Meet Arbutin: The Skin Brightening Ingredient You Might Not Have Heard of Yet

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When it comes to brightening up dark spots leftover from acne, there are two popular ingredients that are often recommended for treating them: hydroquinone and vitamin C. While the former is proven to be highly effective at targeting specific spots and the latter is great for evening out overall tone, they aren’t always well-tolerated by those with sensitive skin.

Enter arbutin: the gentle but powerful skin brightening ingredient that you may not be familiar with. Allow Donna Hart, a board-certified dermatologist at Westlake Dermatology in Cedar Park, Texas to explain.

So doc, what is arbutin?

“Arbutin is a skin-brightening agent derived naturally from the leaves of several plants including bearberry, blueberry, cranberry, and pear trees,” says Hart. “It inhibits an enzyme called tyrosinase, which is responsible for pigment production in the skin,” she adds.

Tyrosinase is ramped up with sun exposure (which is why you’ll often see dark spots and freckles start to crop up after you’ve spent more time in the sun). Since arbutin blocks tyrosinase, it works to prevent new spots from forming and can help fade existing ones when used consistently and correctly. (More on that below.)

Who is arbutin good for, and how should I use it?

According to Hart: “Arbutin is particularly useful for patients who struggle with controlling excess pigmentation or blotchiness on their skin. It’s also non-irritating (because its active component is released slowly into the skin) and thus, safe for any skin type.”

Thanks to how gentle arbutin is, it can be used with other ingredients, and in fact, “works synergistically with other skin brighteners like kojic acid, tranexamic acid and vitamin c.”

Use it daily, after cleansing and combined with any of the above brightening ingredients for best results.

What are the best products with arbutin?

“Two of my favorite products that contain arbutin are TNS Essential Serum by SkinMedica, which is a powerhouse product with growth factors and antioxidants, and SkinCeuticals Phyto Plus, which is a calming botanical serum,” says Hart.

Paula's Choice Radiance Renewal Mask is also a great, more economical option.” (We’re fans of The Ordinary Alpha Arbutin 2% + HA, which costs just under ten dollars.)

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Jenny Jin is PureWow’s Beauty Director and is currently based in Los Angeles. Since beginning her journalism career at Real Simple magazine, she has become a human encyclopedia of...