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What is Arbutin Cream?

By Micki Elizabeth
Updated May 17, 2024
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Arbutin cream is generally sold as a skin lightening and moisturizing cream. It is believed to be the most efficient way to get rid of various types of skin discoloration because it is able to reduce pigmentation by inhibiting melanin. Arbutin is naturally found in pears, some wheat, and the leaves of various fruit bushes; thus, this type of natural cream is also thought to be gentler on the skin, with fewer potential side effects.

Arbutin is a both type of molecule called a glycoside and an organic compound known as an ether. It is most often extracted from the leaves of the bearberry shrub. The compound is then combined with other skin treatments like vitamins, moisturizers, and acids that reduce pimples caused by bacteria to form arbutin cream. This topical product has been sold commercially since the 1960s.

The cream is said to reduce melanin, a pigment that determines the color of one’s skin and hair. High levels of a type of melanin called eumelanin, for instance, often result in darker skin tones. The cream may, therefore, be able to diminish dark spots. Freckles, which are small dots of concentrated melanin, could also fade with the use of this cream. Sun exposure often increases melanin production, giving one a “tanned” look.

Many beauty experts caution that the use of arbutin cream requires patience; it may take weeks or even months to see results. Some skin lightening products that use harsh chemicals for faster results, such as mercury, have proven to be quite harmful in the long run, because they may increase the risk of cancer. While arbutin is believed to be safe for use, no conclusive tests have shown that it is either definitely safe. One test by the German Institute of Food Research suggested that arbutin may turn into the chemical compound hydroquinone—the risk for intestinal cancer could rise if this happens.

Those with sensitive skin may have reactions to topical applications like arbutin cream. The recommended use for this product is typically to apply it evenly in the morning and at night. Many creams, especially those derived from plants, could result in allergic reactions; if this is the case, one should discontinue using the cream, and the individual may need to consult a dermatologist.

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Discussion Comments

By burcinc — On Jan 11, 2014

Arbutin creams seem to be a hit or miss.

I have an acne problem and I'm always trying to get rid of blemishes with skin fade creams. I used an arbutin cream last year that was quite effective. Most of my blemishes were gone in two months. I finished that cream and didn't buy another one until recently. I bought a different brand and this one isn't doing anything.

By donasmrs — On Jan 10, 2014

@literally45-- I'm not sure but the arbutin cream that I'm using as a freckle cream does not contain chemical whiteners. It has natural arbutin made from bearberry leaves. It also has vitamin C which has natural brightening properties. Of course it has some preservatives but every cream has that.

You can definitely find natural arbutin creams on the market. But you should read the ingredients list as well as reviews before purchasing one. I bought my arbutin cream because it has good reviews. It has only been three weeks since I started using it though, so it's too early to know if it's working.

By literally45 — On Jan 10, 2014

Are all arbutin whitening creams natural or do some also contain skin whitening chemicals? Also, is the arbutin in creams made from food sources or can arbutin be made synthetically in the lab?

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