So cosmetics are not your strength. Neither is chemistry. And you can’t really figure out all the crazy ingredient lists you read on bottles and pots of skin care products. But you have decided to deal with the skin blemishes that make you feel so uncomfortable.
There’s no reason to be ashamed of them, and with or without patches… hey, you look great. But it would be naive not to acknowledge that society’s gaze can have a seriously damaging impact on us and the perception of our own bodies, especially on women, black people and people of color.
However, you know what? Your body is, well…yours. And the most important thing is that you feel comfortable in your own skin (like literally).
If you have heard of both alpha arbutin and beta arbutin, but you have no idea of what is the difference, this article is for you.
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Alpha vs Beta: Which One is Better
It really depends on which parameter you want to prioritise. And of course, on the other hand, it also depends on what works best for you. But you can’t know that. You haven’t tried it yet, nor have you read this article. So go ahead and let us give you all the facts you need to know to make your decision easier.
Are you looking for a short and concise answer? Here we go.
While alpha arbutin is more expensive, it is also stronger and more likely to be effective. Beta arbutin is instead available on the market at a more affordable price, but seems less effective and requires larger amounts when used. We know that ‘better’ has a highly personal meaning. If you are looking for the best for your skin and you are willing (and can afford) to spend a significant amount of money to take care of it, go for alpha.
If, on the other hand, you’re looking for any solution that is affordable within your budget, beta arbutin is fine. It works, just in a different way. Please note, when the INCI (International Nomenclature Cosmetic Ingredient) of a product simply mentions “arbutin”, it is most likely to be beta arbutin. Believe us, when it’s alpha we’re talking about, they want you to know.
Alpha vs Beta: Differences and Similarities
Alpha and beta arbutin belong, in a way, to the same family: They both come from hydroquinone, and operate in the same way to remove skin blemishes. They both work by inhibiting the tyrosinase enzyme, reducing the production of melanin in the areas where the treatment is applied.
BUT. Alpha arbutin (4-hydroxyphenyl α-glucopyranoside) is a much purer form of arbutin than beta. This gives it some substantial advantages. Well, it also has a disadvantage, or at least a detail we can’t overlook (we mentioned it earlier). Firstly, alpha arbutin is hydrosoluble, i.e. water-soluble, which means it is better absorbed into the skin. Compared to arbutin beta, alpha has better heat resistance and light stability. Alpha arbutin is very effective against hyperpigmentation of the skin, which is why it is used in so many skin care products. Considering everything we have said so far, the disadvantage we have mentioned is… in the price. The cost for producing alpha arbutin is quite high and so are the products that contain it.
On the other hand the beta class of arbutin is way cheaper. But it seems to be a little less effective than its “cousin” alpha. That doesn’t mean that beta arbutin doesn’t work at all.
So, which one is better? Research shows that alpha arbutin is ten times stronger (and then more effective) than beta arbutin. Does it mean it will work for you? We can’t know for sure. It’s just statistics.
Arbutin and hyperpigmentation
Arbutin is a natural derivative of hydroquinone, which is also a very common ingredient used for fighting hyperpigmentation resulting from sun exposure, skin ageing and acne scars. It is extracted from the dried leaves of certain plants such as blueberry, cranberry, bearberry and pears. Arbutin is a hydroquinone’s derivative in a mono-glycosidic form and it is used in cosmetics both as alpha and beta arbutin. It can be natural or it may come from a synthetical production. Several studies have confirmed that arbutin is indeed useful in treating hyperpigmentation of the skin. For those who are unfamiliar with the topic, hyperpigmentation occurs when there is an overproduction of melanin in some area of the skin. The causes can be very different, but the result is similar and involves the presence of blemishes.
In 2018, Cosmetic Facial Surgery published the results of the research they conducted, which reported that in 39% of cases arbutin succeeded in reducing the amount of melanin in the affected areas of the skin. Not only that, but arbutin has also been found to be effective in inhibiting cellular ageing, due to its antioxidant effect.
How Long Does Arbutin Take to Show Results?
Whether you go for alpha or beta, keep in mind that in both cases it takes time for the treatment to show its effectiveness (or ineffectiveness). So, if you decide to go for beta arbutin, don’t give up if you don’t see any change after a day. These things take time. Be patient. Usually, arbutin starts to show its effects after a month or so. We don’t need to tell you that this is very subjective and obviously outcomes are strictly related to skin types.
It is usually a good idea not to use arbutin products for more than three months at a time. Keep in mind that arbutin is not meant for permanent results. Arbutin works as long as you are using it. However, you can expect to see its effect for a few more weeks after discontinuation.
Are there any side effects associated with arbutin?
When used in the right quantities and within a maximum concentration of 3-4%, arbutin can be said to be a safe ingredient for the skin. The chances are low and side effects are quite rare, but it’s better to know that some misfortunes can happen. We are talking about side effects that are usually not too severe and can resemble a temporary allergic reaction of the skin. Redness, irritation, rashes and a general increased sensitivity to the rays of the sun. Especially if your skin is quite sensitive (or even if it is not), always do a patch test so that you can check in advance whether a particular product is suitable for your skin.
Overview: Arbutin, Kojic Acid and Hydroquinone
Let’s take a step back to give you a brief overview and comparison of arbutin versus a couple of well-known alternatives. How does it differ? Can it be better than hydroquinone and kojic acid? And if so, how?
As explained before, both arbutin and hydroquinone work by acting on melanin production. One major difference, however, is that while arbutin only acts on tyrosinase, hydroquinone has also an impact on melanocytes. Hydroquinone hasn’t had (and currently still hasn’t, to some extent) a wholly positive reputation. Even though the most serious alleged risks have been refuted, hydroquinone implies some significant threat. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use it, especially if you’re dealing with some severe hyperpigmentation, but you’d better consider consulting a doctor before you do anything. So this is why arbutin can be said to be a safer, though less popular, choice.
What about kojic acid? This is a valid alternative, especially popular on the Asian market. Kojic acid is a very effective skin brightener and is extracted from mushrooms, soy and rice.
It’s powerful. It has a high concentration of the active ingredient, so it only takes a small amount to work. Although it is responsible for more successful outcomes than arbutin, it is a less stable substance. This means that its effect is less long-lasting than other alternatives, such as arbutin itself.
Some final words
In conclusion, arbutin may be the ideal solution if:
- you want to take as little risk as possible,
- you prefer to use a product that is not too “aggressive”,
- your hyperpigmentation problem is present, but limited.
Remember, alpha arbutin is stronger and needs smaller quantities but is quite expensive; beta arbutin is cheaper but may be less effective. Either way, don’t rush it and wait at least four weeks before giving up hope!