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Alpha Arbutin for skin brightening; how does it work?

If you have been dealing with skin discolouration and age spots, you might be familiar with the big names in brightening ingredients - Vitamin C, Kojic Acid and Licorice extract, which have all proven to be great skin brighteners. Allow us to introduce you to the hidden hero of spot fading and skin brightening - Alpha Arbutin. A lot of products promise to brighten and even out skin tone but they can be harsh on the skin, particularly for sensitive skin, which is why we are super excited to tell you all about Alpha Arbutin; an ingredient that is safe for all skin types.

What Exactly is Alpha Arbutin?

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Arbutin is naturally found in plant sources such as Bearberry, Cranberry and Mulberry, which essentially prevents the formation of melanin (the pigment that creates skin colour). The chemically synthesised version of this plant extract is known as Alpha Arbutin which is used as a topical skin brightening agent to treat sun spots, pigmentation and scars caused by sun damage and breakouts. It also has antioxidant properties, which protect the skin from potential sun damage. Along with Retinol, it is a fairly common ingredient in anti-ageing products to treat age spots, fine lines and wrinkles. To know more about Retinol, read our blog.

There’s another variant, Beta Arbutin, a chemically similar molecule, which is a cheaper version but not as stable as Alpha Arbutin. Moreover, studies have shown Alpha Arbutin to be over ten times more effective than Beta Arbutin when it comes to skin brightening and minimising dark spots.

Alpha Arbutin V/S Hydroquinone 

Arbutin is essentially a Glycoside, a more natural derivative of Hydroquinone. Hydroquinone is one of the best skin brightening ingredients, being potent in nature, it can cause permanent skin damage if used without medical supervision. Alpha Arbutin is considered as an effective and safe alternative to Hydroquinone without any of its harsh side effects.

How Does It Work?

Alpha Arbutin is the preferred choice when it comes to skin brightening because it is a derivative of Hydroquinone, making it an effective skin brightening and spot fading ingredient.

Our skin tone is determined by the measure of melanin on our skin, more the melanin, darker the skin. However, melanin also acts as a protective shield against the sun’s harmful rays but excessive exposure can lead to an uneven skin tone which is the cause for hyperpigmentation.

Alpha Arbutin works by inhibiting an enzyme called tyrosinase within melanocytes. Melanocytes control the melanin production - melanin is responsible for the pigment levels which imparts the skin its colour. In simpler words, less tyrosinase means less pigment, which means less discolouration and unwanted dark spots. Thanks to its water-soluble nature, Alpha Arbutin absorbs faster into the skin and is overall more effective than its Beta counterpart and much safer as compared to Hydroquinone.

What are the Benefits of Using It?

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1. Reduces Pigmentation and Dark Spots

Being a stable water-soluble compound, it safely and visibly fades dark spots and hyperpigmentation without irritation by inhibiting the activity of tyrosinase. It is not only known to reduce the appearance of sun spots but also helps in preventing them. In most cases, hyperpigmentation takes time to heal so don’t expect overnight results with Alpha-Arbutin, give it 8-12 weeks to show significant results. If you want a better understanding of what causes hyperpigmentation, read about it here.

2. Helps in Treating Melasma

Melasma is a familiar condition among pregnant women which leads to the formation of brown patches on the face due to hormonal changes. Given its skin brightening qualities, Alpha Arbutin is shown to help in reducing the intensity of these patches. If you are pregnant, consult your doctor before using Alpha Arbutin.

3. Skin Brightening

It is a safe skin-brightening ingredient that targets hyperpigmentation and dark spots to reveal a younger looking skin. It does not permanently bleach your skin, it brightens your skin by slowing down the melanin production.

4. Improves Skin Tone

Alpha Arbutin is a safe option for all skin tones as it does not change the skin colour, only evens out your complexion. It brightens the darker areas of the skin (sun damage and hyperpigmentation), resulting in a natural even skin tone.

5. Gentle on Skin

Unlike other skin brightening ingredients, Alpha Arbutin is gentle and less irritating on the skin. It is safe to use in concentrations of upto 2% without experiencing any harsh side effects. It is a great alternative for sensitive skin types given its mild nature.

Who Should Use It?

Being on the gentler side, it works well with all skin types and tones so anyone looking for an effective solution to any kind of skin discolouration that could be caused by acne scarring, sun damage or melasma should consider using Alpha Arbutin. Even if you want to fix a blotchy skin tone, Alpha Arbutin is the answer. 

