By Marianne Mychaskiw
Updated Nov 11, 2015 @ 2:45 pm
Kojic Acid Lead
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It seems like a new, need-to-know skin care ingredient becomes a trending topic almost every day; but for those who struggle with brown spots, hyperpigmentation, and stubborn post-breakout marks in particular, kojic acid may be the answer to your pressing concerns. With questions buzzing over whether or not the ingredient works and is safe to use, we put together a comprehensive guide on everything you need to know before picking up a kojic acid-infused serum to include in your nightly regime. Read on to find out exactly what it is, how to use it, and if your skin can benefit from it.

What Is Kojic Acid?

Kojic acid is a chemical derived from mushrooms, and can also be created during the sake brewing process from fermented rice. Because of its ability to really penetrate the layers of your skin and stop the production of melanin, kojic acid is usually sought out as a spot-fading treatment, and is often considered a less-aggressive answer to hydroquinone.

Is It Safe? 

Despite its "acid" moniker, kojic acid is safe to use, though we wouldn't recommend any of the products designed to completely lighten your complexion as your overall skin tone shouldn't be tampered with; it will eventually shift back to its natural state once you discontinue use, and doing so with excess amounts of the ingredient can cause some serious irritation. Instead, you should use kojic acid-infused products to fade discoloration that wasn't originally on your skin, like age spots, sun spots, or those obnoxious post-breakout marks.

Who Should Use Kojic Acid-Infused Products? 

Those who have a tendency to get hyperpigmentation, whether caused by the sun, signs of aging, or post-breakout effects, can benefit from the ingredient. However, if your complexion is on the more sensitive side, incorporate it in small doses starting with your nighttime treatments. Slight inflammation and sensitivity is to be expected in the beginning, just as you would with retinol or hydroquinone; but if you continue to experience irritation, you may want to seek out a product with a lower concentration, or a milder alternative altogether.

Kojic Acid Embed
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How Can I Incorporate It Into My Routine?

Depending on your treatment of choice, kojic acid can be used on your skin in a variety of forms—from potent serums, to one-and-done face masks. Its name may be slightly off-putting, but Mario Badescu's Whitening Mask ($24; actually helps to even out your skin tone, rather than lighten it, while the Brad Biophotonic Cleansing Gel ($55; acts as a gentle everyday alternative. If you prefer an overnight treatment, the La Roche-Posay Mela-D Pigment Control ($53;, Bliss Active 99.0 Restorative Night Cream ($75;, and Arcona Brightening Drops ($44; are among our favorite options rich in kojic acid.