Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist -  Written by Viddhi Patel (Journalist)  on 02nd Nov 2020

Kojic acid- Our answer to stubborn hyperpigmentation marks

How Kojic Acid Can Help With Hyperpigmentation

Thanks to sun damage, acne scarring & hormonal imbalances, many of us have to suffer through dark patches or hyperpigmentation, and covering it under layers of makeup does no good to us or our self-esteem.

Although there is no quick fix that can instantly lighten the appearance of dark spots, there are options available now like topical creams that can help fade away from your dark patches and insecurities with time; their religious application can make a difference. 

What is hyperpigmentation and why does it happen?

Individual patches of the skin are darker than the rest of the skin. This condition is called hyperpigmentation. When your skin produces melanin, the skin-color is giving pigment; this makes spots or patches of skin darker than the surrounding areas.

Melanocytes, the pigment-producing cells, when damaged, produce excessive melanin that clusters together.

These clusters on some regions of your skin lead to what we call dark patches or hyperpigmentation.

The common skin condition occurs in any skin type, at any age, and its forms are_ melasma and sunspots. These forms are likely to affect sun-exposed areas of your body like the face, legs, and arms.

Hyperpigmentation in certain areas of skin is usually harmless but may also point out other medical conditions. 

What damages your melanocytes?

UV exposure.  

Skin inflammation  

PIH (post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation), cuts, burns, or acne are skin inflammation causes that can leave dark patches; these can affect any part of your body.

Injuries due to procedures like chemical peels, dermabrasion, and laser therapy may increase melanin production. The patches followed are pink, red, brown, or black.  

Melasma

Possibly due to hormonal changes in pregnant women (mask of pregnancy) and females with significant social or psychological impact.    

Skin inflammation  

Age spots/ “liver” spots, or solar lentigines 

Certain drugs.   

How to treat stubborn hyperpigmentation with Kojic Acid 

If you have been struggling with hyperpigmentation for a long time and have been trying to get it off, you may have already heard of this skin-lightening agent present in most cosmetics.  

Kojic acid is considered unique, but why?  

From acne scars to dark spots, melasma to sun damage, Kojic acid has the potential to treat a myriad of your skin complaints.  

Read on to know all about Kojic acid and its role in your hyperpigmented skin. 

What is kojic acid?  

The natural metabolite produced from fungi, kojic acid, prevents tyrosine production, an amino acid responsible for melanin production, resulting in lightened skin appearance. Apart from this, it acts as an antioxidant in your skincare products.

When certain foods ferment, like Japanese sake, soy sauce, and rice wine, kojic acid forms as a by-product. Also, one of the fungi is Aspergillus oryzae from which it is derived.

The acute, chronic, and reproductive studies show that kojic acid is not a toxicant. It absorbs slowly into the skin without actually passing the health risk threshold. 

The cosmetic world and Kojic acid 

Several different cosmetic conditions use kojic acid topically due to its approved use in cosmetic products in 2%-4% concentrations. Most of its usefulness lies in its potential as a skin-lightening agent.

Consequently, it is now included in many cosmetic products, from powders to serums, creams, cleansers, and even soaps.

Furthermore, powders are mixed with water or lotion, soaps and cleansers are to be washed off immediately.

Creams and serums (meant to depigment), on the other hand, are designed as leave-on treatments to absorb in the skin. Face masks are designed for occasional use, unlike creams and cleansers meant for daily use.

A combination of kojic acid 2% with alpha arbutin acid by minimalist reduces dark spots and blemishes, prevents melanin formation, and leaves your skin brighter and even.

Both are skin lighteners, and you get to benefit the best of both. It is soothing due to its aloe base and easy absorption.

Mostly designed for the face, kojic acid may be used in all your non-sensitive body areas.  

What Kojic acid can help with 

Kojic acid & its derivatives are antioxidants, anti-proliferative, anti-inflammatory, radioprotective, and skin-lightening agents in skincare products. Overall, Kojic acid, the hyperpigmentation suppressor, the UV protector, has a complete application in the cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries.  

Melasma 

Since melasma is a facial disfigurement, it is emotionally disturbing for suffering individuals and is a social prejudice source in certain cultures. To address this, Kojic acid, a fungal metabolic, can be used in 2-4% concentrations either alone or with 2% hydroquinone. Kojic has the edge over hydroquinone due to its ability not to get oxidized.

Aging and age spots 

The UV protective feature of Kojic acid that treats sun damage also reduces age spots, fine line, and wrinkles, giving you a youthful appearance.   

Scars 

Injuries or acne leave behind spots due to inflamed skin. Although it doesn’t improve scar tissue thickness, Kojic acid effectively acts on lightening scars.  

The other benefits that make Kojic acid particular other than a skin lightener are: 

Antibacterial 

Kojic acid comes with its antibacterial properties helping your skin fight common bacterial skin infection. This characteristic also makes kojic acid effective in fighting bacterial acne.  

Antifungal 

The antifungal element of kojic acid makes it a viable ingredient in antifungal products and prevention of fungal infections like ringworm, yeast infections, candidiasis.  

Kojic Acid in your skincare regimen

Scientific research suggests the use of Kojic acid at 1-4% concentrations in cosmetics. It would help if you strictly avoided an overdose of kojic acid beyond 4%.

It may irritate your skin and sensitize the area.

Kojic acid shows its effect in two weeks, but you may use it alongside AHAs like glycolic acid or lactic acid for a speedier outcome.

Creams, serums, lotions give them time to absorb and penetrate the outer layers of your skin.  

