While vitamin C dominates the shelves of anyone seeking brighter skin, we all like to have options. After all, one type of product can’t possibly work for all types of skin. The good news is new and promising ingredients are making their way into our skincare allowing us to experiment. One such ingredient is kojic acid. Kojic acid products are the new way to target overall skin hyperpigmentation. Whether it’s in the form of dark patches and dark spots, or uneven skin tone, skincare products with kojic acid help with all kinds of unwanted hyperpigmentation.
In case you’ve missed our kojic acid guide, here’s the recap. Kojic acid is derived from various fungi and is a byproduct of fermented foods such as rice. In skincare products, kojic acid works by inhibiting the activity of an enzyme called tyrosinase. In the grand scheme of things, this enzyme is responsible for creating melanin, which pigments your skin. So kojic acid prevents hyperpigmentation by stopping melanin production at its tracks.
But in addition to its skin brightening effects, kojic acid is also anti-bacterial and helps with bacterial acne. It also possesses anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. You might be asking, what’s the catch? Well, kojic acid can be irritating especially if you have sensitive skin. Though irritation and sensitivity are more pronounced with kojic acid products containing more than 1% of the active ingredient, it’s still important to keep that in mind.
Scroll down for the best kojic acid products and how to choose one for your skin.
How to Choose
Look For Serums
Know that kojic acid products usually come in face serums as opposed to moisturizers. Because kojic acid is a treatment ingredient where brands aim to maximize its benefits by formulating it into a high penetrating product such as a face serum. So go for these types of products if you want to get the most out of kojic acid.
Look For Other Brighteners
Kojic acid is usually combined with other active ingredients for hyperpigmentation. The most common of them are vitamin C, niacinamide, tranexamic acid, and azelaic acid. This makes a lot of sense. Because skin discoloration is a complex process. And by addressing each step in this process, you increase your chances of actually getting rid of hyperpigmentation. So make sure your kojic acid product contains other de-pigmenting ingredients.
Try Multi-Action Products
When I say multi-action, I mean products that have multiple mechanisms to address hyperpigmentation. Let me elaborate. Reducing the activity of tyrosinase is only one way to get rid of hyperpigmentation. Another way would be through exfoliation. Getting rid of the outermost layer of the skin by using exfoliants like glycolic acid or salicylic acid is also a great way to fade hyperpigmentation. That’s why some kojic acid products contain exfoliants too. If your skin isn’t too sensitive and if you’re dealing with really stubborn dark spots, try these types of products for maximum results.
The Best Kojic Acid Products
1. SkinCeuticals Discoloration Defense Skin Discoloration Serum
Pros: Targeted treatment, disclosed concentration of the actives, fragrance-free
If you’re new to the ingredient, here’s the reason why this is the best kojic acid product you can get your hands on. Kojic acid is usually paired with other skin-brightening ingredients. But this one takes all those ingredients and clearly discloses the percentages. Surprisingly, disclosing the percentage is a practice many brands still refuse to follow. Besides 1% kojic acid, the serum contains 5% niacinamide and 3% tranexamic acid as well as 5% HEPES to help you get collective benefits. The latter is commonly known as sulfonic acid, which is basically a gentle skin exfoliator. The light-textured serum layers beautifully with other products and it doesn’t contain oil or fragrance, which makes it suitable for most skin types.
Key Ingredients: Kojic acid, tranexamic acid, niacinamide, HEPES
Skin Type: Dry, normal, oily, combination
Size: 1 oz
2. La Roche Posay Glycolic B5 10% Pure Glycolic Acid Serum
Pros: Exfoliates while brightening, multi-purpose treatment, free of fragrance and oil
As I’ve mentioned, kojic acid is a pigment corrector. It regulates melanin production. But that’s only one way to deal with dark spots. Another way is by exfoliating the skin. That’s why this multi-action exfoliating serum utilizes glycolic acid as well as kojic acid and tranexamic acid to cover all the bases, so to speak. By resurfacing the skin, glycolic acid reveals smoother, but more importantly, brighter skin. It’s the gold standard exfoliant people already use alone to fade surface skin discolorations. The added depigmenting ingredients, combined with glycolic acid, help you achieve an even skin tone.
