Kojic Acid is the underdog of skin-lightening treatments. It’s not as famous as azelaic acid, infamous as hydroquinone, or common as Vitamin C. Heck, most people don’t even know it exists!
But it often succeeds at fading dark spots and hyperpigmentation when others have failed. Take that, Vitamin C.
Should you give it a try? Let’s find out:
- What Is Kojic Acid?
- What Is Kojic Acid Used For In Skincare?
- How Does It Work?
- Does Kojic acid soap work?
- How Do You Use It?
- Can You Use Kojic Acid With Retinol, Glycolic Acid, Vitamin C, Niacinamide, Etc?
- Is Kojic Acid Safe Or Will It Harm Your Skin ?
- Is Kojic Dipalmitate A Safer Alternative?
- Kojic Acid VS Hydroquinone: Which One Is Best?
- How Does Kojic Acid Compares With Other Skin-Lightening Ingredients?
- What Are The Best Products With Kojic Acid?
- The Bottom Line
What Is Kojic Acid?
Kojic acid is a skin-lightener made by bacteria. No kidding. It’s a by-product of the fermentation process of rice that’s used for sake (the Japanese rice wine).
FYI, Japanese’s diet is rich in foods with Kojic Acid, like soy, miso, and strawberries. They believe (rightly so) it has antioxidant properties that help fight free radicals, the nasty molecules that give you wrinkles, dark spots, and other ugly diseases.
What Is Kojic Acid Used For In Skincare?
Kojic Acid is a skin-lightener that can fade away all kinds of hyperpigmentation, including:
- Age spots
- Dark circles (ONLY if caused by hyperpigmentation)
- Post-acne marks (PIH)
- Sun spots
Here’s what Kojic Acid CAN’T do:
- Remove scars (check my acne scars removal guide for best treatments)
- Treat acne
Related: How To Fade Away The Dark Marks Left Behind By Pimples
How Does It Work?
Kojic Acid is a one tricky pony. It lightens skin in only one way: it inhibits the activity of tyrosinase, the enzyme necessary for melanin production.
Melanin is the pigment that gives your skin its beautiful natural colour. But sometimes, its production goes into overdrive. Blame it on aging and sun damage. They damage your skin so it pumps out too much pigment here and there.
By inhibiting tyrosinase, you regulate the production of melanin, so it stops releasing any excess pigment. Now everything’s back under control, your dark spots slowly go back to their natural lighter colour.
Does Kojic acid soap work?
Kojic Acid works. But I wouldn’t get my fix from a soap. Two reasons:
- Effectiveness: Kojic Acid works better when left on the skin. When you rinse off the soap, you wash it down the drain, too.
- Irritation: Soaps have a high pH that’s too harsh for skin. It disrupts the skin’s protective barrier, causing dryness and irritation.
Is it worth to irritate skin for mediocre results? Stay away from soaps and get yourself a cream instead.
Related: Why You Should Never Use Soap To Wash Your Face
How Do You Use It?
You need to use Kojic Acid twice a day every day for at least a couple of months to see results. If you expect a big improvement from the first application, boy, you’re gonna be disappointed!
It’s also a good idea to use it in 3 months cycles. What does that mean? Simple. You use Kojic Acid for 3 months, then switch to another skin-lightener (like hydroquinone or Arbutin), for 3 more months. Later, rinse, repeat.
Can You Use Kojic Acid With Retinol, Glycolic Acid, Vitamin C, Niacinamide, Etc?
Yes – as long as your skin can take it.
Retinol, Vitamin C, glycolic acid, and niacinamide all have one thing in common: they help fade away dark spots. Using them with Kojic Acid will help you lighten any discolourations faster.
Question is, how much can you take? If you throw too much at your skin, you risk turning it into a dry, red, flaky mess. It’ll take a while to recover for that.
If you can take everything, here’s a good regimen to follow:
|Kojic Acid serum||Kojic Acid serum|
|Vitamin C serum||Retinol/glycolic acid (alternate nights)|
|Sunscreen||Moisturiser with niacinamide|
If you find this skincare regimen is too harsh for you, remove something. You do NOT have to use everything. You have to use what works for YOU.
Related: The Best Skincare Routine To Fade Away Dark Spots
Is Kojic Acid Safe Or Will It Harm Your Skin ?
Yes, Kojic Acid is harsh. At 1% and higher concentrations, it has “high sensitising potential” and can cause irritations and allergies. But that’s all you have to worry about.