1. Sensitive Skin

If you have sensitive skin, the Alpha Arbutin works wonderfully as compared to other skin brighteners like Retinol and Glycolic Acid. 

2. Dry Skin

It does not dry out or irritate the skin like other skin brightening agents. Alpha Arbutin protects and nourishes the skin so people with scaly or dry skin can benefit from the topical use of Arbutin. 

3. Acne Prone Skin 

It notably fades tough acne scars and prevents future breakouts as well. Over time, it improves the texture of the skin and helps smooth the scarred skin. Acne scars can be stubborn, read our blog on ingredients proven to fade tough acne scars.

When Should You Use It?

Alpha Arbutin products are safe to use twice a day. For optimal results, it can be used in both AM and PM skincare routines. For better absorption and hydration, apply moisturisers and creams at night. Regardless of the time of day, always cleanse your skin properly before using a product with Alpha Arbutin. For a good cleanse, we recommend trying Detoxie’s Refreshing Face Wash for a healthy and pollution free glow.

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What is the Recommended Concentration to use?

Studies have shown that Alpha Arbutin is superior in performance when compared to traditional brightening agents such as Kojic Acid and Hydroquinone. It is effective in low strengths and shows great results in concentrations of 1 to 2% when used consistently for 2-3 months.

How Should You Use It?

Since Alpha Arbutin is credited for it’s skin brightening benefits, you will find this ingredient most commonly in moisturisers, serums, creams, masks and toners. Arbutin works best when used along with Vitamin C, Niacinamide and AHAs, enhancing the skin brightening effects. Find out more about layering products by reading our blog.

1. Serum

If you are using an Alpha-Arbutin serum, apply it after cleansing on clean dry skin and before using any heavy moisturisers on your skin. Serums are strenuous agents so they should be used to target specific skin issues like fading blemishes, acne scars and dark spots. 

Deconstruct’s Brightening Serum is a great pick to tackle pigmentation, with its unique formula of Alpha Arbutin and Niacinamide, it fights pigmentation and tanning while improving the skin’s overall texture.

This is an image of Deconstruct’s Brightening Serum on

We would recommend trying Thyme Organic’s Triple Correction Under Eye Serum if you are struggling with under eye troubles like dark circles. It has potent ingredients like Alpha Arbutin, Retinol and Vitamin C which reduce the appearance of fine lines, dark circles and wrinkles around the eyes.

This is an image of Thyme Organic Triple Eye Correction Serum on

2. Toner

A  toner with Alpha-Arbutin is a great option if you are looking for a skin brightening solution. It is absorbed well by the skin since it is used after cleansing.

3. Moisturiser

Alpha Arbutin and an AHA are an excellent combination in a moisturiser as the AHA improves the absorption power of Alpha-Arbutin. It is great for dry skin, especially in winter. 

Things to Keep in Mind

1. Patch Test

While Arbutin is safe for all skin types, it is always recommended to do a patch test before introducing any new ingredient in your skincare. For sensitive skin types, it is extremely important to do a patch test to rule out allergic reactions like itching, redness or burning sensation of the skin. It is a rarity, but in some cases, using Alpha Arbutin can cause mild acne for people with sensitive skin. Read our blog to know more about why and how to do a patch test.

2. Moisturise

Keeping your skin hydrated is crucial so that Alpha Arbutin can do its job well. Let your Arbutin based cream or serum completely dry off before applying moisturiser, let the ingredient seep into the skin so that it can work its magic. Moisturising is at the core of a skincare routine, read our guide on how to pick the right moisturiser for your skin.

3. Sunscreen

Alpha Arbutin has the tendency to make your skin sensitive to UV rays and susceptible to sun damage because it limits the melanin production, leaving your skin vulnerable to sunburn. So do not miss out on the sunscreen at any cost and if possible, limit your time in the sun. Dr. Sheth’s Oat & Zinc Mineral Sunscreen offers broad spectrum protection from UV rays, pollution and blue light damage.

This is an image of  Dr. Sheth’s Oat & Zinc Mineral Sunscreen on

This miracle ingredient is being increasingly advocated by dermatologists for its skin brightening and spot fading qualities, making it a widely popular ingredient in the skincare market. However, it's important to know that Alpha Arbutin does not lead to permanent change in the condition of the skin which is a good thing, making it a safe ingredient without incurring permanent alterations in your skin. Also, melanin is an important pigment for the skin and Alpha Arbutin decreases the melanin production, so keep in mind not to overuse or over apply an Arbutin based product. 

-Srishti Mehra

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