Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist -  Written by Sritama Dutta (Medical Science) on 23rd Jan 2021

Alpha Arbutin is known for improving Hyperpigmentation: Is it safe to use?

Is Alpha Arbutin Safe for skin?

Who doesn't desire to have bright, flawless skin? But daily exposure to pollution, microbes, and even the sun can darken the skin complexion and make it appear dull and lifeless. And to combat these effects, we often seek help from various skincare ingredients to get back the radiance and youthful appearance that everyone dreams of.

In this article, we would be talking about one such ingredient that has been proven to have amazing effects on the skin: Alpha Arbutin. Famed for being a potent skin-lightening agent, Alpha Arbutin has come under the spotlight as an alternative for harsh skin bleaching agents. So, keep scrolling to find out what benefits this great ingredient has in its hold for us. 

What is Arbutin? 

Arbutin is a naturally obtained ingredient that is found in bearberry, blueberry as well as cranberry plants.

Chemically speaking, Arbutin is glycosylated hydroquinone. This ingredient is known for reducing scar marks and hyperpigmentation. It can visibly brighten your skin complexion and leave your skin radiant and flawless.

Arbutin has been newly introduced in the skincare industry and has won the hearts of the population who preferred to try a safer alternative for skin bleaching. When applied topically, arbutin serum can inhibit melanin production. This compound can also be found in traces in wheat, pear skins, and few other foods.

Arbutin can also be prepared synthetically from a reaction of acetobromoglucose and hydroquinone in the presence of alkali. This compound is also known to have medicinal value. Blueberries rich in arbutin have also been used to treat urinary tract infections in the olden days.

Arbutin is usually available in two forms: alpha arbutin and beta arbutin. Though both forms of this compound are potent skin lightening agents, they are structurally different. Alpha Arbutin has better water solubility, better light stability, and more heat resistance than Beta Arbutin.

Being an unstable and volatile compound, Beta Arbutin is generally not preferred. Alpha Arbutin, being more stable and effective, is used in creams, lotions, and serums.      

Beneficial effects of alpha arbutin: what can you expect? 

Alpha arbutin is an organic ingredient accredited for multiple beneficial effects on the skin. Unlike other bleaching agents, which are harsh on the skin and can cause irritation, arbutin is gentle on the skin and is a good option for skin lightening for sensitive skin individuals.  

Here are the benefits that you can expect from Topical Alpha Arbutin: 

1. Lightens dark spots, scars, and hyperpigmentation 

As explained earlier, alpha arbutin blocks the tyrosine to bind with tyrosinase, which is responsible for the formation of melanin in the skin. Obstruction of this process leads to reduced melanin content in the skin. Thus, when used as a spot treatment, alpha arbutin can significantly reduce the melanin concentration in the dark spots, scar marks, and Hyperpigmented patches on your skin.  

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2. Brightens Skin Complexion 

Alpha Arbutin's ability to reduce melanin production in the skin also helps in lightening skin complexion. This ingredient has also been proven to effectively minimize the signs of melasma and brighten dark skin tone.  

3. Gives an Even Skin Tone 

Melanin can get concentrated in spots and patches on your skin and give you an uneven skin tone. Even exposure to the harsh sun for a long time can develop sunspots on your skin. Topical Alpha-Arbutin can reduce the melanin concentration in such spots and reduce sunspots' appearance and discolored patches. The serum can even out the skin tone and make your skin looks healthy and radiant.   

4. Safer Alternative for Hydroquinone 

Skin bleaching by harsh chemicals such as Hydroquinone can cause adverse reactions on the skin. Hydroquinone has cytotoxic properties, which kill the melanocytes, i.e., the melanin-producing cells, and reduce melanin synthesis.

Alpha Arbutin was introduced in the skincare market as a safer alternative to Hydroquinone. It does not have any cytotoxic property and obstructs the process of melanin synthesis. It is gentle on the skin and produces no irritation.

5. Protects the Skin Against Sun Damage 

Alpha Arbutin can also save/protect the skin from symptoms of sun-induced damages. It can effectively reduce tan and sunspots and give you flawless, glowing skin.  

How Does Alpha Arbutin Work on Your Skin?

Alpha Arbutin has a structure that mimics the structure of tyrosine. Tyrosine is a non-essential amino acid that binds with tyrosinase and catalyzes melanin production in the dermal cells. Alpha Arbutin also has the same affinity for active sites as is tyrosine, which blocks the tyrosine to bind with tyrosinase. Thereby, it inhibits the synthesis of melanin without affecting cell viability.

