What is arbutin? What are some of its benefits and side effects? What is the distinction between natural beta and alpha? Are there arbutin (and alpha) cream, soap, and serums?
What is arbutin
Arbutin is “glycosylated hydroquinone extracted from the bearberry plant in the genus Arctostaphylos” [en.wikipedia.org] capable of inhibiting tyrosinase enzyme that is vital in the formation of melanin. In simpler terms, it is hydroquinone bound to a sugar molecule (glucose) through a glycosidic bond.
In melanin synthesis, tyrosinase “is responsible for the first step in melanin production. It converts a protein building block (amino acid) called tyrosine to another compound called dopaquinone” [ghr.nlm.nih.gov]. Of course, other reactions are involved in the conversion of dopaquinone to melanin on your retina, hair follicle, and skin.
Since arbutin has the ability to inhibit tyrosinase, a rate-determining (or limiting) enzyme found in melanocytes (cells responsible for melanin pigment production in humans that give hair, skin, and eyes its color), it is widely used as a skin-lightening agent i.e. arbutin skin whitening.
Furthermore, this copper-containing enzyme often in plants and animals is what causes oxidation or blackening of sliced or peeled potatoes when exposed to air.
Besides the bearberry plant, it is concentrated on the skin of pear and found in wheat as well as Bergenia crassifolia. The Schisandra Chinensis vitro culture is also known to produce it.
How does it work or does it really work?
This is a disguised form of hydroquinone i.e. glycosylated hydroquinone where hydroquinone is linked to glucose and its mechanism of work is believed to be slow hydrolysis that releases hydroquinone which then affects melanin synthesis.
Arbutin whitening cream, serum or powder is topically applied to the skin where it inhibits melanin synthesis with minimal systemic absorption. User results show that it is effective. However, no one knows how much is needed to inhibit tyrosinase effectively.
A good thing about this product is that it does its job without killing the melanocyte cells, something that makes it a better skin whitening agent.
Many people have reported some change after a few weeks or months of using this product. Therefore, we can confirm to you that this product actually works.
Is it safe for skin lightening?
This bearberry extract safe for regular and long-term skin whitening treatment. It is more expensive than hydroquinone, which has been banned in a number of countries.
Vitro studies of human melanocytes have revealed that when it is at concentrations lower than 300 μg/mL, it can reduce tyrosinase enzyme catalysis activity as well as the amount of melanin one has with little cytotoxicity ( being toxic to cells) evidence.
When compared to hydroquinone, arbutin has been found to have lesser side effects and “be gentler than hydroquinone as far as typical side effects like skin irritation are concerned” [smartskincare.com].
Besides skin lightening, it is used as a traditional urinary tract infection, kidney stones, and cystitis treatment. It is also used as a stabilizer on color photographs and as a diuretic
Production in labs
Pure arbutin can synthetically be prepared from hydroquinone and acetobromoglucose done in presence of an alkali. This is what is known as alpha.
Alpha and beta arbutin
You probably have heard of alpha as well as beta arbutin without understanding what each of them is. Marketers can use these two terms to confuse and promote their products unfairly. This is nothing big to worry you but rather an issue of stereochemistry i.e. how atoms are arranged spatially while forming atoms and how they can be manipulated.
The D-glucose binds with hydroquinone spatially molecule to form arbutin in two ways i.e. the alpha and beta glycosidic linkages. That extracted from bearberry is beta i.e. hydroquinone-O-beta-D-glucopyranoside, which is naturally occurring. Alpha can only be made in the laboratory i.e. it is synthesized in the laboratory as mentioned above.
So is beta similar to alpha-arbutin
Whereas the alpha arbutin manufacturers may often claim that it is several times much stronger than beta (naturally occurring), which is true. It will be disingenuous to assume that the same molecule will have similar side effects as the naturally occurring beta one. The way the D-glucose binds will definitely have an impact on chemical behaviors of the resultant molecules.
Let us use starch and cellulose simple analogy to drive the point home. Starch and cellulose polymers are very much similar to cellulose (use for making paper). However, starch has beta glycosidic linkages or bonds while starch (such as bread) has beta-glycosidic linkage. Everything else is the same yet it is not possible to have bread from cellulose.
It is a fact that both the alpha and beta will have an effect on the synthesis of melanin but not in an exact way. While looking at the effect of each of the two on tyrosinases from mouse melanoma and mushroom, using beta and alpha arbutin (alpha was synthesized from starch and hydroquinone using GSase – glucoside synthetase), “beta-arbutin inhibited both tyrosinase activities from mushroom and mouse melanoma. Alpha inhibited only the tyrosinase from mouse melanoma, 10 times as strongly as beta-arbutin” [ncbi.nlm.nih.gov].
