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Arbutin - the best hydroquinone-free dark spot remover

Post-acne dark spots and dark, brown age spots are among the biggest aesthetic skin concerns (even more so than wrinkles!). Dark spots, also known as hyperpigmented spots, are caused by the accumulation of melanin in the skin.

What causes dark spots?

One of the most common causes for dark spots on the skin is post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) from a healed skin lesion, such as acne or eczema. Dark spots can also be caused by damage to the skin due to prolonged sun exposure or hormonal factors (melasma).

What is the best way to fade dark spots on the skin?

The first goal is to eliminate the cause of your dark spots. If the cause is acne, the primary treatment would be to control any active acne. If the dark spots are caused by excessive sun exposure, an oil-free sunscreen's daily application is necessary for skin lightening. Once the underlying cause is under control, the next step would be to use a topical dark spot remover to fade the dark spots.

Which dark spot remover should I use?

There are two main types of dark spot removers. The first type of dark spot remover contains hydroquinone (typically 2%) as the main active ingredient, along with a retinoid and an anti-inflammatory agent. These very effective dark spot removers can be purchased in the USA without a prescription. Unfortunately, outside of the USA, hydroquinone requires a doctor's prescription.

The main active ingredient in the second type of dark spot remover is Arbutin, a precursor of hydroquinone that does not require a doctor's prescription. A formulation of Arbutin combined with retinol, AHAs, and BHAs has proven highly effective in treating dark spots and uneven skin tones.

What is Arbutin?

Arbutin, the b-D-glucopyranoside derivative of hydroquinone, is a naturally occurring plant-derived compound in the leaves of several different plant species, including barberry, blueberry, cranberry, and pear trees. The arbutin molecule is very similar to the hydroquinone molecule with an attached sugar molecule.

When arbutin is applied to the skin, the skin enzymes remove the sugar molecule from the hydroquinone allowing a slow release of hydroquinone into the tissue. The slow-release of the naturally produced hydroquinone provides a gentler and more gradual effect comparing to the effects of hydroquinone-based dark spot removers. In addition, the release of hydroquinone into the tissue arbutin inhibits thyroxine's extensive activity, the enzyme involved in excess melanin production.

Arbutin reduces melanin's excessive production in dark spots by inhibiting tyrosinase, an enzyme involved in melanin production. It has been found that Arbutin inhibits tyrosinase activity, reducing the overproduction of melanin while keeping the melanocytes unharmed.

MDacne’s advanced dark spot remover contains Arbutin, retinoids, bearberry, vitamin E, AHAs (Alpha/Beta hydroxy acids), Indian Gooseberry (Vitamin C).

Can Arbutin be used on every skin type?

Arbutin is safe for all skin types, including Asian skin and darker skin types.

Can I use Arbutin in the summer?

Arbutin does not make the skin more sensitive to the sun and can be used safely year-round. That said, for optimal effect on dark spots, dark acne scars, and melasma, it is recommended to use the arbutin at night and a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 in the morning.

How does Arbutin work with other skincare ingredients?

Arbutin works great with many other common skincare ingredients, including retinol, vitamin C, alpha and beta hydroxy acids, licorice, and niacinamide, to name a few.

What are the side effects of Arbutin?

There are no known side effects, negative interactions, or contraindications related to Arbutin. Products with Arbutin need to be stored in a cool place, as heat can reduce its efficacy.

How to chose an Arbutin-based dark spot corrector?

The best dark spot removers will contain a combination of ingredients that will soothe optional efficacy with minimal skin irritation. To be effective, a perfect dark spot remover would need to include in addition to Arbutin ingredients like glycolic and salicylic acid that would exfoliate the skin and help arbutin penetrate to a deeper layer of skin, where the melanin resides. The best dark spot removers will also include a few anti-inflammatory agents, like bisabolol, that reduce skin redness and irritation. An example of such a product is MDacne advanced Dark remover. Inspired by the gold standard Kligman’s formula, it includes Arbutin, bearberry extract, and gooseberry (a plant extract rich in Vitamin C) to reduce melanin's excessive production in the dark spots. It also includes glycolic acid (AHA), salicylic acid (BHA), and a retinoid to help with skin penetration, and alpha-bisabolol, a plant extract to reduce skin irritation.

How do I use the MDacne's Advanced Dark Spot Remover?

The MDacne Advanced Dark Spot Remover uses Arbutin to fade dark spots. Arbutin should be used once a day in the evening after thoroughly cleansing the skin.

What are the major benefits of Arbutin?

Helps with sun protection:
Arbutin reduces sun-induced skin darkening after sun exposure by blocking tyrosinase production.

Great for sensitive skin: Arbutin's active component is released slowly. The slow-release provides a highly effective dark spot remover that is less irritating than other dark spot removers of harsh peeling agents.

Cleaner, more even skin tone: Since arbutin inhibits tyrosinase, the enzyme responsible for the excess melanin production in dark spouts. Balancing the activity of tyrosinase will provide and a more even and brighter skin tone.

Powerful natural brightening effect: Alpha arbutin regarded as the most potent natural brightening agent. It can be combined with other brightening compounds such as bearberry, niacinamide, vitamin C, kojic acid, and retinol for optimal results.

Works great in combination with other skincare products:
Arbutin can be safely combined with other active ingredients without any adverse effect.

Can be used once or twice daily:
Arbutin will not make your skin sun-sensitive. That said, for best results with your dark spots, you should apply a good broad-spectrum UVB/UVA sunscreen in the morning and your advanced darks spot remover at night.

Safest dark spots remover. The most potent darks spot remover contains hydroquinone. Hydroquinone can be sold in the US without a prescription but requires and drug in other countries. Alpha arbutin is a precursor of hydroquinone = converts to hydroquinone in the skin and does not require a doctor's prescription.

Arbutin is milder than hydroquinone: While Hydroquinone reduces the number of cells that produce pigmentation and melanin, arbutin inhibits the enzymes that stimulate pigment-producing cells.

Arbutin can help fade acne scars:
Arbutin is also great at fading those red-purple acne scars that stick around long after a zit is gone. This effect will be enhanced by the use of a high-quality retinol + niacinamide moisturizer. Arbutin prohibits the formation of dark spots, providing a brighter, more glowing, and fresher look to the skin.

Arbutine based - Advanced Dark Spot remover


  1. Inhibitory effects of alpha-arbutin on melanin synthesis in cultured human melanoma cells and a three-dimensional human skin model. Biol Pharm Bull. 2004 Apr;27(4):510-4.
  2. Inhibitory effects of arbutin on melanin biosynthesis of alpha-melanocyte-stimulating hormone-induced hyperpigmentation in cultured brownish guinea pig skin tissues. Arch Pharm Res. 2009 Mar;32(3):367-73.
  3. The melanogenesis and mechanisms of skin-lightening agents–existing and new approaches. Int J Cosmet Sci. 2011 Jun;33(3):210-21.

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