This Under-the-Radar Ingredient May Be the Solution For Combating Dark Spots

Arbutin is best brightening ingredient you've never heard of — yet.

Woman portrait applying cream or moisturiser isolated In studio - skin care hydration closeup
Photo: Leandro Crespi/Stocksy/Adobe Stock

Next to acne and wrinkles, hyperpigmentation is one of the most common skin struggles across the board.

If you're someone who's used to dealing with post-breakout dark spots or sun damage, you're probably familiar with vitamin C and niacinamide — the two MVPs of skin brighteners.

But, these two ingredients aren't the only fail-safe options that work across all skin types.

Arbutin, is an under-the-radar brightener that you may never heard of, but it delivers impressive results. And it may even be in some of your serums and you don't even know it.

To help you get better acquainted with arbutin, we turned to Dr. Y. Claire Chang, a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology in New York City to find out more about what makes this ingredient so effective and how to incorporate it into your skincare routine. Plus, the best skincare products with arbutin to try.

What Is Arbutin?

Arbutin is a natural lightening ingredient derived from plants such as bearberry, pear, and wheat, but it can also be made synthetically.

"Arbutin is a derivative of hydroquinone that works by inhibiting tyrosinase, a key enzyme in producing skin pigment," explains Dr. Chang. "In general, hydroquinone is more effective than arbutin in terms of skin lightening, but has been shown to be more cytotoxic to melanocytes [produce melanin] and can come with side effects, like ochronosis [blue discoloration]."

Since arbutin is doesn't inhibit pigment-producing cells, it's a safer brightening alternative to hydroquinone. It's also important to note that the FDA has previously proposed a ban on hydroquinone in skin-bleaching creams in 2006 and some studies have found it to be carcinogenic when taken orally.

That being said, there are different forms of arbutin and some are better than others. The most common you'll see is alpha-arbutin, which is better at blocking tyrosinase than beta-arbutin.

What Are the Skin Benefits of Arbutin?

Arbutin can lighten up dark spots and reduce the appearance of sun spots as well as prevent them. Like popular brightening ingredient vitamin C, arbutin can be unstable, giving it a shorter shelf life.

"Arbutin can be unstable in heat, making the formulation and storage important," says Dr. Chang.

For optimal results, arbutin can be used in both your AM and PM skincare routines. It works well when used in conjunction with other brightening ingredients such as vitamin C, niacinamide, and glycolic acid.

Just don't expect results overnight. Dr. Chang says it can take eight to 12 weeks before you see an improvement in any hyperpigmantion.

VIDEO: Salicylic Acid vs Benzoyl Peroxide: Which Should I Use To Treat My Acne?

What Are the Side Effects of Arbutin?

While arbutin is safe for all skin types, Dr. Chang recommends you do a patch test when introducing any new ingredient — especially sensitive skin types.

"Allergic reactions could include redness, flaking, itching or burning sensation of the skin," she says.

Now that you've been fully introduced to arbutin, shop the best skincare products with the brightening ingredient, below.

The Best Products With Arbutin

Urban Skin RX Super C Brightening Serum

Urban Skin RX Super C Brightening Serum

Along with alpha-arbutin, this brightening serum is supercharged with 20% ascorbic acid, feurlic acid, and kojic acid to minimize dark spots and provide antioxidant protection against free radicals. Hyaluronic acid rounds out the formula to give you extra hydration.

To buy: $58;

The Inkey List Alpha Arbutin Brightening Serum

The Inkey List Alpha Arbutin Brightening Serum product image

Powered by alpha-arbutin derived from bearberry plant, this affordable, no-frills serum helps reduce the appearance of dark spots and hyperpigmentation.

To buy: $12;

Peter Thomas Roth PRO Strength Niacinamide Discoloration Treatment

Peter Thomas Roth PRO Strength Niacinamide Discoloration Treatment product image

If you are looking for a heavy-duty option, your search ends here. This treatment has a 15% brightening complex that works to minimize acne marks, hyperpigmentation, and uneven skin tone caused by sun damage. Given its potency, start off slow, using it twice a day every other day until you build up to daily use.

To buy: $88;

The Ordinary Alpha Arbutin 2% + HA

The Ordinary Alpha Arbutin 2% + HA

Thanks to a cushion of moisturizing hyaluronic acid, The Ordinary's serum delivers results with minimal risk of irritation.

To buy: $10;

Paula's Choice Radiance Renewal Mask

Paula's Choice Radiance Renewal Mask product image

This silky overnight mask works to brighten your skin as you sleep. The formula contains tried-and-true illuminating ingredients such as vitamin C, niacinamide, and alpha-arbutin. No rinse-off required.

To buy: $38;

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