Possible adverse effects  

Although kojic acid has received a green flag and can be cosmetically used, some individuals may experience mild side effects or risks from even 1% of Kojic acid concentration.

Contact dermatitis is a common side effect. It manifests itself as redness, irritation, itchiness, rashes, swollen skin, pain, and discomfort. It is common in sensitive skin or using more than 1 percent concentration of kojic acid. Discontinue use if you are reacting to a product, including kojic acid.

Over time, kojic acid may make your skin more susceptible to sunburn, be mindful, use a sunscreen with SPF 30 or more, and wear protective clothing.

Do not use Kojic acid on damaged or broken skin.

Allergies or any other skin conditions should be discussed with a doctor before opting for kojic acid.

Follow the instructions labeled on any kojic acid product you are using. 

Summing up Kojic Acid  

Without fail, an expert in treating hyperpigmentation or scarring, but you should not use it to lighten your natural appearance. You are beautiful, just like you are.

If you want to use the acid for a specific condition, see your dermatologist so they can help you plan the best and safest course of treatment with the direction in dosage and complementary therapies.  

The Substitutes 

The cosmeceutical world has a plethora of products and ingredients boasting to lighten skin by days. We have summed the most effective and researched ingredients below: 

Arbutin 

The natural form of hydroquinone, arbutin, is derived from the bearberry plant. As hydroquinone had several downfalls due to its potential side effects, arbutin comes as a savior with all the goodness of hydroquinone & none of the concerns. Arbutin is a safer and effective alternative to hydroquinone; it is less cytotoxic to the melanocytes.

Brightening face lotions and dark-spot correctors containing arbutin work well if you gradually use for the first few weeks, and your skin has no adverse reactions.

Arbutin works by inhibiting tyrosinase activity and inhibiting melanosome maturation. It is the most widely described skin-lightening and depigmenting agent. It has an enhanced sustained improvement, general skin lightening, but it is less effective than kojic acid for hyperpigmentation. Alpha-arbutin can rival the most effective skin brighteners at one-two percent concentrations.  

Vitamin C 

Introducing another popular brightening alternative present in various brightening serums, Vitamin C, the fantastic antioxidant is beneficial for hyperpigmentation patients. However, it brightens hyperpigmented spots but does not lighten normal skin. It is perfect if you are after healthy, glowing skin, but should be avoided if you have sensitive or allergic skin. Potential side effects include redness, tingling, and irritation.

It seems that it reduces tyrosinase activity by antioxidant activity rather than direct inhibition of tyrosinase activity. Vitamin C acts as a reducing agent at various melanin formation steps, in turn, inhibiting melanogenesis.

Vitamin C is a constituent in many cosmeceuticals and cosmetic creams. It is a collagen builder, anti-aging, skin lightener, skin brightener, skin’s strength builder, pollution protector. 

Niacinamide 

You can not go far without hearing the name of niacinamide in the skincare buzz. The pro-vitamin B3 is an antioxidant, oil balancer, acne fighter, anti-inflammatory, ceramide booster, and a prominently effective skin lightener.

You may use it to fade age spots and lighten discoloration as it decreases the number of melanin transferred to pigment-producing cells by more than half. It doesn’t stop the melanin production but reduces the transfer of it to the skin cells.

It is incredibly stable and doesn’t react to heat or light, unlike other chemical ingredients. Niacinamide is profoundly incorporated in serums and boosters safe for daily use.  

Niacinamide 10% + Zinc
Niacinamide 10% + Zinc

Niacinamide 10% + Zinc

₹ 595
A nourishing, daily serum packed with pure Vitamin B3 and antibacterial mineral zinc that boosts dermal immunity, keeping your skin resilient and healthy.
View details

Licorice extract  

It is an effective skincare ingredient for lightening and brightening as its two ingredients, glabridin and liquiritin, help with hyperpigmentation. Glabridin restrains tyrosinase, and liquidity breaks up and removes melanin and pigmentation in the skin.

It is also soothing and evens out skin tone. Serum meant for daily use infused with licorice helps with dark spots effectively

Lactic Acid 

Sensitive skin types or someone looking for milder products can go for lactic acid. An alpha hydroxy acid, lactic acid is derived from sour milk and is one of the gentlest ingredients for skin lightening.

It penetrates the skin, and while mildly exfoliating, it also suppresses melanin. Since it decreases melanin production, wear sunscreen (SPF 30 or more) and protective clothing to protect treated areas from UV damage.

Cosmeceuticals for hyperpigmentation are in massive demand in the skincare world as these agents target the key regulatory melanin synthesis steps.

Every ingredient that potentially encourages cell turnover and peeling, inhibits melanin production, or protects from the UV rays, helps somewhere or the other in lightening the skin to a certain extent.  

Lactic Acid 10% + Hyaluronic Acid 1%
Lactic Acid 10% + Hyaluronic Acid 1%

Lactic Acid 10% + Hyaluronic Acid 1%

₹ 589
A skin-regenerating daily serum with 10% Lactic Acid and 1% Hyaluronic Acid that mildly exfoliates without drying the skin to reveal clear, radiant, and hydrated skin.
View details

Minimalist’s piece of mind: 

Every product may have some side effects, and you must use any and every skincare ingredient with caution and a doctor’s help.

Broad SPFs 30 or more are significant players in hyperpigmentation therapy. It is a preventive measure. Apply it 20 minutes before stepping out.

Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation fades away by itself in three to 24 months. Stubborn patches may stay for longer and call for specific treatments.  

Wrapping it up 

Use a mild exfoliating cleanser and a moisturizer to hydrate your skin. Visit a dermatologist if you notice changes in skin color, size, shape, or structure of the existing moles.