Therefore, “arbutin, the type of sugar and the way it is bound to the hydroquinone represents a qualitative difference because enzymes capable of using the beta glucosyl will not recognize the alpha glucosyl residue” [ebay.com]
It is a fact to alpha is more effective compared to the beta arbutin since it “hydrolyzes more easily to release hydroquinone by á-glycosidases in cells” . However, besides the above-stated issues, it is very expensive.
Finally, to challenge companies that use the various plant extract that have arbutin such as bearberry, blueberry, mulberry leaf, cranberry extract, etc., it is not clear if the extracts have substances that might affect its absorption. Furthermore, it is not clear if the concentrations in the extracts have sufficient amounts of this active ingredient.
It is a water-soluble white crystalline which is often included in a number of supplements and formulations. In herbal remedies, you will find it mostly as a crushed powder used in teas or capsules.
Since arbutin is glycosylated hydroquinone, there are chances it may be having similar cancer risks of hydroquinone that have been noted in animal studies i.e. there is some “evidence indicating that hydroquinone may act as a cancer-causing agent (a carcinogen) in rodents (rats and mice) after oral administration” [fda.gov]. However, there is no sufficient scientific evidence that links it to cancer.
Similarly, “hydroquinone also has been linked with a medical condition in humans known as ochronosis (skin darkening and disfiguration) when it is applied topically” [fda.gov].
On the two issues, “is unclear whether the concerns recently raised regarding hydroquinone (risk of ochronosis and possible cancer risk) may apply to arbutin as well” [smartskincare.com].
A possible side effect that might affect some people, especially those who have very sensitive skins is an allergic reaction. Discontinue the use of any of the product if they cause allergic reactions.
It can help your skin lighter and promote an even skin tone. Furthermore, it will help reduce freckles (often caused by UVB exposure), sun damages, melasma and chloasma, and liver spots and age spots, as well as help you get rid of brown spots due to hyperpigmentation i.e. for people who have hyperactive melanocytes.
Furthermore, its products can help whitening dark knees, underarms, and knuckles, removing birthmarks, old scars, acne marks, and uneven skin tones.
Arbutin causes less sensitivity to UV light or sunlight exposure as well as less irritating to the skin even to people with a sensitive skin type i.e. “is considered a non-phenol, safer alternative to topical hydroquinone” [kaviskin.com]
If you have acne scars, go for anti-acne products that have arbutin since it will help minimize the appearance of dark marks caused by acne scars
According to Hannah Sivak, Ph.D., Biochemist, Skin Actives Scientific LLC, Gilbert, Arizona, “It also has anti-cancer activity on melanoma cells, apparently by regulating expression of the p53 tumor suppressor and cell apoptosis” [ebay.com].
There are many products in the market in form of lotions, creams, lotions, serums and soaps for skin and dark spots lightening. Let us not look at each in details. We will not give you product reviews for each of these arbutin products but details.
We are also aware there is Iris Lightening Solution (eye drops) which will not go into details since we do not have enough evidence of its safety. If you want more details, see iris lightener kit, which has two products, one of it being the arbutin eye drops.
In serums, creams, and lotions, it is common to have other ingredients such as alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA), retinol and other dermatological agents, which can make arbutin penetrate to your dermal layers.
According to Dr. Lin is a California-licensed physician and board-certified dermatologist, “since arbutin’s active component is released slowly, it can be less irritating than other skin-lightening agents and better for those with sensitive skin” [byrdie.com]. Dr. Lin further claims that the bearberry plant has some sun protection abilities that make skin darkening to be lower after a sun exposure
Arbutin creams are skin whitening and moisturizing products made from the naturally existing beta type, i.e. they are can be extracted from a number of plants including the bearberry, blueberry, mulberry leaf, cranberry extract, wheat, and pears skin.
These creams are combined with other beneficial ingredients such as vitamins, moisturizers, acids, and other natural lightening ingredients to help to not only lighten your skin but also make it soft and supple. It will help reduce freckles, melasma, age spots, dark spots, hyperpigmentation, etc.
Some of these creams, which have received many positive reviews, include-
- ASDM Beverly Hills Arbutin Skin Lightening Complex
- Arbutin Cream 4 Oz with Vitamin E, Aloe Vera, and Cocoa Butter.
- Arbutin Vitamin C Kojic Acid Skin Lightening Cream 1.7 oz.
The potential side effects that the cream could be having are the same we have already mentioned. No conclusive research has been done to establish if there are other side effects.
Where to buy it
If you want these creams, you can get them from the local and leading online stores like amazon.com, Walgreens, CVS, eBay, etc. You can get these creams from anywhere including in India, Philippines, Thailand, etc. if you cannot get them locally, order from the manufacturers or leading online stores.
Since their many manufacturers, carefully read as many reviews and testimonials as possible to ensure you have a genuine product.
Alpha arbutin cream
If you want a more powerful lightening agent, consider going for alpha one products. They are purer and about 10 times effective compared to the naturally occurring beta type.
If you would wish to try them, some of the best alpha-arbutin creams in the market include.
