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Arbutin: The Bankable Alternative To Hydroquinone

Arbutin: The Bankable Alternative To Hydroquinone

No one likes age brown spots, acne marks, and brown patches of melasma. Several factors contribute to blotchy, uneven skin including hormones, physical skin trauma, and the most common trigger, exposure to sunlight.

While you may enjoy basking in the sun, your skin may not necessarily have the best time. Nearly 1/3rd of all women are at risk of developing dark spots or hyperpigmentation due to UV radiations from the sun. Of course, the best way to avoid dark spots is to use good sun-protection.

But what if you already spent a good amount of time outdoors in summer? Or have already developed dark spots due to acne or hormones? How can you diminish the appearance of these unsightly blemishes?

What is arbutin?

A common treatment to fade acne scars and age dark spots is the use of skin-whitening agents to slowly reduce the pigment that is stored within that patch. Until recently, hydroquinone ruled the world of skin-whitening agents. This was before studies found that it had disastrous side-effects and caused bigger problems than the ones it set out to solve. The search for safer alternatives began.

It is around this time that researchers focused their work on Arbutin. A botanical extract that is found in many common plants including lingonberries, oregano, pears, wheat, tea and coffee, Arbutin is fast emerging as the alternative to hydroquinone.

The molecular formula of arbutin is C12H16O7. There are two forms of Arbutin: α-arbutin and β-arbutin. Studies show that α-arbutin has stronger results when used to treat hyperpigmentation. However, β-arbutin has a wider range of skin cells that it can act on. A combination of the two yields the best effects, according to researchers. A study from 2014 showed that using skin care products containing 1% arbutin reduced melanin amounts in the skin after one month of use.

Should you be concerned about using it?

The Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) has reviewed the safety of Arbutin and has concluded its safety. Face creams can contain up to 2% α-arbutin and 7% β-arbutin, and body lotions can contain up to 0.5% α-arbutin. Therefore, any skincare product that you buy over the counter will be safe to use.

How does it work?

Arbutin has all the goodness of hydroquinone by fading dark spots and acne blemishes minus the side effects. It also works in nearly the same way. Arbutin prevents more melanin from forming by inhibiting enzymes that are needed to make melanin, such as tyrosinase, DOPA oxidase, and tyrosine hydroxylase. The activity of arbutin is further augmented if used in combination of antioxidants such as ascorbic acid (vitamin C). Arbutin also protects against the formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) that are a result of UV-exposure.

Arbutin inhibits melanin production while leaving your genetic material and cell functions intact, which is something hydroquinone is notorious for messing with. Arbutin is also safe to use in higher concentrations like at 10%,but when using it, one must take some care. The repeated use of high concentrations of arbutin can be problematic as this has not been tested yet.


Arbutin is a safe option for anyone looking for a good skin-whitening agent. It is effective and safe even at higher concentrations. While it can lighten your dark spots and hyperpigmented marks, formulations containing arbutin are also great to protect your skin from the sun.

It works well with all skin types and skin tones, and if you are looking to solve that patchiness of your skin, arbutin is a good ingredient to use without limited risk in skin irritation.


  • Piotr Migas, Mirosława Krauze-Baranowska. Phytochemistry Letter. Department of Pharmacognosy with Medicinal Plants Garden, Medical University of Gdańsk, Gen. J. Haller Str. 107, Poland. The significance of arbutin and its derivatives in therapy and cosmetics
  • Wenyuan Zhu, Jie Gao. Journal of Investigative Dermatology Symposium Proceedings. Volume 13, Issue 1, April 2008, Pages 20-24. The Use of Botanical Extracts as Topical Skin-Lightening Agents for the Improvement of Skin Pigmentation Disorders.
  • Seo, DH., Jung, JH., Ha, SJ. et al. Applied Microbiology Biotechnology (2012) 94: 1189. High-yield enzymatic bioconversion of hydroquinone to α-arbutin, a powerful skin lightening agent, by amylosucrase.
  • Nico Smit, Jana Vicanova and Stan Pavel. International Journal of Molecular Science. 2009, 10(12), 5326-5349;The Hunt for Natural Skin Whitening Agent. doi:10.3390/ijms10125326
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  • Céline Couteau and Laurence Coiffard. Cosmetics 2016, 3(3), 27. Overview of Skin Whitening Agents: Drugs and Cosmetic Products. doi:10.3390/cosmetics3030027
  • SCCS Secretariat at the European Commission, Directorate General for Health and Food Safety, 11, rue E. Ruppert, L-2920 Luxembourg, Luxembourg. Opinion of the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) – Opinion on the safety of the use of β-arbutin in cosmetic products