|Best used: In AM or PM (Up to 2X day)
|Caution: Mixes well with others
|Best for: Melasma, Pigmentation, Post acne marks
|Comments: Alternative to Hydroquinone
|Mode of action: Tyrosinase inhibitor, pigment corrector
What is the Skin Science behind Arbutin?
Found in bearberry, cranberry & wheat, arbutin can be considered as organic. In the context of cosmeceuticals, the molecule is manufactured. Arbutin breaks down to form hydroquinone & functions to decrease the activity of the enzyme that produces pigment (melanin). It reduces melanin formation, improving the appearance of age spots, freckles, melasma, and post-inflammatory pigmentation.
Does arbutin lighten skin?
This compound is one of the most potent inhibitors of pigmentation as it specifically targets the enzyme that produces melanin.
What is Alpha Arbutin used for?
Beta arbutin, also called Hydroquinone β-D-glucopyranoside, is a naturally occurring antioxidant and skin brightener that is naturally found in certain plants such as the pear tree. It is a skin brightening agent used to treat melasma, post inflammatory hyperpigmentation & disorders of pigmentation. This compound is frequently used Japanese traditional medicine.
View our Treatment Gallery
Why is arbutin my second favourite pigment fader?
Hydroquinone or HQ is the number one pigment fader however it’s downside is that rest periods are mandatory due to side effects such as ochronosis (darkening of skin), and tachyphylaxis (chemical stops working). On this basis I recommend a rotational therapy with HQ, with rest periods ranging from 4 to 8 weeks. This is where non-HQ pigment correctors have a role. I prescribe various botanical extracts including beta arbutin, licorice root extract, flavonoids, bearberry & wildberry as well as ascorbic, kojic, citric & retinoic acid in a cyclical manner. Be guided by your treating nurse or dermal therapist as to the timings of your cycle.
Is arbutin the best treatment for melasma?
No, but it is a very useful treatment for this condition. I do prescribe arbutin in the second ‘rest or maintenance phase’ of melasma treatment. To date the best or most effective pigment inhibitor is still hydroquinone, however this compound can not be used long term. This is when arbutin & other botanicals come into play. While other skin brightening agents can dry and irritate the skin, arbutin is less irritating. Since arbutin’s active component is released slowly, it can be less irritating than other skin-lightening agents and better for those with sensitive skin.
How often can I use arbutin?
This compound can be used up to twice a day. It has a lower irritation rate compared to HQ, Kojic, ascorbic or retinoic acid & can be used long term. My usual prescription pattern is for use in the evening, as I prefer patients to use antioxidants in the morning.
Can I combine arbutin with ascorbic acid - vitamin C?
Yes, Alpha Arbutin will still be effective when mixed in with a vitamin C. Most skin brightening agents will have a low (1-4%) concentration of ascorbic acid combined with arbutin, licorice, citric acid, botanicals & retinol. You can incorporate vitamin C as part of your pigmentation treatment program. A sensible routine is to use antioxidants such as vitamin E, ferulic acid & ascorbic acid in the am, under sunscreen. Arbutin combination creams can be used as part of your night time routine.
What can I combine arbutin with?
This ingredient mixes well with other skincare products. The most frequent being licorice, citric, ascorbic, salicylic, glycolic, retinoic acids, flavonoids, bearberry, kojic acid, & other pigment inhibitors.
Are there any side effects with arbutin use?
Arbutin is safe for all skin tones – including ethnic skin. Arbutin will not change the colour of your skin – it will only lighten discoloured areas like freckles, age spots, sun spots, acne scars, & melasma. Alpha arbutin is man-made, however beta arbutin can be found in botanicals. Allergic reactions to arbutin are extremely rare, & unlike hydroquinone, this compound can be used long term without any concerns.
What does a sensible skin care routine with arbutin look like?
AM: Cleanser, Anti-0xidant (Ferulic acid, Vitamin C, E) , SPF, Make up
PM: Cleanser, +/- Toner, skin care actives (Retinol, niacinamide, AHAs, or *Pigment Correctors including arbutin, liquorice root, botanicals etc…)
*Pigment correctors include arbutin, liquorice root, soy, flavonoids, wild berry, bearberry, & other botanical extracts. Other correctors include azelaic acid, ascorbic acid & cysteamine. These are best rotated with Hydroquinone. Discuss your rotational pigmentation regime with your allocated dermal therapist or nurse at Cutis Dermatology, Brisbane or DVP Sydney.
Davin’s Protip on Arbutin
I use arbutin as a pigment corrector for sensitive skin, or during the hydroquinone rest period. Most often compounded with ascorbic, kojic, citric & other alpha hydroxy acids.
Arbutin works well for general pigment reduction, however in melasma iit should ideally be combined with lasers chemical peels & t.acid.
I do think the stigma associated with hydroquinone is both overrated but also justified. I have seen many long term side effects on HQ, including most frequently skin irritation, allergies, tachyphylaxis & even ochronosis. Giving patients crystal clear instructions on how to use HQ is a must (refer to my IG posts on 101.skin), with a start date, stop regime, HQ substitute & recommencement date. In this context my ‘arbutin & non-HQ pigment corrector’ cycle will vary from 4- 26 weeks. Please discuss this with the designated clinical nurse or therapist assigned to your treatment.
Join the conversation
Join Dr Davin Lim on Instagram to stay up to date