Ingredient Highlight – Arbutin

Every skin condition presents its own set of challenges – from acne to dry skin, eczema to contact dermatitis. That said, one of the most common skin complaints is hyperpigmentation or uneven skin tone. The causes can vary, but the fact remains, hyperpigmentation can be difficult to treat. Dermatologists consider vitamin C, Kojic acid, and Hydroquinone as the gold standard in treating hyperpigmentation. But Hydroquinone is a controversial ingredient. In Europe, it is not available in over-the-counter products, but only by prescription. It is also sensitising on the skin and comes with a whole slew of warning labels.

Over the last couple of years, Arbutin emerged as a powerhouse ingredient that will help treat hyperpigmentation, but with minimum side-effects.

What is Arbutin?

Arbutin is a botanical extract found in bearberry plants (blueberries, cranberries, and pear trees are a source of Arbutin too). Likewise, there is a synthetic version.
Arbutin comes in two forms – Alpha and Beta Arbutin. Skincare products typically contain Alpha Arbutin because it is a more effective and stable form.

How does Arbutin work?

Arbutin breaks down into Hydroquinone and glucose. Melanocytes contain an enzyme called Tyrosinase. It produces melanin in the skin when the skin is exposed to the sun. Arbutin works as a tyrosinase inhibitor. It prevents melatonin production, which, in turn, means less hyperpigmentation. It works as a natural and gentler alternative to Hydroquinone. For comparison, Hydroquinone works by killing off the skin cells that produce pigment.

What are the benefits of Arbutin?

Arbutin’s most notable benefit for the skin is that it evens out the skin tone by inhibiting pigmentation. It fades existing sun damage, treats post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (those brown/reddish patches of skin that remain after breakouts), as well as prevents new hyperpigmentation.
Arbutin is a well-tolerated ingredient and safe to use for the majority of skin types, as well as a variety of skin tones. For comparison, Hydroquinone can be irritating to the skin and is not recommended to be used by people with darker skin tones.

What to look for in products with Arbutin?

On the ingredients list look for Alpha Arbutin. Some formulas pair Arbutin with other skin-brightening ingredients like vitamin C or Niacinamide.

How to use Arbutin?

You can use Arbutin in both your morning and evening skincare routine. It doesn’t make the skin more sensitive to the sun. That said – you still need to use your sunscreen to maintain the results achieved. Likewise, you can safely use Arbutin with other active ingredients in your routines, like retinol and Alpha-Hydroxy acids.

Things to keep in mind

Even though Arbutin is generally a well-tolerated ingredient, if you have sensitive and reactive skin, do a patch test.
It is recommended to avoid Hydroquinone in pregnancy due to its high absorption rate. Even though Arbutin is considered a safer, gentler alternative, it still breaks down into Hydroquinone. For that reason, we would recommend avoiding it as a safety precaution.

Roberta Striga