
The basics of skin lightening are:
Exfoliation: this is always the first step and will always occur whenever you want to lighten, have blemish-free skin, get rid of or prevent wrinkles, etc... You can do this a number of different ways, but this is what I would recommend for you:
- Purchase an exfoliating soap (I would suggest Likas Papaya Soap as it is mild and great for beginners)
- Invest in Exfoliating Gloves/Cloths/Mitts to (gently) scrub skin with a couple of times a week.
- Buy Dead Sea Salt Soap to use in the shower once or twice a week, OR take a weekly 45 min salt bath (half cup of salt+drop of lavender+drop of olive oil)
- Get a Lactic Acid Peel or Glycolic Acid Peel and mix with your favourite lotion (for percentages, check the DIY section or use the search function to find related threads)
Please please be careful and be patient with your skin, over-exfoliation is not pretty and scrubbing your skin to death does not get results quicker. Also please be very careful with the above acids, though they are Alpha Hydroxy Acids and therefore the mildest of peels, they are still acids and burns happen all the time if you don't do your research and use them properly.
Sidenote- you had asked about Retin A? This is mainly used for acne-prone skin but a lot of SCT users use it to help their lighteners penetrate further and to encourage peeling & collagen production. Please note that you should do extensive research on this and maybe even speak to your dermatologist before buying.
Lightening: this is where you would incorporate a product that contains active ingredients that inhibit melanin production. I honestly don't think you should use a lightener until your body is exfoliated as it is kind of like a waste of the lightener (it won't penetrate far enough to be effective when you have all that dead skin in the way). The best way is to incorporate a lightener after 4-6 weeks of solid exfoliation. HOWEVER, if you do choose to use a lightener, I would recommend:
- Nadinola Extra Strength (can be expensive to ship as there are no UK sellers of this)
These are just HQ creams, there are many other lighteners available that do NOT use HQ. Again, you need to be careful when trying out lighteners. Everybody's skin tolerates things differently, so please pay attention to your skin if you choose to use HQ. There are plenty of products out there, and most have been used by SCT members so if you come across anything you haven't heard of, search it's name using the search function, or type in the name of the product + SCT into Google and something is bound to come up. Also, there are threads on all natural lightening which you should maybe have a peek at.
Sidenote- natural serums are great for lightening at any stage in your regimen, so invest in some l-ascorbic acid powder and/or some niacinamide, and make your own serums! These actives are water soluble and are super easy to make.
Moisturising: this is hugely important for healthy skin in general, but particularly for skin that is subject to exfoliation and lightening. This can all be very drying on the skin so you need to make sure you restore the skin's moisture. This can be done by incorporating things like Vitamin E oil, Jojoba oil, Coconut oil, Eucerin lotion, Cocoa Butter, and Shea Butter into your regimen.
Skin Building: this is important for people those who lighten and exfoliate because stripping away layers of the skin can be dangerous and cause skin thinning. You need to research all the ways you can get your collagen production up. Luckily AHAs encourage cell turnover, but to be on the safe side I use things like Emu Oil and St Ives Collagen Elastin Lotion. Some research has shown that creams containing collagen don't work because the collagen molecules are too large to be absorbed by the skin, but I like the St Ives lotion because it moisturises very well for me too.
Protection: this is the most CRUCIAL element of lightening! You could have the most solid effective regimen in the world but if you go out unprotected in the sun, all your progress will go down the toilet. SAP SAP SAP SAP!!!! Have you read this around the forum? It means Sun Avoidance & Protection. Whether its sunny or rainy (and you're from the UK so you know its mostly rainy lol) you have to use a physical sunblock to protect your skin from UVA and UVB damage. Chemical sunscreens are mostly ineffective, and you can read about that on several threads as well as on online articles. The ingredient to look out for is zinc oxide. There are plenty of zinc oxide sunblocks out there, like Devita and Badger.
Initial Regimen Example
OK so now you have an idea of how to lighten and what type of products to buy, I thought I'd share an example of a great way to start your skin care regimen:
Face - Morning
Wash with Likas (leave soap on for 5 mins before washing off)
Apply Vitamin C serum
Face - Evening
Wash with Likas
Apply Niacinamide serum
Apply LA or GA exfoliating lotion (low %) - 3 times a week
Moisturise if need be
Wash with Likas 6 times a week and Dead Sea Salt Soap once a week
Apply serum of choice
Apply LA or GA exfoliating lotion (can be higher %, up to 15%) - 3/4 times a week
Moisturise if need be
Obviously the above regimen is just to give you an idea... you can do less, you can do more (be careful), you can steadily increase your tolerance of different stuff, you can incorporate a lightener.... it's up to you. The thing is, we here at SCT can only talk about what has worked for us and discuss products and ingredients. We can't tell you what will work for you 100% because everyone is different. But I hope the above info has helped even a little bit just so you can understand why we use certain products in certain ways. One thing I will say is using the search funtion (or Google) is a great way to find out answers to any queries you have, and also to see genuine reviews on products rather than marketing
So be careful, listen to your skin, research EVERYTHING, and keep us posted on your progress
Oh and remember.. slow and steady wins the race