Alpha Arbutin – Is It Really Safe?


What is alpha arbutin? Is it safe for skin whitening and bleaching? What are the difference and side effects of this compound compared to hydroquinone? Read on to find out more details about this now-famous bleaching agent.

What is Alpha Arbutin?

Arbutin is an ingredient that is obtained from bearberry plant (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi). Although it may also be produced synthetically in laboratory, arbutin is naturally extracted from the leaves of bearberry. It is also found in wheat, in the leaves of blueberry and cranberry, as well as in the skin of pear.

In the past, arbutin extracts were used as a treatment for urinary tract infections, cystitis, and kidney stones, as well as a diuretic and weight loss aid. But today, this ingredient can be found in most kinds of beauty products, especially in skin lightening and whitening formulations.

Arbutin is manufactured in a white, crystalline powder form that is water soluble and can be added to other formulations to improve its lightening effect. But in its pure form, it can also be an extremely powerful whitening agent.

There are two types of arbutin compound – the alpha and beta arbutin. Both types are effective in lightening skin, but alpha arbutin is found to be more potent as it has higher stability and efficiency.

How Does Alpha Arbutin Work?

Similar to hydroquinone and other skin whitening agents, alpha arbutin works by inhibiting the function and activity of tyrosinase, an oxidizing enzyme that is responsible for the production of melanin in the body. Melanin is a substance that gives dark color to our hair, eyes, and skin.

But unlike hydroquinone and other skin whitening products, the effects of alpha arbutin is faster and more effective. In addition, it doesn’t lead to adverse skin health effects as it is naturally extracted.

Usage and Benefits of Alpha Arbutin

Using alpha arbutin provides many benefits to the skin, and these include:


    Effective skin lightening

    The ability of the compound to inhibit the activity of tyrosinase make it an effective treatment for whitening dark knees and underarms, and even eliminating liver spots, freckles, acne scars, and uneven tone.


    Sun protection

    Bearberry plant is found to have sun protection properties. This is one of the reasons why arbutin, the active component found in this plant, is used as an active ingredient in most beauty care products. Using products containing alpha arbutin helps protect your skin against harmful UV rays and age-causing free radicals, resulting in a healthier skin.


Elimination of other skin problems, such as melasma and hyperpigmentation

These conditions are two of the most common skin problems, which are both caused by the overproduction of melanin in the body. Applying topical solutions containing arbutin can help lighten the spots as the ingredient is known to have the ability to block melanin production.

Alpha Arbutin vs. Hydroquinone

Hydroquinone is one of the most well-known ingredients in many beauty care products, considered as the golden standard for skin lightening. Its effectiveness for treating darkened skin has been documented in various scientific studies. It works by inhibiting tyrosinase, an enzyme needed to produce melanin. 

However, due to some evidence suggesting that hydroquinone may act as a carcinogen, the Food and Drug Administration proposed a ban on all cosmetic products containing this compound. Currently, only products that contain 2% hydroquinone or lower may be sold in the U.S. market without the prescription and up to 4% by prescription. Most countries in Europe banned the use of this skin-whitening ingredient.

This ban paved the way for the rise of alternative skin-whitening treatments, such as arbutin-containing formulations. While arbutin is a natural derivative of hydroquinone, this whitening agent doesn’t possess the same risks and side effects.

In a clinical study involving Japanese women with melasma, a 3% concentration of arbutin-containing formulation showed effective results in reducing unwanted spots. And since arbutin is non-phenol, it is less irritating and effective for most skin types, including those with sensitive skin. Compared to hydroquinone, alpha-arbutin is considered much safer as it is naturally extracted from plants.

Side Effects of Alpha Arbutin

While alpha arbutin is proven to be safe and effective when it comes to skin lightening, there’s a limit on how much you can use. Experts recommend using whitening formulations containing alpha arbutin with only 2% concentration or lower. If you have a more serious skin darkening, your doctor may only prescribe up to 3-4% arbutin-containing treatment.

Excessive use of alpha-arbutin may cause the following side effects:

For better results, always read the labels and carefully follow instructions. It’s also best to minimize your exposure to sun while using any skincare treatments. Wear effective sunscreen if you need to go outside. If irritation persists, discontinue the use of this ingredient and visit your dermatologist or physician for further advice.

Lightening Products with Arbutin

Marie France Tone Perfecting Crème

 This cream contains a combination of alpha-arbutin and niacinamide, two of the most powerful alternative ingredients for lightening skin. It’s safe and suitable for all skin types.

Meladerm Pigment Reducing Complex

This is a popular skincare product that is specially formulated to reduce the appearance of uneven tone and dark spots. It doesn’t contain harmful ingredients found in other whitening products, such as hydroquinone and parabens. The active ingredients used in this wonderful lightening product are derived from natural extracts, including alpha-arbutin, kojic acid, licorice, niacinamide, and gigawhite.

Ageless Derma Face Brightening Cream

This product is a newly-formulated treatment that is clinically proven to reduce all types of skin problems that cause darkening, including brown spots, dark spots, freckles, and tanning after sun exposure. It contains a combination of natural and bio-engineered ingredients to lighten your skin faster without any harmful side effects.

DHC Alpha- Arbutin White Cream

This whitening cream aims to help you reduce your dark spots and uneven skin tone. It contains alpha arbutin, fruit oil extracts, and other ingredients that are known to be effective in lightening skin. But aside from being a whitening cream, this product also acts as a great moisturizer.

ASDM Beverly Hills Arbutin Skin Lightening Complex

This bleaching cream is specially formulated to lighten skin tone. Its main ingredients are arbutin, kojic acid, Vitamin C, and glycolic acid, which are all known for their cleansing and whitening properties.


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