Arbutin is a hydroquinone derivative isolated from the leaves of the bearberry shrub, cranberry, blueberry, some mushrooms, and most types of pears. Because of arbutin’s hydroquinone content, it can have melanin-inhibiting properties. Although the research describing arbutin’s effectiveness is persuasive (even though most of the research has been performed on animals or in vitro), concentration protocols have not been established. That means it’s unknown how much arbutin it takes to have an effect in lightening the skin. Low concentrations have no effect, while high concentrations of about 5% or more can be as irritating as hydroquinone and may potentially result in unexpected hyperpigmentation.
Many cosmetics companies use plant extracts that contain arbutin, such as bearberry and mulberry leaf extract, but again, there is limited research, mostly animal studies or in vitro, showing that the arbutin-containing plant extracts used in skin-care products have any impact on skin. Whether or not these extracts are effective in the small amounts present in cosmetics has not been established. Although, bearberry and pineapple extract do have antibacterial properties.
How does Arbutin in skincare work?
Arbutin is a naturally occurring β,D-glycopyranoside derivative of hydroquinone. Although it shows tyrosinase inhibition, it is not found to affect RNA synthesis as does hydroquinone. The α-derivative (alpha-arbutin) shows a stronger inhibitory effect on tyrosinase and melanosome maturation. It is also present in many botanical extracts (as mentioned above).
Arbutin is highly pH-sensitive and can hydrolyze to hydroquinone at both acidic and alkaline pH. Hence, care should be taken during use in commercial skin-lightening products.
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R. KAMAKSHI, Cavinkare Research Centre,
Ekkatuthangal, Chennai 600 032, India.