Key Ingredients: Kojic acid, glycolic acid, tranexamic acid
Skin Type: All skin types
Size: 1 oz
3. Dr. Dennis Gross Clinical Grade IPL Dark Spot Correcting Serum
Pros: Contains a potent brightening blend, anti-aging, multi-tasking serum
And speaking of multi-action products, this takes things to a whole new level. The dark spot corrector combines the gentle exfoliant lactic acid with the ultimate skin brightener pure vitamin C. Lactic acid is gentler than glycolic acid but still an effective exfoliant. And obviously, vitamin C is the holy grail when it comes to getting rid of dark spots, uneven skin tone, and dull skin. And to amplify the effects, the treatment also packs arbutin, licorice extract, and azelaic acid, all of which are potent skin brighteners themselves. What I also love about it is that this is pretty anti-aging in that it contains antioxidants quercetin and ferulic acid too. So it’s great for sun-damaged, mature skin dealing with age spots.
Key Ingredients: Kojic acid, ascorbic acid, lactic acid, arbutin, azelaic acid
Skin Type: Normal, dry, combination, oily
Size: 1 oz
4. PCA Skin Pigment Gel HQ-Free
Pros: Targeted spot treatment, fast-absorbing gel base
Cons: Contains alcohol and may irritate sensitive skin
This is a kojic acid spot treatment you can use to zero in on stubborn dark spots or acne scars. It combines kojic acid with azelaic acid as well as resorcinol, another up-and-promising skin brightener. The spot treatment is pretty minimal but super effective so it’s best to just apply it on problem areas, especially if you have sensitive skin. On a side note, gel-based products tend to be more penetrating, therefore potentially more irritating. But if your skin has a high tolerance or if you have oily and acne-prone skin, this will do wonders for uneven skin tone and unwanted hyperpigmentation.
Key Ingredients: Kojic acid, azelaic acid, resorcinol
Skin Type: Normal, dry, combination, oily
Size: 1 oz
5. Urban Skin Rx Even Tone Super Glow Serum
Pros: High concentration kojic acid, glowy finish, rich in antioxidants, relatively more affordable
Cons: May irritate sensitive skin
This is actually a brightening vitamin C serum made with pure ascorbic acid. But as far as I know, this is a rare case of kojic acid in a concentration of 2%. Remember, it can be more effective but it can be more irritating too. Combined with arbutin, azelaic acid, niacinamide, and green tea extract, the serum increases radiance, minimizes discolorations, and infuses the skin with antioxidants. And because this is a vitamin C serum, it leaves a visible glow on the skin. Note that even though this serum seems budget-friendly, it’s half an ounce. It offers a great way to test out the product but still.
Key Ingredients: Kojic acid, ascorbic acid, alpha arbutin, azelaic acid, niacinamide, ferulic acid
Skin Type: All skin types, except for very sensitive skin
Size: 0.5 oz
6. Versed Weekend Glow Daily Brightening Toner
Pros: Cost-effective, multi-purpose, exfoliating and brightening, disclosed concentration of the actives
And speaking of affordable, this is actually one of the most convenient ways to incorporate kojic acid into your skincare routine. This is a daily face toner; an exfoliating one. It’s a combination of lactic acid and glycolic acid to help you remove dead skin cells from the surface of the skin and smooth out its texture. But kojic acid, combined with a vitamin C derivative, azelaic acid, and bearberry extract, makes the product an incredibly potent skin brightener. On a side note, it contains an astringent, namely witch hazel. And that can help minimize the look of pores if you have oily skin and enlarged pores too.
Key Ingredients: Kojic acid, lactic acid, glycolic acid, azelaic acid, vitamin C
Skin Type: All skin types
Size: 4 oz
7. 111Skin 3 Phase Anti Blemish Booster
Pros: Can be mixed with other products, anti-inflammatory formula, effective treatment for acne and acne marks
Cons: Higher price per ounce
If you have acne-prone skin, and you need something more potent that does something for acne too, then this serum is for you. This is a skin booster. Boosters can be used both alone or mixed with your other products. But what makes this incredibly effective for oily, blemish-prone skin is salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is the best chemical exfoliant to decongest skin, get rid of blackheads, and calm acne. It’s actually the only ingredient I use to fade my period acne. But that’s not all, the booster contains anti-inflammatory colloidal silver and anti-bacterial sulfur. The formula does wonders for inflamed, red acne. While you target acne, you can also minimize dark spots and acne marks with kojic acid and vitamin C.
Key Ingredients: Kojic acid, salicylic acid, colloidal silver, sulfur, vitamin C
Skin Type: All skin types, especially oily and acne-prone
Size: 0.68 oz
So these are some of the best products with kojic acid. Remember to be slow when you’re adding a new ingredient/product into your routine just to avoid irritation. And since kojic acid products are supposed to help with hyperpigmentation, it’s best to be really consistent with sun protection with a proper sunscreen to prevent further skin discolorations.