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What is Alpha Arbutin?

Alpha Arbutin and understanding it's skincare benefits

Pippa HarmanCo-Founder Renude
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What is Alpha Arbutin?
Written byPippa HarmanCo-Founder Renude
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What is Alpha Arbutin?

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 [1].

What causes Hyperpigmentation?

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 [2]. 

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. 

How does Alpha Arbutin work to fade hyperpigmentation?

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.

The main benefits of using Alpha Arbutin for reducing hyperpigmentation and dark marks

  1. Non-IrritatingAlpha Arbutin generally does not irritate the skin when used in low concentrations.
  2. Brightens SkinDark spots, liver spots, and uneven skin tone are minimized and skin appears lighter and brighter.
  3. Can Be Combined with Other ActivesAlpha Arbutin does not have any contraindications, which means it is easy to incorporate into your skincare routine. You can speed up your results by pairing alpha arbutin with other skin brighteners like vitamin C, azelaic acid, kojic acid, or retinoids [3].
  4. Does Not Make Skin Sensitive to the SunWhen using exfoliating acids, retinoids, or vitamin C products the skin may become more sensitive when exposed to the sun’s UV rays. This is not the case with Alpha Arbutin. Regardless, it is important to always apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher on a daily basis - if you can see outside without artificial light, you need SPF!

How can I introduce Alpha Arbutin into my skincare routine?

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.

How and when to use Alpha Arbutin

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.

How long does it take to see results in the skin?

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 [4]. But you must always wear SPF, even on grey, rainy days to avoid the benefits being reversed or effects weakened.

Is Alpha Arbutin safe to use during pregnancy?

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.”

How to tell the difference between Hyperpigmentation and Post Acne Scarring

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 [5]. 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. 

How does Alpha Arbutin compare to hydroquinone both in terms of efficacy and potential side effects?

Hydroquinone is considered the gold standard for the treatment of hyperpigmentation but it does carry a risk of skin irritation, and exogenous ochronosis [6] with long-term or continuous use. There have been some concerns raised about a potential risk of malignancy [7] 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.

Are there ingredients to be cautious of when using Alpha Arbutin? 

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.

Renude-approved products containing Alpha Arbutin.

  1. Garden of Wisdom - Alpha Arbutin 2% and Kojic Acid 1% Serum
  2. The Inkey List - Alpha Arbutin Serum 
  3.  The Ordinary - Ascorbic Acid 8% + Alpha Arbutin 2

More Renude Approved brands


How Melanocytes Defend Your Skin Against UV Rays (

Arbutin 101: Skin-Care Benefits, Side Effects, Uses, and More | Everyday Health

The Benefits of Alpha Arbutin for Skin - The Skincare Enthusiast

Tyrosinase - an overview | ScienceDirect Topics

Hyperpigmentation acne: Causes and treatment (

Exogenous ochronosis: A comprehensive review of the diagnosis, epidemiology, causes, and treatments - PubMed (

Malignancy: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia

Pippa HarmanCo-Founder Renude
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