What is Arbutin and how to use this skin lightener

What is Arbutin? How to use This Skin Lightener

This guide will teach you everything you need to know about the skin lightener Arbutin including how to determine if you should use it, which side effects to look out for, how to use it safely, which products are the best and more.

Let’s jump in: 


What is Arbutin?

So what exactly is Arbutin?

To put it simply it is a special ingredient which naturally helps to reduce and lighten the color of your skin. 

With this special mechanism it is put into the class of products known as skin lighteners. 

But why do people want to “lighten” their skin?

It turns out that as you age your skin starts to develop uneven skin color and uneven skin tone

This largely has to do with the effect of aging on the skin, but the end result is that the face may look blotchy and discolored. 

Skin lighteners provide a cosmetic way to naturally even out the skin tone and bring back youthful looking skin! 

Because of this effect skin lighteners have become incredibly powerful. 

Arbutin makes it into this class of products and may be one of the best and safest in this class (more on that below). 

Arbutin works by inhibiting an enzyme found in melanocytes known as tyrosinase

Melanocytes are the cells in your skin which confer pigment and coloring to your skin. 

The interesting thing about melanocytes is that they work by increasing melanin production which provides tints or color gradients to the skin

So if you can “turn down” the production of melanin in the melanocytes you can effectively lighten certain areas of the skin and reduce the overall pigment (even from what is normal for your body!). 

Arbutin comes in two forms that you need to know about: 

  • Alpha Arbutin – This is the purest and most effective form of arbutin (especially when compared to beta arbutin). It’s a powerful skin lightener and works on all skin types. Alpha arbutin is expensive to manufacture which is why usually only high quality products contain this ingredient. Watch our for cheap products which claim to contain “arbutin” but formulate it in the beta formulation. In addition Alpha arbutin is also more stable than Beta arbutin. 
  • Beta Arbutin – This form of arbutin is often referred to as just “arbutin” so if you don’t see the ingredient list specifying the Alpha component then you can assume it’s probably in the beta formulation. This formulation is cheaper to produce and manufacture and is not as effective as alpha arbutin. Newer skin products contain alpha arbutin while older cosmetic products contain either “beta arbutin” or simply “arbutin”. 

It’s important to understand the basics of cosmetic ingredients and how they work because it should influence which products you want to purchase and buy. 

Often times you may see two different products that are considerably different in price and you may not understand why – much of this has to do with how the products are made and manufactured. 

The more expensive products almost always work better because they contain the right formulations and right concentration of active ingredients

This concept holds true for Arbutin!

Make sure that you purchase products that contain alpha arbutin instead of the other alternatives. 

Arbutin vs Hydroquinone

You’ve probably heard of the powerful skin lightener known as Hydroquinone

But how does it differ from Arbutin and is one better than the other?

When we break down the difference between these skin lighteners we find that Arbutin is actually a derivative of Hydroquinone. 

What this means is that Arbutin works through a similar mechanism as Hydroquinone but is not quite as powerful. 

Hydroquinone is naturally found in several plants such as bearberry, blueberry, cranberry and pear trees. 

Both Hydroquinone and Arbutin act by blocking tyrosinase activity which blocks the production of melanin (this is why they are both skin lighteners). 

Remember if you block the production of melanin then your skin cells are not able produce pigment and their color will fade over time. 

The main difference between hydroquinone and arbutin is that hydroquinone is slightly more powerful. 

The downside to this is that hydroquinone will require a prescription and it may have more potent side effects. 

Because of these variables many physicians and patients opt to use Arbutin over hydroquinone. 

It may be a good idea to consider hydroquinone if you have a very stubborn hyperpigmentation issues or if you’ve failed other skin lightening treatments. 

Otherwise it might be safer to jump in with Arbutin. 

Arbutin vs Kojic Acid

What about Kojic acid? How does Arbutin compare to this skin lightener?

Kojic acid is another skin lightener that is also available over the counter and is often found in many lightening formulas. 

Kojic acid is created as a byproduct in the formation of fermented rice and then concentrated in high amounts and placed into cosmetic products

Kojic acid works by inhibiting the enzyme tyrosinase much like Arbutin. 

But are both products equal in terms of efficacy?

Some studies have pointed to the fact that kojic acid may be a slightly more powerful skin lightener than arbutin when they are compared head to head – especially for treating hyperpigmentation such as Melasma

But this doesn’t necessarily mean that you should use kojic acid over Arbutin.

One of the downsides to using Kojic acid is that it is not quite as stable as Arbutin when it is put into cosmetics. 

This means that kojic acid is more likely to break down and become less effective over time in certain cosmetic products. 

There are two main types of kojic acid found in cosmetic products: 

Kojic acid (this is the one that you want). 

And Kojic acid dipalmitate (this is the version you don’t want). 

Kojic acid dipalmitate is more stable than kojic acid but not nearly as powerful. 

This has lead many manufacturers to include the more stable (and cheaper) version of kojic acid in their products. 

