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Alpha Arbutin: Everything to Know

Last modified on August 10th, 2023

If you want a product to help with brightening your skin, scars, or hyperpigmentation, you might want to try alpha arbutin. Features include:

  • An extract from berries
  • Can help with sun damage
  • May fade scars from acne damage
  • Brightens the appearance of skin
  • Reduces hyperpigmentation

The product is known as a safer alternative to hydroquinone, which is a skin-lightening ingredient. The need for a safer option is important. Hydroquinone is banned in Europe and Australia because it has dangerous bleaching properties.

Alpha arbutin has many of the same benefits but without the risks.

Below we’ll let you know everything that’s relevant about this skincare ingredient and highlight our favorite product.

What is Alpha Arbutin?

Also called arbutin, it’s derived from berries like blueberries and cranberries. It’s a natural antioxidant and brightener. Using products with this ingredient helps brighten skin. It can also reduce the formation of melanin. The result is fewer freckles, age spots, and melasma. The ingredient can also help with post-inflammatory pigmentation.

It’s a variation of hydroquinone. Hydroquinone is considered the best available product for skin lightening, but it’s not necessarily safe, which is why alpha-arbutin is a better option. Arbutin is less toxic than hydroquinone and less irritation.

Using this product slows the maturation of melanosomes. Melanosome synthesizes and then store melanin. Melanin is pigment. It’s a tyrosinase competitive inhibitor.

This means that the ingredient can act on two types pigmentation.

Melanin is derived from tyrosine, which is an amino acid. Tyrosinase is an enzyme that regulates this conversion.

The structure is similar to tyrosine. So what does that mean?

It can compete with tyrosine without being toxic. Through the targeting of tyrosinase, alpha arbutin is a skin brightener.

Every time you’re exposed to UV rays, the tyrosinase on your melanocyte cells is activated. Arbutin blocks this activation, which reduces pigmentation from UV rays.

Using it might give you benefits like reduced pigmentation from the sun, without increased sun sensitivity. Arbutin can even out skin tone and reduce inflammation. It’s also helpful for dealing with the loss of elasticity.

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Who Should Use It?

The product can work well for a variety of needs, but if you have age spots, hyperpigmentation or sun damage, consider using alpha-arbutin. For redness, uneven skin tone, or acne scars, it may also help improve the condition and appearance of your skin.

If you have sensitive skin, it may be a good option for you because it’s gentler than other brightening products like glycolic acid and retinol.

Arbutin is safe for all skin tones, including dark and light skin. The product doesn’t affect naturally dark skin. Instead, it lightens pigmentation that isn’t normally caused by melasma, age spots, acne scars, or sunspots.

Arbutin doesn’t permanently lighten or bleach skin. It’s not destroying melanin, but instead, it’s changing its production. If you did use arbutin and feel that you got too much of a lightening effect, if you stopped using it, that would go away.

The general consensus is that arbutin works well for not only all skin tones but also skin types.

What Are the Benefits?

The benefits include:

  • Arbutin works to inhibit tyrosinase activity which then limits the product of melanin by your skin. That means fewer dark spots, less pigmentation, and a more even complexion.
  • It’s great for post-acne redness and scaring, as well as age spots.
  • For melasma, particularly from being in the sun, alpha arbutin may help.
  • Your skin will look brighter in addition to more even.
  • Arbutin is a safer alternative to hydroquinone, with many of the benefits and not the side effects.
  • The product is relatively gentle.
  • Arbutin tends to be safe to use in combination with other skincare products. We couldn’t find any known negative interactions between it and other ingredients.

Kojic Acid or Alpha Arbutin?

Alpha arbutin is often compared to kojic acid because both are used for hyperpigmentation.

Kojic acid is a natural skin brightener that can gently illuminate your complexion. Kojic acid works by blocking tyrosinase, the enzyme that produces melanin. Kojic acid also has antimicrobial, antioxidant, and exfoliating properties.

The biggest difference between the two ingredients is that kojic acid tends to oxidize or react with oxygen. That means that when you store it, it could be damaged by exposure to light, heat and air. Then, it’s not as potent. Arbutin is easier to store and you’ll likely get more use out of it since you don’t have the oxidation concern. Otherwise, the two are very similar in their effects and benefits.

How to Use Alpha Arbutin

You can use arbutin twice a day. Apply it in the morning and the evening, and since it is pretty gentle, you can also combine it with something like vitamin C or an AHA product. Applying it with an AHA will actually help you absorb more.

Your skin should be clean and dry before applying.

You should also keep in mind that fading hyperpigmentation and scars can take some time, so results won’t be instant.

Keep up your routine with alpha arbutin and use it daily.

Are There Side Effects?

Alpha arbutin is considered to be a broadly safe skincare product. However, if you use a product that has concentrations above anywhere from 3 to 4%, in some rare cases, you could experience a reaction.

Side effects of using high concentration arbutin can include skin irritation, sun sensitivity, or redness. Again, these are rare, even when using a high-concentration product.

Do a patch test before you start using any new product, including one with arbutin.

If you’re going to wear a product with this ingredient during the day, you should wear sun protection on top of it.

The Best Alpha Arbutin Products

Below are our picks for some of the best products with this ingredient and a few things to know about each.

