Arbutin Vs. Hydroquinone for skin lightening: Which is Better?

Arbutin Vs. Hydroquinone for skin lightening: Which is Better?
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Both Arbutin and hydroquinone are skin lightening agents. They work to reduce melanin production by the melanocytes in your epidermis.

However, while hydroquinone is more effective and more popular, arbutin is the safest of the two.

The use of skin lightening agents is not all bad. If you live in countries that appreciate a healthy tan, you might not understand it, but for those who struggle with hyperpigmentation or skin tone, skin lightening agents help achieve a smooth skin tone and win one’s confidence back.

What is hyperpigmentation?

Hyperpigmentation is a medical term for irregular darkening of the skin. It is characterized by darker patches and can occur in small areas or cover large areas or even the entire body. Causes of hyperpigmentation include aging and hormonal changes.

Sunburn, too, can cause sunspots, aka liver spots, to appear on your skin. Then there’s the post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation due to inflammation or injury to the skin; it’s commonly caused by acne.

Anyone can have an uneven skin tone. However, Indians, Asians, and Middle Eastern are more likely to experience them. Even dark-skinned people can benefit from the power of lightening agents to even out their skin tone.

Irregular darkening of the skin is considered benign. However, it’s impossible to discount its psychological effects. Many people with irregular skin tones develop anxiety issues and lose self-esteem leading to poor social lives. That’s why products are continuously being put on the market to help with this problem. But not many ingredients come near the efficiency offered by hydroquinone and arbutin.

How do hydroquinone and arbutin work?

To understand how hydroquinone and arbutin help, you need to understand how skin discoloration happens. Skin gets its dark color from melanin. Melanin is produced by melanocyte cells in the epidermal layer. These cells have tyrosinase, an enzyme that activates in the presence of UV light leading to melanin deposits under your skin. The more melanin under your skin, the darker your skin tone.

Melanin helps protect from UV rays. However, uneven melanin deposits lead to irregular skin tone. Hydroquinone and arbutin work to reduce melanin production. Hydroquinone occurs naturally in fruits, coffee, beer, and other animal products in small amounts.

On the other hand, arbutin is extracted from blueberry, cranberry, pears, and bearberry. Synthetic production of both agents is also possible. For example, hydroquinone can be produced from propene using benzene, air, and some acid, while arbutin can be synthesized from the hydroquinone using acetobromoglucose.

Is Arbutin as effective as hydroquinone?

Arbutin only works to inhibit the activity of tyrosinase. On the other hand, hydroquinone interacts with melanocytes and is, therefore, more effective at reducing melanin production.

However, hydroquinone doesn’t provide the security offered by arbutin. In some cases, hydroquinone causes a fatal reaction in melanocytes when it reacts with oxygen resulting in P-benzoquinone and hydrobenzoquinone chemicals.

Unlike hydroquinone itself, these two chemicals bleach the skin, making it patchier and uneven. Therefore, it’s recommended you throw away your hydroquinone cream once it becomes yellow-brown, as that’s a sign of the presence of P-benzoquinone and hydrobenzoquinone.

There have also been fears that hydroquinone is carcinogenic. In a clinical study, rats that were fed or injected with hydroquinone developed more tumors.

However, studies have not been able to link hydroquinone to any type of cancer in humans. But still, that hasn’t prevented some countries from burning hydroquinone.

Another bad rap surrounding hydroquinone came from the presence of mercury in some hydroquinone products. These led to negative effects, especially in pregnant women.

And even though these were just a few products from unscrupulous manufacturers that have since been blacklisted, that hasn’t stopped people from feeling nervous every time they hear a skin-lightening product contains hydroquinone.

For these reasons, you must seek prescription advice from a dermatologist before using hydroquinone products. In cases of soft dark spots, it is safer to go with arbutin and leave hydroquinone for unforgiving dark patches, following a dermatologist’s advice.

How is arbutin used for skin lightening

Due to its well-known skin lightening effects, arbutin is found in various skin products, including serums, lotions, and creams. Depending on your skin lightening needs, you can buy different arbutin-rich products.

Arbutin Serums

Use serums to target specific skin patches. Serums have a large concentration of arbutin and therefore more effective at reversing hyperpigmentation at specific skin areas. They are especially excellent at reversing sunburns.

