What is Kojic acid? Should You Use It

What is Kojic acid? Should You Use It

A deluge of skin brightening creams is available in the market that promises you instant gratification in treating blemishes or dark spots. Among various available options, it can be overwhelming for you to find the right cream for your skin. Hyperpigmentation, uneven skin tone, or dark/brown spots have become a much-talked concerns these days. After running a couple of searches on Google, you might find “Kojic Acid'' as a suggested cure for lightening your skin. The skin-lightening properties of Kojic Acid are due to its melanin inhibiting action.  However, research studies have reported that topical use of kojic acid having concentrations of more than 2% is not recommended safe on skin. Before experimenting with anything on your skin, it is pertinent to acquire complete information about it. However, before deciding whether to include kojic acid into your skin care regimen, let us begin with understanding what Kojic Acid is and what it does for your skin.

What is Kojic acid?

Kojic Acid has a Japanese common name Koji.  It is a chemical produced by a few species of Aspergillus, mainly  Aspergillus Oryzae. It is also a  byproduct in the fermentation process of certain foods such as soy sauce, rice wine, and Japanese sake. Kojic acid is one of the most commonly used ingredients in skin brightening or pigmentation removal products. Kojic Acid penetrates deeper layers of the skin and stops the production of melanin. 

Can kojic acid permanently lighten skin?

The answer is no. This skin lightening agent cannot help in the permanent lightening of your skin. Kojic Acid lightens your skin tone by inhibiting melanin production. Apart from determining your skin tone, melanin also acts as a defense mechanism for your epidermis against sun rays. Since kojic acid suppresses melanin synthesis in your skin, your skin becomes more prone to sunburn and UV damage. That’s why wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen is very crucial while using kojic acid for skin. As per skin care experts, if you experience rashes, itchiness, and redness on the skin after using kojic acid, discontinue its use immediately.

Most importantly, permanent skin lightening may be an unhealthy choice for your skin. The reason behind this is that long-term use of skin bleaching agents may result in cytotoxicity of melanocytes (death of cells that form melanin). 

Is kojic acid safe for skin?

Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) assesses the safety of chemical compounds used in cosmetic formulations.  Kojic acid used in cosmetic products should be watched carefully for its safety concerns. Reportedly, there are several side effects associated with the use of this skin-whitening agent.  In a mice study, it was found that kojic acid may lead to cancer growth, when used in high concentrations.

It has been reported that creams or serums containing Kojic acid may have adverse effects, particularly in people who have sensitive skin. Contact dermatitis is one of the most common side effects associated with the topical application of Kojic Acid. It may lead to irritation and redness with a burning sensation at the site of application.  Thereby, special caution is needed in patients who are susceptible to contact sensitization.

Recommendations from dermatologists are emphasized before using Kojic Acid based skin care products. It is only a dermatologist or a skin care expert that can analyze the usage of a specific product including the right concentration of ingredients, frequency of use, and safest course of action.

Is kojic acid better than hydroquinone?

Both Kojic Acid and Hydroquinone are skin-bleaching agents, which are used by people to treat dark spots, melasma, and acne marks. These ingredients destroy melanin making cells in skin for clearing hyperpigmentation. However, both the skin lightening agents are associated to induce adverse effects on your skin. The use of hydroquinone can cause skin irritations and in rare cases result in ochronosis (gives blue/black spots on the skin). It has been found that the long-term use of hydroquinone for skin may increase the chances of its accumulation in your body. This further can bring alterations in genetic composition which ultimately increases the risk of cancer and disturb the functioning of the kidney. As of now, there are no clear evidences that encourage the use of hydroquinone. As explained already, Kojic Acid is also found responsible for causing skin irritations, rashes, redness, and allergies. Hence, from a safety perspective, it is hard to conclude which one is better for your skin among these two.

Natural and safe alternatives to kojic acid and hydroquinone

Fortunately, there are many natural skin lightening ingredients that have provided satisfactory results in treating pigmented skin.

  • Arbutin
  • Niacinamide
  • Glycolic acid

    1. Arbutin

    Arbutin is considered the best natural alternative to hydroquinone. It is obtained from the leaves of Bearberry plant. This plant-derived ingredient helps to brighten your skin without destroying the melanin pigment.

    2. Niacinamide

    Niacinamide offers numerous benefits for your skin. Being enriched with antioxidants, its use is found quite effective to improve hyperpigmentation, early aging signs, and dull complexion.

    3. Glycolic acid

    A research study published in The Indian Journal of Dermatology has demonstrated the efficacy of glycolic acid in treating melasma and various other skin pigmentation concerns. Its gentle skin exfoliating properties help to clear dead skin cells to reveal a new healthy layer of skin. Glycolic acids are the most common type of AHAs (Alpha-Hydroxy Acids) which are used in the formulation of skin care products like face wash and cream. The major skin benefit of AHAs is they naturally slow down melanin production in your skin. 


    What is Kojic acid? Should You Use It


    Your skin is your armor. It forms a protective barrier for your body against heat, cold, harsh weather conditions, and so on. In simple words, it is the greatest protection for all your body organs. It is your responsibility to choose skin ingredients that help to keep your skin nourished instead of making it parched. To get healthy and glowing skin, make natural skin ingredients your forever ally.



    Sunlight has been identified as a major trigger for melanin production in hyperpigmentation concerns.  Hence effective sun protection becomes very important to prevent the overproduction of melanin in skin. You can protect your skin from sun damage by wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen after regular time intervals and avoiding sun exposure during peak sun hours i.e. between 10 am - 4pm.