Skin care lovers have surely heard of the classic hyperpigmentation remedies – hydroquinone and vitamin C. However, alpha arbutin is one of today’s most effective ingredients for brightening skin and treating a range of issues, from hyperpigmentation to acne scars and melasma.
The alpha arbutin before and after effects will leave you hooked on this naturally occurring ingredient. It’s commonly found in plant sources such as cranberries, bearberries and blueberries. However, its natural ingredient status isn’t the main reason for everyone’s obsession - it’s also extremely gentle on the skin and, therefore, an ideal product to add to your facial and/or body skincare routine.
You see, hydroquinone, one of the current leaders in hyperpigmentation solutions, can only be used for short periods of time. The reason for this is that while it works wonders in terms of skin brightening, it’s also mildly toxic to living cells which can lead to the development of a host of new skin problems. In contrast, alpha arbutin is safe and encouraged for daily use.
Essentially, by using an alpha arbutin serum, you’re exposing your skin to small (non-toxic) doses of hydroquinone over a longer period which provides the same results without the health risk. Just be aware that you’ll most likely have to wait a few weeks before you can get visible results and take those all-important alpha arbutin before and after pictures.
Speaking of comparisons, alpha arbutin benefits can even trump those of vitamin C. To make a long story short, while vitamin C is effective at reducing hyperpigmentation it’s harder for the skin to absorb, will breakdown if exposed to the sun and/or water and is needed in high concentrations (10-20% compared to an alpha arbutin serum’s 2%) to be effective.
That being said, if you want to layer products that include both these ingredients, you definitely can.
Now it’s time to break down exactly what this ingredient does. Essentially, alpha arbutin products work by inhibiting the tyrosinase enzyme (which contributes to the production of melanin). This reduces skin pigmentation which helps to even out skin tone.
The lack of major or complex scientific changes going on helps contribute to its lack of side effects. This is also why it’s suitable for use on all skin types.
However, it’s use on those who are pregnant needs to be considered. There hasn’t yet been enough research done to confirm that it’s safe to use during pregnancy. In this instance, we recommend consulting a medical professional before using this ingredient if you are pregnant.
To finish off, here's a couple more alpha arbutin benefits: it has been proven to be much more effective than both natural arbutin and its cheaper counterpart beta arbutin. Plus, it doesn’t cause sun sensitivity.
Overall, alpha arbutin is a fantastic skincare ingredient with very few, if any drawbacks; so why not try it out and find out why everyone is raving about alpha arbutin.
Alpha arbutin is a lightening agent that is biosynthesized by microbial enzymes or microorganisms.¹ Interestingly, it is derived from naturally occurring arbutin, but is much more efficient in inhibiting tyrosinase activity.¹ In fact, alpha arbutin has been proven to be as much as 10x more effective than its natural counterpart. This is because it is much more stable meaning it is not likely to react with other substances and potentially break down.
The primary reason for using alpha arbutin is that it helps to manage hyperpigmentation in the skin. For people who deal with this daily, this will be a familiar term, but for the newbies here’s a rundown of what it is and how it works.
Without getting overly scientific, hyperpigmentation is the result of changes to melanogenesis (production and distribution of skin pigment). The causes of this skin condition include an increase in melanocyte cells or melanosome production, melanin synthesis, and/or melanocyte hyperplasia (greater deposition of melanocytes within the skin).¹
The physical manifestation of hyperpigmentation will present itself as various patches of different coloured skin. This has the potential to be made worse by exposure to the sun or injury to the skin, among other things. That last part is why it’s vitally important to be aware of how you’re treating your skin and the things you’re putting on it - enter alpha arbutin products.
The long and short of it is that the synthesis of melanin in the skin is under the control of an enzyme called tyrosinase. Alpha, which is present in alpha arbutin, inhibits the activity of the tyrosinase enzyme, thereby reducing the amount of melanin in the epidermis (the thin outer layer of the skin).¹² This brightens and lightens existing dark spots and prevents the formation of additional dark spots. In other words, that patchy skin that you were sick of dealing with will start to fade away within 1-2 months of consistent topical use.
On top of its stability, another reason for its effectiveness is that it works on two levels. Not only does it inhibit tyrosinase, but it also works to impede the process of melanin production (by stagnating the maturation of melanosome) which provides your skin with the necessary time to return to its natural pigmentation without any extra darkening occurring.
As mentioned previously, in cosmeceutical formulations, alpha arbutin has the benefit of being highly stable, non-irritating and does not cause sun sensitivity.¹
In relation to the previous point, it’s important to note that alpha arbutin is a glycosylated hydroquinone molecule. If that middle word sounds familiar it’s because you saw it earlier in the ‘Why It’s Dermoi’ section. Quick refresher - hydroquinone is the ingredient to use for brightening skin…or at least it was.
Nowadays, alpha arbutin is considered a natural alternative because it uses the exact same process as hydroquinone. Not to mention, it has an extremely similar molecular structure, without any of the potential side effects.
So, there’s no need to worry about its legitimacy or efficacy as it’s essentially just an update on a long-loved ingredient.
1. Alpha Arbutin as a Skin Lightening Agent: A Review. International Journal of Pharmaceutical Research. 2021;13(02).
2. Saeedi M, Khezri K, Seyed Zakaryaei A, Mohammadamini H. A Comprehensive Review of the Therapeutic Potential of Arbutin. Phytotherapy Research. 2021;35(8):4136-4154.
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