- DHC Alpha-Arbutin White Cream
- Arbutin Intense Whitening Cream from super skin
- Professional Skin Care Formula Alpha
- Ageless Derma Face Cream for Dark Spots Formulated by Dr. Mostamand
- Alpha arbutin whitening cream by Skinmedic
It does not matter whether you are in India, Thailand or Pakistan, you can still get most of these products from leading local or online stores such as Amazon, eBay, etc.
We do not intend to have detailed reviews for any of the products we have mentioned. It is your responsibility to ensure you a number of reviews before buying or using any of the creams you find.
The side effects of this product synthesized in the lab are assumed similar to those of the naturally occurring one. However, being slightly different i.e. has alpha glycosidic glucose bonds, its behavior may slightly be different. Again, no research has been done to prove any side effects of this product.
Serums for skin whitening
If you do not prefer creams, there are serums which will be equally helpful. Serums have gained popularity over the past few years. They tend to have a higher concentration of the active ingredient and cost more since it is a stronger skin whitening agent.
Most of the serums available are alpha that is made in a lab and not the beta type that occurs naturally and it is extracted from plants.
- Arbutin Serum (Evens Skin Tone) by Himistry
- Skin Whitening Serum With Arbutin by super skin
- Labdee Thailand, Pure Serum Alpha-arbutin from Chadamyi
- Alpha Arbutin Pure Serum 100% Switzerland Skin Lightening. from Lab Dee Thailand
Again, you will find these serums in most of the leading local and online beauty shops. Read reviews, see what users are saying and access the credibility of each vendor before buying them. This will help you avoid fake products.
What are these soaps? Do they have benefits or are they effective? How do you use them? How do you spot fake ones?
Yes. We know you have questions concerning the arbutin soaps (beta and alpha soaps). This section is going to focus on soaps.
If you do not prefer using creams, serums or powders, you can also opt for soaps. These are skin bleaching or lightening soaps, which contain arbutin as their main lightening active ingredients. However, it is possible to have soaps with other active lightening ingredients such as glutathione and Kojic.
These soaps will help create an even skin tone, brighten your skin, reduce the appearance of dark spots, reduce hyperpigmentation, melasma, age and liver spots, sunburns, and allergic inflammations.
Secondly, when compared to glutathione and Kojic soap, they are ideal for all skin types including people who have sensitive skin since arbutin is a gentle lightening active ingredient. They don’t leave your skin so dry. However, it is advisable to ensure you use a good moisturizing cream.
The papaya Kojic soap can also be used for sensitive skins but you have to rinse it off after 30 seconds, unlike the arbutin soap, which can be rinsed after up to three minutes.
If you are looking for good soaps, it is worthwhile noting the fact that there are not many brands in the market. Some of the good brands we were able to find include:
- Soap Double White Skin Lightening from Lab Dee Thailand
- Skin Whitening Soap AHA 80%, Pineapple Soap Skin Lightening from Sabu
- Arbutin Soap (Professional Skin Care Formula by Alvin
We will not review each of the soaps we have mentioned. We are going briefly to review only the Alpha Arbutin Soap Double White, Skin Lightening from Lab Dee Thailand (2X Whitening Effect! by Labdee Thailand).
Alpha arbutin soap review Alpha Arbutin Soap by Lab Dee Thailand
This is one of the most popular soaps especially in Thailand (country of origin), Malaysia, Brunei, and the Philippines. However, its use is quickly spreading to Pakistan, India and other neighboring countries.
Ensure you get an original soap since many counterfeit or fake one soaps in the market. It is therefore important to ensure you go for a genuine product if you are to get good results.
This one by Lab Dee Thailand has a fruity fresh smell and it can be used by both men and women (including pregnant mothers).
How effective is it?
The soap is great in reducing or lightening pimple and acne marks, stretch marks, and lightens up your skin gradually. You will end up with smooth and radiant skin. Some people have reported almost instant results while others have reported little results after a month or so of using the soap.
When compared to other lightening soaps, most users have reported the fact that it is less effective than Kojic and glutathione i.e. “Kojic soap is number one when it comes to skin lightening, followed by Glutathione then Arbutin” [beautyregimenblog.com].
On average, the soap costs between $3 and $6 each, depending on where you bought it.
How to use these soaps
This soap is used twice in a day for cleaning your skin or as per the manufacturer’s instructions. Lather the soap and apply it on your skin in circular gentle motions for up to 20 seconds on your face before rinsing it off. Avoid rubbing it.
On your body, you can use it as you use the regular soaps, once a day where you can lather the soap directly onto your skin, leave it there for up to 3 minutes before rinsing it off.
For best results, apply Alpha Arbutin Milk Whitening Lotion and a good quality sunscreen if you will be exposed to direct sunlight.
Soap side effects
If there are any side effects of these soaps, they could only be the general ones, which are associated with arbutin. A few users have reported mild skin burning and peeling from some of the soaps including those who have used the Lab Dee.