Pros and Cons of Using Arbutin for Skin Care

There are two types of arbutin – alpha and beta arbutin (Photo: iStock)

In your search for the best skincare ingredients, you may have come across arbutin. Arbutin is particularly known to lighten the skin, fade dark spots and improve the appearance of hyperpigmentation.

Let’s explore everything you need to know about arbutin, including how it works, benefits for the skin, how to use it, and potential side effects.

A derivative of hydroquinone is a natural skin lightening agent found in many plant sources such as bearberry, mulberry, and pomegranate.

It works by inhibiting the secretion of melanin (skin pigment), which makes your skin look clearer. You’ll likely find this ingredient in skincare products that aim to gently brighten and even out your skin tone.

There are two types of arbutin – alpha and beta arbutin. Alpha arbutin is biosynthesized by microorganisms while beta arbutin is extracted from the leaves of various plants and fruit peels. Studies show that alpha arbutin is 10 times more effective in skin care.


Arbutin has several skincare benefits related to brightening and lightening. Let’s briefly explore some of them:

Brightens Skin: Does your skin look dull and lifeless? Adding arbutin to your skincare routine can brighten your skin by removing dark spots.

Sun protection: It protects your skin from darkening associated with sun exposure. This gives you a clearer and more even complexion.

Fades scars: If you suffer from acne scars, consider adding arbutin to your skin care routine. Due to its lightening effects, arbutin is very effective in fading stubborn acne scars.


Have you tried kojic acid or licorice for skin lightening? Arbutin works like these two gentle skin-lightening ingredients, but is more effective.

As we noted, arbutin is a derivative of hydroquinone, one of the most effective skin lightening ingredients. However, hydroquinone has many potential side effects – that’s why it’s banned in the EU and Japan.

Arbutin is a much safer alternative and is known for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It works by slowly releasing hydroquinone over time, inhibiting tyrosinase, the key enzyme responsible for melanin production in the skin.

This slow release of hydroquinone reduces the likelihood of harmful side effects. This means that arbutin does not have the toxicity associated with hydroquinone. So you can systematically use it in your skin care routine.


No. Since arbutin is a derivative of hydroquinone, it is not considered safe during pregnancy. However, more studies are needed on the potential side effects of arbutin on pregnant women and their developing babies.

A good alternative is vitamin C. Like arbutin, vitamin C inhibits melanin synthesis by down-regulating the activity of an enzyme known as tyrosinase. Vitamin C also has wonderful anti-aging benefits due to its antioxidant and collagen-boosting properties.


Arbutin is generally safe for all skin types. However, it is always prudent to perform a patch test before applying it all over your face.

Start by applying it to a small area of ​​your forehead. If you don’t experience irritation within 24 hours, you can start applying arbutin to the dark spots during your nighttime skincare routine.

After using it as a spot treatment for a week, if you don’t feel any irritation, you can start applying it all over your face. Gradually work your way up to using it twice a day, morning and night.

When applying arbutin, avoid the eyes, lips, and mouth. You can also apply it to other skin areas affected by hyperpigmentation, such as the neck, chest, and hands.

Wait a few minutes for your arbutin cream to be absorbed and dry, then apply your usual moisturizer.

If you’re using arbutin in your skincare routine, it’s important not to skip the sunscreen. Your skin is more susceptible to sunburn when you use arbutin because it reduces the amount of melanin on your skin.

Also, the goal is to get rid of hyperpigmentation, so going out in the sun without wearing sunscreen is a bit counterproductive. While you’re at it, try to limit the time you spend outside in direct sunlight.


Due to its use as a skin lightening ingredient and the fact that it is a derivative of hydroquinone, it is understandable that many people are concerned that arbutin is harmful to the skin.

Some people may experience irritation, mild acne, sunburn, and redness from arbutin use.

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