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What Is Alpha Arbutin? How to Work This Ingredient into Your Routine

Photo by Anna Efetova/Getty Images

Sun spots, skin damage, and even pregnancy can all contribute to one thing: hyperpigmentation on the skin. Whether you’re dealing with stubborn acne scars that still haven’t gone away since your teens or melasma as a result of shifting hormones, patches of discoloration on the skin can be super frustrating.

But there are products on the market that address hyperpigmentation on the skin, and one ingredient to look out for when shopping is alpha arbutin. This ingredient can be found in many over-the-counter products that aim to reduce discoloration spots on the skin’s surface. Here are a few things to know about this powerful ingredient before you try it for yourself. 

About the Expert:
Jody A. Levine, MD, FAAD, FAAP, is a dermatologist based in New York City at Plastic Surgery & Dermatology of NYC.

What Is Alpha Arbutin? 

According to dermatologist Jody A. Levine, MD, FAAD, FAAP, “Alpha arbutin is a synthetic derivative of hydroquinone,” which essentially means that it’s more tolerable on the skin’s surface. Hydroquinone is banned in the United States due to the high level of side effects, including rash, swelling, andpermanent skin discoloration. Since alpha arbutin is a synthetic derivative of hydroquinone, it contains a lower risk of side effects. It’s also not banned in any countries. Additionally, alpha arbutin can be found naturally in powder form from dry plant leaves (specifically blueberries and bearberries).

What Are the Skin Benefits of Alpha Arbutin? 

1. Reduces skin pigmentation: “Alpha arbutin reduces the formation of melanin, making it an effective treatment for evening skin tone, reducing pigmentation and spots caused by acne, melasma, or other skin conditions,” explains Dr. Levine. Most products that you find over the counter will contain 2% of alpha arbutin or less, which is effective for reducing scars and discolored skin patches.

2. It’s an antioxidant: It’s helpful to apply antioxidants to the skin to help protect it from free-radical damage from environmental stressors (like pollution and UV rays). Just make sure to top it off with sunscreen, since antioxidants don’t help prevent sunburn. 

Are There Any Side Effects? 

Unlike hydroquinone, the side effects from alpha arbutin are generally mild. “Alpha arbutin is generally safe, but some people with sensitivities or allergies to it may experience breakouts, itchiness, and redness,” says Dr. Levine. “If this occurs, you should discontinue use and inform your dermatologist.”

How to Use Alpha Arbutin for Your Skin?

According to Dr. Levine, “Typically creams, serums, and lotions with 1 to 2% alpha arbutin are most commonly used to get the effects of it.” All you need is a small amount (think a pea-sized amount of serum) on the affected area. Dr. Levine notes that you should apply alpha arbutin “after washing your skin but before applying a heavier moisturizer, allowing it time to absorb into your skin,” adding that “you should use it daily for maximum results.”

Best Skincare Products With Alpha Arbutin

1. Best Water-Based Alpha Arbutin Serum:

THE ORDINARY Alpha Arbutin 2% + HA

THE ORDINARY Alpha Arbutin 2% + HA
Courtesy of THE ORDINARY

This serum from THE ORDINARY is packed with hyaluronic acid, so it’ll both brighten and hydrate the skin over time as you use it. This one is alcohol-free, gluten-free, and completely vegan so you can use it guilt-free. 

2. Best Alpha Arbutin Moisturizer:

SUNDAY RILEY Tidal Brightening Enzyme Water Cream

SUNDAY RILEY Tidal Brightening Enzyme Water Cream

This moisturizer contains highly purified 1% alpha arbutin to help eliminate discoloration. Plus, it contains two types of hyaluronic acid for hydration that provides moisture for 24 hours. It’s perfect for anyone who experiences extra dryness in the colder weather. One Ipster said, “I have been using it for a week and my skin is more radiant already.”

3. Best Alpha Arbutin Spot Treatment:

GLO SKIN BEAUTY Hydra-Bright Alpha Arbutin Drops

GLO SKIN BEAUTY Hydra-Bright Alpha Arbutin Drops

The beauty of this GLO SKIN BEAUTY product is that you can use it as a spot treatment or all over the skin for higher hyperpigmentation issues. How does it work? For full-strength, allover protection, use four to six drops of the stuff on your face and neck two times a day. To spot treat, apply two to three drops to the affected area only. You can even mix these drops in with your favorite moisturizer to simplify your routine.

4. Best Alpha Arbutin Eye Mask:

TOPICALS Faded Under Eye Brightening & Clearing Eye Masks

TOPICALS Faded Under Eye Brightening & Clearing Eye Masks

You can even use alpha arbutin under your eyes for an instant brightening effect. These eye patches contain our ingredient of the hour, alpha arbutin, plus caffeine and kojic acid to help treat and reduce the appearance of dark circles under the eyes. It’s like an espresso shot for your eyes! 

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About the author
Brittany Leitner
Brittany is an award winning beauty, health, and lifestyle writer and author of the poetry book "23 Emotions." She has eight years of experience writing for brands like Elite Daily, The. Dr. Oz Show, Shape, Stylecaster, Bustle, and more.
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Article Last Updated May 23, 2024 12:00 AM