Arbutin in Skincare, Explained

Arbutin in Skincare

Alpha arbutin or arbutin is touted to be one of the most promising skincare ingredients to target hyperpigmentation, uneven skin tone, dark spots, and other kinds of skin discolorations. It’s positioned itself next to some sought-after skin brighteners like vitamin C, kojic acid, and tranexamic acid.

So if your current anti-hyperpigmentation routine isn’t working for you, you might want to consider arbutin. And to save you time and trouble, I’ve put together everything you need to know. Keep reading to learn about how arbutin works in skincare, its benefits, and how to properly use it.

What Is Arbutin?

Arbutin is a plant-derived compound used in skincare products to treat hyperpigmentation 1. It’s a derivative of hydroquinone, which is considered to be the most effective ingredient to reduce discolorations.

Arbutin is commonly derived from leaves of berries like cranberry, and bearberry as beta arbutin. Recently, its synthetic form alpha arbutin is becoming more popular because it’s more stable and more potent than beta arbutin 2.

Arbutin is a tyrosinase inhibitor, which is an enzyme that starts the process of melanin production, which leads to the formation of dark spots. By preventing the activity of this enzyme, arbutin prevents hyperpigmentation.

Benefits of Arbutin for the Skin

1. It Treats Hyperpigmentation

The most important benefit of arbutin is its ability to treat and prevent hyperpigmentation. Tyrosinase is the most important enzyme responsible for starting the cycle of melanin production.

By reducing its activity, arbutin prevents the formation of dark spots. As dark spots are the main culprits of an uneven skin tone, arbutin can help you achieve a more even skin tone by fading dark spots.

2. Arbutin is Gentler

Most skincare ingredients that promise to fade dark spots are irritating to the skin. A good example of this is hydroquinone. It can cause dryness, sensitivity, redness, and irritation.

Contrary to hydroquinone, arbutin is gentler on the skin and is suitable for most skin types. And because of that, arbutin makes it easy for people with sensitive skin to deal with dark spots.

3. Better for Darker Skin Tones

People with darker skin tones are more prone to irritation and hyperpigmentation from using active ingredients. So you need to be selective with what you use to treat discolorations on darker skin tones. Arbutin makes an excellent choice as it’s super gentle on the skin.

Drawbacks of Arbutin

From what I’ve read, which confirmed what I’ve experienced with my own arbutin products, arbutin seems to be generally safe to use.

However, I’ve read that arbutin is more effective in higher concentrations and that higher concentrations can lead to more hyperpigmentation 3.

Even though this is something to keep in mind, I don’t think you should look for this ingredient in higher concentrations in your products.

Arbutin is touted to be a safer alternative for people who can’t tolerate hydroquinone or the like. So if you already have sensitive skin, you should avoid products with active ingredients in strong concentrations.

Who Should Use Arbutin?

While anyone can simply go for it, certain people can benefit from arbutin more. For example, people with mature skin types usually deal with sensitivity too.

And this makes it difficult to tackle hyperpigmentation on aging skin. If that’s you, and you can’t seem to make hydroquinone or ascorbic acid work for your skin, you can try arbutin.

Similarly, if you have a darker skin tone and your skin negatively reacts to active ingredients, you can try arbutin to fade scars and spots without causing post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

How To Use Arbutin in Skincare

Arbutin is commonly found in many skincare products like daily creams and serums and they can be used once or twice daily. Also, arbutin is sometimes paired with other brighteners like vitamin C, tranexamic acid, and azelaic acid.

When layering your products, keep the other ingredients in mind too. And avoid layering too many active ingredients which can lead to irritation.

Additionally, it’s one thing when your product contains both vitamin C and arbutin. But it’s another thing when you use an arbutin product followed by a vitamin C product.

Even though arbutin is a gentle ingredient, you should always start slowly when using a new active ingredient and incorporate it into your routine gradually.

Read Next: Best Alpha Arbutin Serums


  1. Bandyopadhyay D. (2009). Topical treatment of melasma. Indian journal of dermatology54(4), 303–309. ↩︎
  2. Baran, R., & Maibach, H. I. (2017). Hyperpigmentation [E-book]. In Textbook of Cosmetic Dermatology (p. 153). Taylor & Francis. ↩︎
  3. Davis, E. C., & Callender, V. D. (2010). Postinflammatory hyperpigmentation: a review of the epidemiology, clinical features, and treatment options in skin of colorThe Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology3(7), 20–31. ↩︎
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