But the problem is that it isn’t as effective as regular kojic acid! 

So even though that Arbutin is not quite as powerful as Kojic acid it is much more stable in cosmetic products. 

If you purchase a high quality kojic acid product this probably isn’t an issue, but if you are on a budget then it’s probably best to go with Arbutin over kojic acid for that stability. 

Is Arbutin Safe?

So we know that Arbutin is definitely effective as a skin lightener but does that mean that you should jump in and start using it?

Before you do the next question you should be asking yourself is this: is it actually safe?

The answer is yes!

Arbutin is actually quite safe, especially when compared to other products such as hydroquinone. 

One of the potential risks of using Arbutin is that it can actually become converted into Hydroquinone under certain alkaline circumstances

Basically if the pH is high enough (meaning there is a basic environment) Arbutin may turn into Hydroquinone. 

The good news is that the surface of your skin is not an alkaline or basic environment so the risk of this happening is quite low!

So yes, Arbutin is safe as long as it doesn’t turn into hydroquinone which shouldn’t be a problem. 

Side Effects & What to Expect 

There is a difference between Arbutin being safe and having side effects, however, which is what I want to touch on next. 

The safety profile has more to do with the products ability to cause harm, while the side effect profile has more to do with how well the product is tolerated. 

Just because Arbutin does not cause damage or harm to the skin doesn’t mean that it will necessarily work for your skin or that you won’t have any side effects. 

The good news is that most people who use Arbutin will not experience any bad or negative side effects. 

Most of the side effects that people experience while using Arbutin will be positive ones such as more radiant lighter skin. 

But some people who use Arbutin may experience redness, irritation and even a rash. 

These side effects are rare but you should still be aware of them. 

Rarely some people will not experience any skin lightening effect and may actually experience some worsening of their hyperpigmentation. 

This may have to do with a rebound reaction of melanin production that can sometimes occur with the use of hydroquinone. 

This is a rare side effect but you should be aware of it before you use arbutin! 

If it is going to work, how long should you expect to wait before you see results? 

Arbutin (like other skin lighteners) tends to work quickly and you should expect to see some skin lightening within the first 4 weeks of use. 

Further lightening may continue for up to several months. 

Another point worth mentioning is that the skin lightening you experience with Arbutin is NOT permanent. 

Once you stop using arbutin your skin may revert back to what it was previously. 

For this reason it may be wise to continue application with high quality ingredients as long as you achieve your desired results. 

With this in mind let’s talk about how you can use Arbutin and what kind of products are best. 

The Best Arbutin Products

Arbutin can be combined with several different types of cosmetic products but perhaps the two most efficient forms include arbutin cream and arbutin serum. 

Arbutin Cream

Arbutin cream is probably best for people who want to even out the entire skin tone of an entire body region. 

For instance:

If you have age spots, sun spots, photo-damage, freckles, etc. that are somewhat blotchy throughout your entire face then a cream may be best to reduce and even out the skin tone and complexion of that region. 

For best results you’ll want to use an arbutin face cream in both the morning and the night for at least 4+ weeks. 

I recommend using a product such as this if you need to target an entire area: 

arbutin lightening creamSee more Obagi nu derm Clear fx reviews here

Arbutin Serum

Another alternative to arbutin cream is arbutin serum. 

While cream may be better for large surface area you can think of serum as being better for targeted treatment or more difficult to treat cases of hyperpigmentation. 

Serum works best for those people who suffer from the deep purple hyperpigmentation associated with acne, for those suffering from melasma, or those who need a more targeted approach. 

If you just have a few areas on your face that worry you then it’s best to use a higher potency arbutin and put the product only on the areas that need it. 

So think about serum as a more targeted approach while the cream is more of a shot-gun approach. 

If you decide to use a serum I recommend a high quality product like this one: 

arbutin lightening serumSee more white lightening serum reviews here


Arbutin is one of many natural and powerful ways that you can reduce and lighten your skin coloring. 

When compared to other alternatives it may be one of the preferred methods for skin lightening even though it’s not quite as powerful as hydroquinone or kojic acid. 

The reason for this has to do with how safe it is to use, how well tolerated it is and how stable arbutin is when formulated to certain products

Remember that it may take up to 4 weeks for the lightening process to kick in so if you plan to use it make sure that you use it for long enough. 

Also, if you decide to use it as part of a regiment to target hyperpigmentation such as melasma you may benefit more from the serum formulation over the cream formulation. 

Now I want to hear from you:

Have you used arbutin before?

Are you currently using it?

Has it worked well for you?

Why or why not?

Leave your comments below! 

Kat Rich

Hi! I'm Kat and I write these posts. I'm obsessed with eyebrows, hair and anything related to fitness. Right now I do microblading, 3d brows and semi-permanent eyebrows in Mesa, Arizona as a certified microblading artist. I'm a licensed cosmetologist and have been for over 10 years as well. I love experimenting with new products and love to share my experiences. Have questions? Leave them below!

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below