Here are other concerns people have about kojic acid that are unfounded:
Can It Give You Cancer?
According to the CIR, “While some animal data suggested tumor promotion and weak carcinogenicity, kojic acid is slowly absorbed into the circulation from human skin and likely would not reach the threshold at which these effects were seen.”
We’re not rats or mice. Just because something is bad for them, doesn’t mean it’s bad for us. In the low concentrations used in skincare products (anything too high will irritate skin, remember?), Kojic Acid does NOT cause cancer.
Can It Make Your Skin Darker/Cause Ochronosis?
Ochronosis is a bluish discolourations some people with darker skin tones sometimes get when they use hydroquinone (Kojic Acid’s biggest skin-lightening rival).
I couldn’t find any proof that Kojic Acid causes ochronosis, too. Or that it makes your skin darker in any way.
But – and this is an important but – you need to use sunscreen religiously. Sun damage can darken your skin, especially if you’re exfoliating (it makes skin more prone to sun damage, including dark spots).
Can It Make You Breakout Or Give You Acne?
Kojic Acid itself isn’t classified as comedogenic, so it won’t make you breakout.
But if the product you use has comedogenic ingredients, you may still get a breakout or two.
Related: Comedogenic Ingredients List
Is It Safe During Pregnancy?
Yes, Kojic Acid is a safe alternative to hydroquinone during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Related: What Skincare Ingredients Should You Avoid During Pregnancy?
Is Kojic Dipalmitate A Safer Alternative?
Ever wondered why it’s rare to find a skin-lightening product with Kojic Acid? This stuff is highly unstable and goes bad quickly. It’s a pain to formulate with.
That’s why some brands use Kojic Dipalmitate. It’s a mix of kojic acid and palmitic acid that makes skin softer and smoother. It’s way more stable than Kojic Acid, BUT there’s no proof it can lighten dark spots and discolourations.
Don’t fall for the hype. Stick to the real thing.
Kojic Acid VS Hydroquinone: Which One Is Best?
Hydroquinone is the gold standard for treating hyperpigmentation. It works in two ways: It works by inhibiting the activity of tyrosinase (the enzyme that controls the synthesis of melanin) and by increasing the cytotoxicity of melanocytes (it kills the cells that produce melanin).
Studies show that Kojic Acid alone is less effective than 2% hydroquinone in treating hyperpigmentation. But what if you use it with other skin-lighteners?
Another study compared the effects of Kojic Acid + Glycolic Acid VS Hydroquinone + Glycolic Acid. The results? Both combinations faded hyperpigmentation and melasma equally well, BUT Kojic Acid was more irritating.
Hydroquinone is the best skin-lightener of the two. But you can only use it in 4 months cycles. During the breaks, you can turn to Kojic Acid instead (as long as your skin isn’t too sensitive).
Related: Kojic Acid VS Hydroquinone: Which One Is Right For You?
How Does Kojic Acid Compares With Other Skin-Lightening Ingredients?
Finding the right skin-lightening agent seems like a mission impossible. There are a dozen treatments out there, how do you know which one to pick?
I’m not gonna lie, it’s often a matter of trial and error. Even when science proves something works, you never know how well it works for you until you try it.
But some treatments work better than others. As we’ve already seen above, hydroquinone is more effective than Kojic Acid. And Kojic Acid is more effective than mulberry extract and Arbutin (a natural form of hydroquinone).
I couldn’t find any studies comparing Kojic Acid to other skin-lighteners, like Azelaic acid. But given the irritating potential of Kojic Acid, I’d still try gentler skin-lighteners like Arbutin and Azelaic acid first.
Related: The Battle Of The Skin-Lighteners: Which Is The Best Alternative To Hydroquinone?
What Are The Best Products With Kojic Acid?
- Glytone Dark Spot Corrector ($38.00): Hydroquinone + Kojic Acid. Available at Dermstore.
- La Roche Posay Mela-D Pigment Control ($52.00): Kojic Acid + Glycolic Acid. Available at Dermstore.
- Skinceuticals Discoloration Defense ($98.00): Kojic Acid + niacinamide. Available at Blue Mercury and Dermstore.
The Bottom Line
Kojic Acid may not be the best skin-lightener out there, but it’s still a good contender – especially when used with other brightening agents, like glycolic acid and niacinamide. As long as your skin isn’t sensitive, of course!