Arbutin Lotions and Creams

Use arbutin lotions and creams to reverse larger skin area hyperpigmentation. Some arbutin lotions and creams even include ingredients like licorice root extract and Kojic to whiten your skin.

Arbutin toner

An arbutin-rich toner is a good brightener. Apply it immediately after cleansing, so the skin absorbs it more. Some arbutin toners even contain green tea extract for additional nourishment.

In any case, arbutin is safe for use twice daily, so feel free to include it in your morning and evening skincare routines.

Who should use arbutin

Arbutin is safe for all skin types. It can treat dark patches and even out your skin making it brighter. Almost everyone gets uneven skin tone at one time or another. Many different products promise you brighter skin, but none offers the security and efficiency of arbutin.

Advantages of arbutin include:

  • Arbutin lightens dark patches, reduces acne scars, and evens out your skin tone.
  • Arbutin can be used on skins of all types.
  • Arbutin can be used together with serums and creams. There have never been reports of negative reactions when combining arbutin with other skincare products.
  • Arbutin works with AHAs and Vitamin C.
  • Arbutin is gentle on the skin, unlike other lightening agents that may leave your skin extremely dry. The arbutin is released slowly on the skin, making it less irritating. That makes it excellent for people with sensitive skin too.
  • Does not kill melanocytes, unlike hydroquinone which is known to bleach the skin in some cases.

That said, it’s important to learn how to recognize good arbutin from cheap, unstable versions.

Alpha arbutin vs beta arbutin

These are two different kinds of arbutin. While alpha-arbutin is the good stuff and often more expensive, beat arbutin is the cheap, unstable version.

Alpha arbutin is the purest form of arbutin. It is also greatly water-soluble and thus easily absorbed by the skin. Products containing alpha arbutin are effective in brightening the skin. However, they cost more because alpha-arbutin is not cheap to manufacture.

On the other hand, beta arbutin is cheap to produce but not as effective as its counterpart. Still, it produces fair amounts of effects on the skin. If your skin product ingredient list doesn’t mention alpha-arbutin, then it likely contains the beta version.

Does Arbutin lighten skin permanently?

Arbutin is a great skin-lightening agent. However, its whitening effects are not permanent, the reason being that it merely inhibits tyrosinase when applied to the skin. Its effects may only last a few weeks after you stop applying, and the dark patches will be back. Indeed, whitening creams have longer-lasting skin brightening effects. Use arbutin products regularly to keep dark spots at bay and brighten your skin.

Can I use Alpha Arbutin every day?

While arbutin is safe for use twice daily on all skin types, it’s not recommended for use for more than 90 days at a time. Also, only topical products with a max of 2 % arbutin concentrations are recommended. Keep in mind that some arbutin are synthesized from hydroquinone and may have bad effects.

Side effects of arbutin

The skin surface is generally acidic; however, in some cases, when conditions get alkaline, arbutin can be converted to the not-so-safe hydroquinone.

In very rare cases, Arbutin may also cause redness and irritation in people with extremely sensitive skin. However, don’t get nervous about buying arbutin creams, lotions, serums, toners, etc.; adverse effects of arbutin are very rare.

Plus, if your skin reacts poorly to alpha-arbutin, you can always choose products with less arbutin concentration for the save. It’s safe to use products containing beta arbutin up to 7% concentration. Also, heat reduces arbutin’s effectiveness, so it will be best if you stayed away from direct UV and heat after applying arbutin creams or serums.


Skin lightening agents are useful beyond helping achieve a fairer complexion. If you struggle with confidence issues due to skin hyperpigmentation caused by aging, hormonal changes, UV exposure, or acne, agents like arbutin and hydroquinone present a way to even out your skin and get your confidence back. Both agents work to reduce melanin production.

But while hydroquinone works directly on melanocytes and may have adverse effects on these cells in particular cases, arbutin only inhibits tyrosinase and is, therefore, the safer alternative. Arbutin can be extracted from certain fruits or synthetically manufactured in the lab and included in skincare products such as toners, creams, and lotions.

It is safe for all skin types and doesn’t have any serious side effects. Try arbutin-containing products to help with your skin discoloration issue, and let’s know your experience in the comments section.

Looking forward to hearing from you!


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