Simplifying Skincare
3 min readJun 9, 2022

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Arbutin in skincare: Does it work?

Photo by Hichem Dahmani on Unsplash

Rough, bumpy skin texture, and sun spots can actually age you more than those pesky wrinkles and crow’s feet. While there are products on the market that promise to even out and brighten the skin, they can be too harsh for sensitive skin. So let me introduce you to a much gentler brightening ingredient that works for all skin types.

Arbutin, also referred to as “natural hydroquinone” is a plant-derived antioxidant and skin brightener. It is naturally found in a variety of plant species with the highest concentrations found in bearberry and mulberry plants.

How does arbutin work?

Tyrosinase is an enzyme that is produced in our melanocytes (cells that produce the pigment melanin) and is responsible for the pigment in our skin. It gets activated when it comes in contact with UV light — which means that the more time you spend in the sun the more likely you are to get sun spots, freckles, and age spots. This is where arbutin works its magic — it blocks tyrosinase and helps keep dark spots at bay, giving skin an even and brighter tone.

Arbutin benefits for skin

  1. Offers sun protection properties — This is one of the most important benefits of arbutin. According to research, it inhibits the production of tyrosinase thus stopping the dark spots even before they can form.
  2. Improves uneven skin tone and brightens skinResearch suggests that it can fade existing dark spots giving skin a more even and brighter complexion. It is particularly useful to get rid of those stubborn acne scars that continue to linger long after the acne is gone.
  3. Gentle on skin — Arbutin is extremely gentle on skin unlike many other skin brightening ingredients that can dry and irritate the skin. Its active ingredient gets released slowly into the skin making it less irritating and perfect for people with sensitive skin.
  4. Safer than hydroquinone — Hydroquinone is often considered the gold standard when it comes to treating hyperpigmentation. However, its use has been associated with adverse side effects such as
  • skin irritation and exogenous ochronosis (a condition where the prolonged use of hydroquinone causes rebound pigmentation, worse than before and typically blue-black in color) in dark-skinned people;
  • damaging/killing the skin cells that produce melanin as opposed to arbutin that works by blocking excess melanin

5. Can be used two times a day — For best results arbutin can be used both morning and night

6. Doesn’t conflict with other skincare ingredients — Arbutin pairs well with other skincare active ingredients such as Vitamin C, retinoids, or chemical exfoliants. So go ahead and layer as you like.

Side effects of arbutin

According to research, Arbutin has no side effects; it is completely safe and a very effective ingredient for skin brightening. But as with any new product it is always recommended to do a patch test first.

How to use arbutin in your skincare routine

  1. Look for a product containing alpha-arbutin since that’s more effective than other forms of arbutin. You’ll often see alpha-arbutin or beta-arbutin on the ingredient list. Beta-arbutin is the plant-derived form of arbutin whereas alpha-arbutin is its synthetic form. When it comes to mechanism of action they both work the same way to brighten skin. However, research (study 1 and study 2) suggests that alpha-arbutin is more stable (i.e. it doesn’t degrade in heat or light) and estimated to be 10 times stronger than beta-arbutin.
  2. Use both morning and night
  3. Arbutin generally comes in serum form so apply right after cleansing, and then follow that with your usual skincare routine
  4. Pair arbutin with other skin brightening ingredients such as Vitamin C or chemical exfoliants to maximize skin brightening effects. Also remember to use caution when introducing too many new products.
  5. Look for arbutin concentrations of 2% or less since that is the optimal percentage

Product picks:

Naturium alpha arbutin serum 2%

The Ordinary alpha arbutin 2%

The bottom line

Arbutin is a gentle, stable, and an extremely effective skin brightening ingredient — which means it is a must have if you’re dealing with hyperpigmentation in any form (age spots, dark spots, acne marks).

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Simplifying Skincare

Glow getter for Skin of Color | Expert tips for Radiant Skin | Lets shine together! Certified multitasker juggling a 9-5 in finance, 2 kids, and a passion!