Arbutin: A safe and effective skin care ingredient against spots

Arbutin is a popular and much-discussed substance in the skin care world. It is valued for its potential skin brightening properties and ability to reduce hyperpigmentation. In this blog we discuss the different forms of arbutin, how it is produced and what exactly it does on the skin. We’ll also discuss the pros and cons of using arbutin and compare its safety with another ingredient, hydroquinone.

Arbutin origin

It comes in two forms: natural arbutin and synthetic arbutin.

Natural arbutin is obtained from certain plants, such as bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), cranberry, and birch bark. It is produced through an extraction process in which the plants are processed to isolate the arbutin. Beta-arbutin is a natural form. The natural form makes it an attractive ingredient for those looking for natural and herbal skin care products. This natural extract is often prized in skincare for its association with plant sources and its supposed safety.

The synthetic form, on the other hand, is produced through a chemical process in the laboratory. It is made by modifying hydroquinone, a chemical. Alpha-arbutin is a synthetic form derived from beta-arbutin. Synthetic form is an alternative to natural arbutin and is often used in cosmetic formulations due to its stability and consistency in quality.

It is important to note that both natural and synthetic form can be safely used in cosmetic products. While both forms of arbutin have similar properties and the potential to reduce hyperpigmentation, there may be some differences in terms of source, purity, and price.

How does it work on the skin?

It has an inhibitory effect on the enzyme tyrosinase, which plays a crucial role in melanin production in the skin. Melanin is the pigment responsible for the color of our skin, hair and eyes. When excessive production of melanin occurs, unwanted dark spots and discolorations can develop, such as age spots and melasma.

By inhibiting the activity of the enzyme tyrosinase, it helps regulate melanin production. This results in a reduction in excessive melanin production and can therefore help reduce dark spots and promote a more even complexion.


Using arbutin in skin care products can help address hyperpigmentation issues and promote a more even skin tone. It is important to note that the effectiveness of arbutin may depend on factors such as concentration in the product, formulation and individual skin response.

What are the pros and cons?

One of the benefits of arbutin is that it is less irritating than some other skin brightening ingredients, such as hydroquinone. Hydroquinone is effective but can cause side effects such as irritation, redness and sensitive skin with prolonged use. Arbutin, on the other hand, is generally considered safer and has a lower risk of side effects.

However, the use of arbutin also has some disadvantages. It may take some time to see results as it has a milder action than some other skin brightening ingredients. In addition, the effectiveness of arbutin may vary depending on the concentration and formulation in the product.

Regarding safety, arbutin is generally considered safe for use on the skin. It is commonly used in cosmetic products and no known serious side effects have been reported with normal use.

Hydroquinone alternative

Arbutin is often considered a safer alternative to hydroquinone, mainly because of hydroquinone’s potential side effects, including the risk of skin cancer. Researchers have found that exposure to hydroquinone has been linked to a significant increase in skin cancer:

  • Melanoma (3 times more likely to get it)
  • Non-melanoma skin cancers (3.6 times more likely to get it)

This means that taking hydroquinone can put you at a much higher risk of getting these types of skin cancer.

External ochronosis is a serious side effect of hydroquinone use and can be permanent. Ochronosis is a skin condition characterized by blue-black discolorations in the skin. It is caused by the prolonged use of hydroquinone on the skin. Hydroquinone can disrupt the production of melanin, the pigment that gives our skin its color. Because of this, the use of hydroquinone can result in an abnormal buildup of melanin, which leads to the blue-black discolorations, especially on darker areas of the skin.

Therefore, it is better to use other safer alternatives to take care of your skin. Hydroquinone is even banned or only available with a prescription in some countries because of the serious side effects it can cause.

Arbutin is a mild and safe ingredient for tackling hyperpigmentation and dark spots.

Iconic Elements Targeted Pigment Serum

All in all, arbutin can be an effective choice if you’re looking for a skin-brightening ingredient that’s gentle on the skin and has less risk of side effects than some other options.

Arbutin Malic Acid Malic Acid Pigment Reduction Arbutin Niacinamide

This product is carefully formulated with specially selected ingredients that help improve the skin. It contains both high and low molecular hyaluronic acid, which ensures that it is well absorbed by the skin. The formula works in three ways and reduces pigmentation by reducing the production of pigment, reducing the transfer of pigment to the skin cells and gently exfoliating the skin.

The active ingredients are: Malic Acid, Arbutin en Niacinamide.

  • Malic Acid, also known as malic acid
  • Arbutin, natural form, derived from berries
  • Niacinamide, vitamin B3

It works primarily by inhibiting the enzyme tyrosinase, while licorice root also has anti-inflammatory properties and kojic acid, in addition to inhibiting tyrosinase, also acts as an antioxidant. Each ingredient has unique properties that make it suitable for different skin types and needs.

Although arbutin is generally considered safe, there is limited information regarding its use during pregnancy. It is always advisable to consult a doctor before using any new skin care products during pregnancy.

Both ingredients are effective at reducing hyperpigmentation, but they work in different ways. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that can also reduce melanin production, while arbutin specifically inhibits the tyrosinase enzyme. Combining the two can provide synergistic benefits.

Although arbutin is generally well tolerated, some people may experience sensitivity or allergic reactions. It is always wise to do a patch test before fully using a new product.

For more on how to test for cosmetic allergies at home.

The time it takes to see results may vary depending on the concentration of arbutin in the product and individual skin reaction. Generally, visible improvements in skin pigmentation can be seen after four to twelve weeks of consistent use.

Picture of Dr. Francis Wu

Dr. Francis Wu

Dr. Francis Wu, een vooraanstaande dermatoloog, is de drijvende kracht achter Iconic Elements. Hij heeft sinds 2004 zijn expertise ingezet om een veilige en effectieve huidverzorgingslijn te creëren, geschikt voor zowel gezonde huid als huidproblemen. Iconic Elements, opgericht in 2016, is de eerste brede skincare lijn in Nederland ontwikkeld door een dermatoloog. Als medisch specialist streeft Dr. Wu naar het bevorderen van het welzijn van mensen door hoogwaardige en effectieve huidverzorgingsproducten te bieden. De proefdiervrije en vegan producten vermijden schadelijke chemicaliën en bevatten natuurlijke ingrediënten.
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