Alpha-Arbutin at a glance

  • Proven ability to fade melanin-fueled skin discolorations
  • Considered more effective than beta-arbutin and kojic acid
  • May be plant-derived, bio-fermented or synthetic.
  • Derived from gold standard hyperpigmentation ingredient hydroquinone

Alpha-Arbutin description

Alpha-arbutin is a plant-derived or synthetic ingredient that helps to brighten, fade discolorations, protect skin from oxidative stress and promote a more even skin tone. It is made from hydroquinone and the alpha form of the sugar molecule, glucose. Its mechanism of action on skin isn’t fully understood; however, it’s believed to work by interrupting or limiting the ability of an enzyme in skin (known as tyrosinase) from making too much melanin. This in turn helps reduce the size and appearance of surface discolorations. As an antioxidant, alpha-arbutin can help neutralize skin-damaging free radicals and also help boost skin’s natural antioxidant defenses. It was once thought that alpha-arbutin works because it breaks down to hydroquinone on skin, but now we know that the amount of hydroquinone produced from alpha-arbutin is likely too low to play a role in its discoloration-fading benefits. Interestingly, it seems microorganisms on skin’s surface and/or exposure to UV light are the triggers that release some of the hydroquinone used to create alpha-arbutin. Research has shown that alpha-arbutin works synergistically with other proven ingredients to visibly reduce hyperpigmentation, including tranexamic acid, vitamin C, niacinamide, and retinaldehyde (retinal). Typical usage levels of alpha-arbutin in skin care range from 0.4–5%, although cosmetic ingredient reviews boards recommend a maximum usage level of 2% in leave-on products as being safe. Alpha-arbutin may be produced via fermentation of soybeans. Plants such as mulberry are typical sources of beta-arbutin, which isn’t considered as effective as the synthesized alpha form.

Alpha-Arbutin references

  • Phytotherapy Research, August 2021, pages 4,136–4,154
  • Antioxidants, July 2021, pages 1–22
  • PLoS One, May 2017, pages 1–19
  • Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, February 2016, pages 75–76
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology, September 2012, pages 1,417–1,425

Peer-reviewed, substantiated scientific research is used to assess ingredients in this dictionary. Regulations regarding constraints, permitted concentration levels and availability vary by country and region.

Ingredient ratings


Proven and supported by independent studies. Outstanding active ingredient for most skin types or concerns.


Necessary to improve a formula's texture, stability, or penetration.


Generally non-irritating but may have aesthetic, stability, or other issues that limit its usefulness.


There is a likelihood of irritation. Risk increases when combined with other problematic ingredients.


May cause irritation, inflammation, dryness, etc. May offer benefit in some capability but overall, proven to do more harm than good.


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Not Rated