Ingredient Spotlight: Alpha Arbutin

Hyperpigmentation can be a really tricky skin concern to tackle. It can be an expensive and laborious endeavour but there are a few ingredients that, when added to your skincare routine, can have an impressive impact. One of the best skincare ingredients for brightening skin (that you might not have heard of) is alpha arbutin — the unsung hero of hyperpigmentation if you will. It’s also one you might see popping up in more skincare products, hailed for its ability to reduce dark spots, lessen the appearance of acne scars, and deliver an overall brightness to the skin. What’s not to love? Let’s dive into everything you need to know about alpha arbutin. 

What is alpha arbutin?

Alpha Arbutin is a lesser-known ingredient that is fantastic for reducing hyperpigmentation. Arbutin is actually a derivative of hydroquinone (a well-known lightening ingredient) and is derived from plants (commonly the bearberry plant) but is also synthetically created in a lab. The best way to differentiate this is in the name. Alpha arbutin (which is what we’re touching on today) is a synthetic form of arbutin, whereas the plant-derived form is known as beta arbutin. They both work in the same way, which we’ll explain later, but alpha arbutin is much stronger (and far more elegant and stable version) and is what you’ll find in your skincare products. 

You’ll commonly find the ingredient in serums, but it’s also found in some masks and moisturisers, too. If you’re a fan of skin brightening, you’ll likely find this in some of the skincare products you already have at home. 

How does it work?

Pigmentation occurs when something called melanocytes is produced in the skin. In those cells is an enzyme called tyrosinase. Alpha arbutin comes in and reduces the tyrosinase activity in the skin, which then reduces these dark spots from forming. In turn, this helps to even out skin tone where dark patches and pigmentation occurs. Because it slows down this process, it not only treats pigmentation, but it also helps prevent it in the first place. 

Why should I use it?

Alpha arbutin is great for anyone looking to reduce or prevent hyperpigmentation, dark spots, ageing spots or looking to generally treat dull skin. When it comes to skin brightening, alpha arbutin is often referred to as a gentler alternative to glycolic acid, making it an attractive option to many. However, if you have a sensitive skin condition like eczema or rosacea, you should proceed with caution as it could disrupt your skin barrier. 

It’s great if you’ve also experienced dark marks after bouts of acne or blemishes, as it can work to lighten these areas over time with consistent use. It can also help to prevent these dark marks from occurring. 

It’s a safer and less controversial alternative to prescription-only hydroquinone, which is a skin lightening ingredient that works by killing melanin-producing cells and if used without professional guidance can be problematic.

When should I use it?

This ingredient can be used morning or evening and is actually most effective when used in combination with other brightening ingredients like vitamin C and AHAs. If using a serum containing alpha arbutin, it’s recommended to apply after cleansing and before moisturising. 

It’s best to start slowly and work your way up. Begin by using it once or twice a week and go from there; stop if you have any irritation. If you’re addressing hyperpigmentation, it’s worth noting that alpha arbutin isn’t going to solve the concern right away. It will take weeks — if not months — to see a difference. As with most skincare, consistency is key. 

Try these...

If you want a straightforward introduction to the ingredient, The Ordinary’s Alpha Arbutin is the place to start. It’s no-frills, affordable and gets the job done (which often in skincare is all we’re looking for!) Oh, and it contains hyaluronic acid to give the skin a boost of hydration whilst fighting hyperpigmentation. 

If hyperpigmentation is a main concern of yours but you don’t have hundreds to drop on a new serum, the By BB SkinHit is exactly what you need. Used in combination with the powerhouse that is tranexamic acid, this serum works effectively to reduce dark spots whilst also delivering an incredible glow. 

This is similar to the first The Ordinary product but is souped-up with the addition of Vitamin C to give you maximum dark spot defending whilst also fighting those free radicals. 

Find yourself struggling with both acne-induced dark marks and scarring? Try this beautiful serum, which also features rice bran water to keep skin feeling incredibly soft with added luminosity.

Another one for the dry skin folks out there, combining these two ingredients tackles dull and dry skin simultaneously. 

If you’re looking to prevent dark marks caused by breakouts in real time, get yourself some of these smart microdart spot patches. These work to target right where the pimple has taken hold to reduce inflammation and prevent scarring.