The Ordinary Alpha Arbutin

This is hands-down our favorite product with this ingredient. The Ordinary Alpha Arbutin 2% + HA is a standout, and it’s incredibly affordable.

It’s top-rated among many users. Users say that it helps fade dark spots, particularly ones that came from sun damage. Along with helping with dark spots and sun damage, users say that it helps plump fine lines and gives their skin a better tone.

Many users find that they started to notice results within just a few days of using The Ordinary Alpha Arbutin. There are also users who say it helps with their otherwise very stubborn melasma.

The Ordinary Alpha Arbutin is a 2% concentration, so it shouldn’t be irritating for the majority of users. It also contains hyaluronic acid.

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Cream for Sensitive Areas Pearl Bright Dark Spot Corrector

This is a higher concentration product that contains 4% arbutin along with licorice and mulberry extract. This cream can be used on areas all over your body, such as the inner thigh area or under the arms.

Users say it’s a highly effective lotion for brightening and helping with varied pigmentation. Reviews also indicate it leaves the user’s skin feeling soft and healthy after they apply it.

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Natrium Alpha Arbutin Serum 2%

This top-rated product from Natrium can help even out your complexion, and it contains not only arbutin but also niacinamide and lemon. It can help with environmental stress and dark spots, as well as skin inflammation. It’s non-irritating for the majority of people, and it’s a relatively affordable product.

This formula is clean, non-toxic, and cruelty-free.  It’s made with botanical and marine-based ingredients and it also contains hyaluronic acid.

You can use this Natrium serum morning and evening, and it’s good for all types of skin, including sensitive and dry skin.

Users describe this product as a game-changer. Users say they find that it’s light and not sticky and also hydrating.

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Frequently Asked Questions

The following are some of the most common questions about this product and how to use it.

What is Alpha Arbutin?

This ingredient is a beauty product that can help with hyperpigmentation, melasma, scarring and signs of aging. It is often considered a safer alternative to something called hydroquinone. Hydroquinone is effective for melasma and dark spots but also has serious side effects, whereas alpha-arbutin doesn’t.

How Do You Use Arbutin?

You can use alpha-arbutin in both the morning and the evening. It’s also gentle enough that you can combine it with other skincare products like vitamin C without worrying about interactions. If you use alpha arbutin in the morning, apply it to clean, dry skin. You should apply sunscreen on top of it because it can make you more sensitive to the sun.

What Not to Use with Alpha Arbutin?

Overall it’s considered safe to apply alpha arbutin to your skin with other ingredients. The most popular combination can be alpha arbutin with either vitamin c or niacinamide. Don’t, however, combine vitamin C with niacinamide at the same time. Use either or because the two don’t go well together.

What Does Alpha Arbutin Do Chemically?

Alpha arbutin works by inhibiting the activity of something called tyrosinase. That activity, in turn, limits melanin production in your skin. Melanin is the pigmentation that’s responsible for dark spots and hyperpigmentation. When you have less tyrosine, you will have a more even complexion overall.

The Ordinary Alpha Arbutin—How To Use It?

To use the Ordinary Alpha Arbutin, which is a serum, you can simply clean your face and then apply a few drops in the morning and evening. You can use it before you add other creams, oils or moisturizers. Apply sunscreen when you wear it during the day.

Where To Purchase Alpha Arbutin?

Above we highlighted some great products with this ingredient. Each is available on Amazon, which we linked to above. You can also buy The Ordinary’s products from their website or retailers like Ulta.

How to Use Alpha Arbutin Powder?

Some people prefer to use an alpha arbutin powder. To do this, you would buy the powder and then carefully dissolve it in water first. You shouldn’t add the powder directly to any skincare products without first dissolving it. Once it’s dissolved you can add it to creams or other products. We don’t necessarily recommend using alpha arbutin powder because it can be complicated and you need tools like a scale to make sure you’re getting the right combination.

If you use too much or don’t mix it correctly, it can cause irritation and other side effects.

Alpha Arbutin and Niacinamide, Which First?

If you’re going to use the popular combination, you may be wondering between arbutin and niacinamide, which first.

Niacinamide is a water-soluble vitamin also known as vitamin B3. It can help improve uneven skin tone, diminish wrinkles and fine lines, get rid of dullness, and generally improve the appearance of your skin. It can also help alleviate signs of environmental damage. You can see how it might work synergistically with alpha arbutin.

If your main concerns are melasma, hyperpigmentation, or dark spots, use alpha arbutin first. Then, let it dry for a few minutes and add a layer of niacinamide.

On the other hand, if you have oily skin or you’re worried about sebum production or clogged pores, then you should begin your routine with niacinamide and then add alpha arbutin.

How Effective is the Ordinary Alpha Arbutin Serum for Age Spot Removal on the Face?

While it may not work for everyone, which is always the case with skincare products, overall, The Ordinary’s Alpha Arbutin has great reviews for age spots and seems to work well for many people. Just remember that consistency is key to really see benefits. You’re not going to see benefits overnight.

Final Thoughts

If you have concerns over sun damage, age spots, melasma, scarring or hyperpigmentation, which so many people do, we advise that you consider trying a product with alpha arbutin. It’s a wonderful skincare product with a lot of great benefits. The Ordinary has an especially good alpha-arbutin product, but there are others as well.

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