Alpha Arbutin and understanding it's skincare benefits
Alpha Arbutin is a chemical compound found naturally in bearberry and mulberry plants, as well as wheat, blueberries and pear. It is commonly used in cosmetics as an ingredient that will help fade dark spots and hyperpigmentation and even out skin tone .
Hyperpigmentation are darker brown spots on the skin that occurs when our pigment-producing cells (melanocytes), found in our skin start over-producing melanin (our skin's pigment). This melanin is transferred from the base of our skin and travels up to the surface causing darker patches or areas of skin.
If you are experiencing hyperpigmentation, this may be in response to UV exposure, causing the over-producing melanin to defend against UV damage; this is why we tan in the sun which is a visible sign of skin damage .
Another common reason for hyperpigmentation is a response to inflammation, such as an acne lesion, scratch or burn. This is known as post-inflammatory-hyperpigmentation or PIH for short and is something we see often with our members.
Alpha Arbutin works by slowing down an enzyme called tyrosinase, which is produced in the deepest layer of the skin and is involved in the production of melanin. By slowing down the tyrosinase enzyme, the amount of melanin is reduced, over time resulting in the fading of existing darker areas.
We typically recommend introducing Alpha Arbutin into your routine in a serum form. Serums tend to be designed to penetrate deeper into the skin, reaching the base of the epidermis where melanin is produced - perfect to support the job Alpha Arbutin needs to do.
One of our favourite Alpha Arbutin serums at Renude is by Garden of Wisdom (created by Health and Wellness retailer Victoria Health.) Victoria Health details how to apply the Garden of Wisdom Alpha Arbutin & Kojic Acid Serum:
“Garden of Wisdom Alpha Arbutin Serum contains concentrated 2% alpha arbutin. The serum displays powerful antioxidant properties helping to protect the pigment-producing cells. We recommend applying a sufficient amount of Alpha Arbutin & Kojic Acid Serum to cleanse the skin, both morning and evening. It may be used with other serums.”
Find out if Alpha Arbutin is right for your skin by speaking to a Renude expert. Complete our quick quiz, then book a free video call or upload photos to get perfectly tailored skincare recommendations.
Apply alpha arbutin serum or product immediately after cleansing (and toning, if applicable). Use a small amount and gently massage it into your skin, concentrating on areas with hyperpigmentation or dark spots. Allow it to absorb fully before moving on to the next step.
Everyone's skin is different, so fading pigmentation is a skin goal which requires patience. Medium to deep skin tones are more likely to experience hyperpigmentation as a result of inflammation from acne, and it can be more difficult to fade.
You can usually expect to start seeing results after 3-6 months of a consistent routine that is selected to include the relevant active ingredients. Consistency is key, especially with ingredients like Alpha Arbutin which work by inhibiting tyrosinase . But you must always wear SPF, even on grey, rainy days to avoid the benefits being reversed or effects weakened.
Alpha Arbutin is generally safe for all skin types, but we would advise caution to those who are pregnant. Alpha Arbutin is structurally similar to hydroquinone, a prescription-grade ingredient also used to lighten areas of hyperpigmentation but is not suitable for use during pregnancy and can have significant side effects.
We asked our Dermatologist Advisor, Dr. Justine Kluk, to shed some light on why it’s advised hydroquinone should not be used whilst pregnant and how Alpha Arbutin compares:
“Hydroquinone can be absorbed into the systemic circulation system that pumps blood around the body, so it is best avoided whilst pregnant or trying to conceive. Animal studies suggest there may be some adverse effects on fetal development (note, the amount of hydroquinone tested in these studies far exceeds the typical use in humans when used to treat localised areas of hyperpigmentation on the face).
Although alpha arbutin has lower systemic absorption than hydroquinone, data about its effects on the human reproductive system are lacking. Therefore minimal or avoidance of alpha arbutin during pregnancy seems sensible until more data is available.”
Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) isn't the same as acne scarring. PIH will appear on the skin after acne lesions heal as a result of the inflammation . This appears as small dark marks on the skin in a brown or red shade. Acne scarring is when there is a raised or indented scar, and is not currently possible to treat using skincare alone.
Alpha Arbutin can help to reduce the appearance of PIH, due to its action on melanin production. Acne scars, due to their nature, would need to be treated primarily through professional treatments such as microneedling, which target the skin’s collagen production and can work to remodel the skin’s surface.
Alpha Arbutin can also help those with pregnancy-induced hyperpigmentation (known as melasma), post-pregnancy.
Hydroquinone is considered the gold standard for the treatment of hyperpigmentation but it does carry a risk of skin irritation, and exogenous ochronosis  with long-term or continuous use. There have been some concerns raised about a potential risk of malignancy  when hydroquinone is given orally or injected. These issues do not seem to arise when it is prescribed topically, under careful medical supervision.
Arbutin does display skin-brightening properties, although we would not expect it to be as effective as hydroquinone. It is less likely to cause skin irritation.
Exfoliating Ingredients: Alpha arbutin may increase skin sensitivity, so it's important to be cautious when using alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) or beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) like glycolic acid, salicylic acid, or lactic acid simultaneously. Over-exfoliating the skin can lead to irritation and compromised barrier function.
Vitamin C: While vitamin C and alpha arbutin are often used together in skincare routines to target hyperpigmentation, some people may experience irritation when combining them. If you want to use both ingredients, start with a lower concentration of each and gradually increase as your skin tolerates.
Retinoids: Retinoids like retinol and tretinoin are known for their potential to increase skin sensitivity and can cause irritation when used with alpha arbutin. It's best to separate the application of alpha arbutin and retinoids, using one in the morning and the other at night.
Sunscreen: While not an ingredient to avoid, it's crucial to use sunscreen daily when incorporating alpha arbutin into your skincare routine. Alpha arbutin can make the skin more sensitive to UV radiation, and unprotected sun exposure can worsen hyperpigmentation.
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