Alpha Arbutin is often compared to the action of Kojic Acid. Though Kojic Acid is also a potent skin lightening agent, it decreases the tyrosine production rather than blocking the production process. It can also be cytotoxic and damage healthy melanocytes. 

Who Should Use Alpha Arbutin? 

Alpha Arbutin is a safe ingredient for the skin and can be used by anyone distressed with dark spots, undesirable scar marks, and hyperpigmented patches on the skin. It is suitable for both males & females. However, it is recommended that it must not be used in children below the age of 18. Their mid-20s are ideal for using alpha arbutin serum for correcting skin pigmentations and lightening the skin tone.

Alpha arbutin is suitable for all skin types. However, it has been found that it works best on individuals with lighter skin tones. Even if you have sensitive skin, it is advised to consult your doctor before using alpha arbutin serum. People with compromised skin or pregnant and lactating women should also consult their doctors before using alpha arbutin in their skincare regime.  

How To Use Alpha Arbutin in Your Skincare Regime? 

Alpha Arbutin is a safe ingredient for your skin with mild action, can be used daily in your skincare regime. You can use the serum both in your AM and PM routines. Alpha Arbutin is five times more potent than beta arbutin, and with continuous use, it will begin to show effects within 5-6 weeks.  

Here's how to use Alpha Arbutin serum:

  • Cleanse your skin with your preferred cleanser and hydrate with a potent moisturizer like hyaluronic acid.
  • Apply 2-3 drops of Alpha Arbutin serum on the skin with a dropper and spread it evenly over your face in a gentle, circular motion.  
  • Wait for a few minutes for the serum to soak into the dermal layers. If you prefer to layer your skin with multiple skincare products, always wait till the serum has been absorbed by the skin and then apply the rest of the products.
  • If you wish for a brighter skin complexion, you can layer the serum with facial acids. Apply the AHA/BHAs first, layer it with hyaluronic acid, and put the Alpha Arbutin serum last.  
  • If you have sensitive skin and would not like to use facial acids, you may use niacinamide serum in place of AHA/BHAs and then follow the same routine.  
  • Melanin is the skin's natural element that protects the skin from harmful sun rays. As Alpha Arbutin decreases the skin's melanin, your skin might get more susceptible to photodamage at the beginning. Hence, it is important to protect your skin with a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF above 30.

Is Alpha Arbutin Safe To Use On Your Skin? 

Alpha Arbutin is known for being a stable and safe ingredient to be topically applied to the skin. It has been seen that even a 1% concentration of pure Alpha Arbutin is effective in reducing dark spots and skin hyperpigmentation. At 2% concentration, you can expect full benefits of this potent skin lightening agent. Being organically extracted from berries, you would not have to fear any risk of severe adverse effects on your skin's health.  

Can You Layer Alpha Arbutin Serum with Other Ingredients? 

Yes, being an almost inert ingredient, Alpha Arbutin can be layered with other active ingredients without any risk of adverse reactions. Usually, Alpha Arbutin serums come in combination with booster ingredients to enhance the main ingredient's properties.

Hyaluronic acid is most popularly considered one of the best booster ingredients paired with Alpha Arbutin. Adding 1% Hyaluronic acid to the serum can soothe skin and carry the Alpha Arbutin molecules to deeper skin layers, giving you the best possible effect.

Pairing Alpha Arbutin with Vitamin C can quicken the process of fading acne scarring and sunspots. The serum can also be paired with other known skin brightening agents like Kojic acid and Niacinamide to get better results. You can even mix Alpha Arbutin along with Retinol to get youthful, flawless skin.  

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When to use: AM / PM

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Potential Side Effects of Alpha Arbutin: 

Though Alpha Arbutin serum is safe to use on the skin, there have been cases where some adverse reactions have been observed.  

The most commonly observed side effects of Alpha Arbutin are: 

  • Skin irritation and redness may take the form of hypersensitivity reactions. These symptoms might subside over time, but it is recommended to consult your dermatologist if the symptoms persist immediately.  
  • Mild acne and breakouts might also develop. 
  • Less melanin in the skin can also cause sun sensitivity and sunburn.

The Bottom Line:  

Alpha Arbutin can be an excellent alternative for harsh, skin bleaching chemicals. With minimal adverse reactions, Alpha Arbutin serum can lighten the skin complexion and fade away dark spots and discolored patches on the skin.

We hope this article has helped you get an idea about this incredible skin lightening agent. Include this ingredient in your daily skincare regime and see if it work wonders on your skin.