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The Tea on Alpha Arbutin

If you’re not in the mood for reading, you can watch the video on YouTube here.

Let’s talk about Alpha Arbutin. I’m starting a new series on my YouTube channel and OnlyFans (YES, your girl has an OnlyFans) called the ABCs of Skin Care where I breakdown a mix of ingredients, techniques, and tools that you may find useful in your own skin care routines. 

I couldn’t think of a better way to kick this series off than with one of my favorite ingredients: Arbutin! The TL;DR is that Arbutin is a naturally derived ingredient that mimics the powerful, synthetic ingredient hydroquinone but without any of the downsides. I’ll explain the relationship between the two in just a bit.

Arbutin is most commonly extracted from the bearberry plant but can also be found in cranberries, blueberries, wheat, and pears. In the world of skin care, Arbutin is a tyrosinase inhibitor.

This means that this ingredient pauses the enzyme activity that signals our bodies to produce melanin. 

Now, with Arbutin being a tyrosinase inhibitor, it is primarily sought after and used in skin care routines to correct hyperpigmentation or discoloration. I mentioned in the beginning that this ingredient mimics hydroquinone so let’s dive into that a bit.

Both Arbutin and hydroquinone have the same effects on discoloration in the skin but the primary difference is that Arbutin works slowly and does not cause irritation, it inhibits melanocyte activity while hydroquinone can completely kill melanocytes altogether, and most importantly does NOT bleach the skin.

Hydroquinone is banned in the EU and as of March 2020 it is the same for those of us here in the US. It is now only available in the US with a prescription. This change was slipped in with the CARES Act as part of an overhaul of the FDA. 

Brands have until the end of September to remove items containing hydroquinone (and other Category II drugs/ingredients) from their shelves unless they were given an extension by FDA. So it is very likely you’ll be seeing a lot more products touting the benefits of Arbutin in the coming months.

Arbutin is a rare ingredient in that it can temporarily prevent hyperpigmentation from happening but also treats existing hyperpigmentation in the skin.

Research shows that Arbutin is effective at a maximum concentration of 2% which is why you don’t see any brands touting high percentages though some brands do list 5% Arbutin. In this modern age where brands mistakenly think consumers are ingredient savvy, it’s been singled out and highlighted as a stand alone ingredient—commonly paired with just hyaluronic acid—but… that’s not exactly the most beneficial use of the ingredient.

Arbutin plays well with others. You will commonly find it chillin’ in products alongside other tyrosinase inhibitors such as Kojic Acid and Licorice Root and antioxidants like Vitamin C. But it’s also common to find it paired with alpha-hydroxy acid exfoliants.

One of the questions asked most frequently about Arbutin is whether there is a difference between Alpha Arbutin and just plain Arbutin (or Beta-Arbutin). To be honest, the answer seems to be complicated.

It is true that the overwhelming majority of research on the ingredient focuses on Alpha Arbutin but so much of that research happened pre-1996. Newer research into tyrosinase inhibitors and hyperpigmentation, in general, cite the earlier works but don’t really push any new findings as far as Alpha Arbutin/Arbutin is concerned.

On the other hand, there has been some newer research into Arbutin/Beta-Arbutin which suggests that it is actually better than Alpha-Arbutin. However, it’s just one study.

The only thing I can tell you for sure is that Alpha-Arbutin is slightly more stable than Arbutin/Beta-Arbutin which may be more important for skin care formulators than it is for actual consumers.

Okay, real quick, I want to clear up some things surrounding Arbutin. A lot of brands (or their marketing departments) position Arbutin as a “skin brightener” and I feel that is a little misleading.

Arbutin does not instantly brighten the skin upon application so if you’re expecting to get a quick glow like you may get when you use Niacinamide or Vitamin C, that’s not going to happen. This is an ingredient that I feel helps with evening out skin tone but not one that brightens. And also an even skin tone doesn’t have to equal brighter/lighter skin.

If you remember, I said that Arbutin pauses enzyme activity and temporarily prevents hyperpigmentation. This means that if you stop using it, the pigmentation will likely come back. And it also means that you can’t just slap Arbutin on top of inflamed breakouts in hopes that the action will prevent a scar from appearing. Remember, you always have to treat the inflammation first, hyperpigmentation and scarring second.

This is also why I think utilizing products that are just Arbutin with no other tyrosinase inhibitors, antioxidants, or exfoliants is a bit of a waste of use (and money).

So, what are the best products to use with Arbutin (or Alpha-Arbutin) and what treatments can you get from an Esthetician that best utilizes this ingredient? Well, subscribe to my OnlyFans to continue watching the full video and find out which products you should trash and which ones are worth every penny!