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Ingredients

Last Updated Feb 24, 2024

Alpha Arbutin :: Ingredient Review

Author
|
Board-Certified Dermatologist
Dr. Muneeb Shah

Overall Ranking

What is alpha-arbutin?

Alpha-arbutin is derived from plants such as bearberry, cranberry, and blueberry. It has natural skin lightening properties and is composed of hydroquinone + D-glucose.

How does alpha-arbutin work?

Alpha-Arbutin works by inhibiting the production of melanin, which is responsible for dark spots and uneven skin tone. When applied to the skin, alpha-arbutin releases a small amount of hydroquinone. The mechanism by which it inhibits pigment production is thought to be unrelated to the release of hydroquinone.

What are the benefits of using alpha-arbutin in skincare products?

  • Improves skin tone
  • Treats hyperpigmentation / dark spots

What are the risks of alpha-arbutin?

  • Allergy / irritation (low risk)
  • Paradoxical hyperpigmentation (one study showed arbutin could actually make pigmentation worse)
  • Exogenous ochronosis (permanent discoloration from the release of hydroquinone)

Is it safe to use alpha-arbutin long term?

Alpha-arbutin releases a small amount of hydroquinone when applied to the skin. Depending on the formulation and stability, there are conflicting studies on how much hydroquinone is released. Alpha-arbutin is generally considered safe when used in concentrations less than 2%. However, many patients start using an arbutin product after cycling off of hydroquinone. Given that alpha-arbutin is known to release hydroquinone, we do not recommend arbutin in patients who have used hydroquinone recently.

What percentage of alpha-arbutin should I look for?

Less than 2% in face creams.

How does alpha-arbutin compare to other hyperpigmentation ingredients?

Learn more about other ingredients to treat dark spots here.

How do I use alpha-arbutin in my skincare routine?

Cleanse
  • Use a gentle cleanser
Treat
  • Apply arbutin morning or night
Protect
  • Apply a tinted sunscreen with SPF 30 in the AM
  • Apply a moisturizer in the PM

 

Doctor's Note

Alpha arbutin is an effective ingredient used to treat dark spots

Arbutin works by blocking pigment production and releases a small amount of hydroquinone

Be cautious with long-term use of alpha-arbutin or hydroquinone

Look for concentrations less than 2%

The Research

  • Sarkar R, Arora P, Garg KV. Cosmeceuticals for Hyperpigmentation: What is Available? J Cutan Aesthet Surg. 2013
  • Wang W, Gao Y, Wang W, Zhang J, Yin J, Le T, Xue J, Engelhardt UH, Jiang H. Kojic Acid Showed Consistent Inhibitory Activity on Tyrosinase from Mushroom and in Cultured B16F10 Cells Compared with Arbutins. Antioxidants (Basel). 2022 Mar 4;11(3):502. doi: 10.3390/antiox11030502. PMID: 35326152; PMCID: PMC8944748.
  • Boo YC. Arbutin as a Skin Depigmenting Agent with Antimelanogenic and Antioxidant Properties. Antioxidants (Basel). 2021 Jul 15;10(7):1129. doi: 10.3390/antiox10071129. PMID: 34356362; PMCID: PMC8301119.

Dr. Muneeb Shah

Board-Certified Dermatologist

Dr. Muneeb Shah headshot

Dr. Muneeb Shah

Board-Certified Dermatologist

Dr. Muneeb Shah is a double Board-Certified Dermatologist and Micrographic Dermatologic Surgeon in Hudson Yards, New York. He is passionate about educating the public on common skin issues and has accrued a following of 21+ million across his social media platforms on TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube.

Location: New York City, NY

Doctor's Note

Alpha arbutin is an effective ingredient used to treat dark spots

Arbutin works by blocking pigment production and releases a small amount of hydroquinone

Be cautious with long-term use of alpha-arbutin or hydroquinone

Look for concentrations less than 2%

The Research

  • Sarkar R, Arora P, Garg KV. Cosmeceuticals for Hyperpigmentation: What is Available? J Cutan Aesthet Surg. 2013
  • Wang W, Gao Y, Wang W, Zhang J, Yin J, Le T, Xue J, Engelhardt UH, Jiang H. Kojic Acid Showed Consistent Inhibitory Activity on Tyrosinase from Mushroom and in Cultured B16F10 Cells Compared with Arbutins. Antioxidants (Basel). 2022 Mar 4;11(3):502. doi: 10.3390/antiox11030502. PMID: 35326152; PMCID: PMC8944748.
  • Boo YC. Arbutin as a Skin Depigmenting Agent with Antimelanogenic and Antioxidant Properties. Antioxidants (Basel). 2021 Jul 15;10(7):1129. doi: 10.3390/antiox10071129. PMID: 34356362; PMCID: PMC8301119.

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