Should You Use Hydroquinone Or Kojic Acid?

by Gio
hydroquinone vs kojic acid - which one is better at treating dark spots

So you have dark spots but you’ve heard that hydroquinone is the devil. Isn’t there something gentler?

Kojic Acid may be it. But… wouldn’t that work more slowly?

Yes, there’s always a trade off. That’s why you need to get clear on what’s most important to you and which skin-lightener can deliver it to you.

Here’s the lowdown on Hydroquinone vs Kojic Acid: which one should you choose?

What The Heck Is Hydroquinone?

Did you know that this “devil” is found in nature? Hydroquinone naturally occurs in fruits, coffee and even beer. It’s considered the gold standard at treating any kind of discolouration.

Hydroquinone works in two ways: it inhibits the activity of tyrosinase (the enzyme that controls the synthesis of melanin) and increases the cytotoxicity of melanocytes (it kills the cells that produce melanin).

Contrary to popular opinion, it DOESN’T cause cancer (phew!). But, it can irritate skin and, in rare cases, cause ochronosis (gives skin a bluish tint). Ochronosis is more common in people with dark skin. But it doesn’t seem to be caused by hydroquinone alone (otherwise, everyone who uses it would get it). Using hydroquinone with resorcinol or without sunscreen seem to be the real triggers.

Best picks:

Related: Is Hydroquinone A Friend Or For For Skin?

What The Heck Is Kojic Acid?

Kojic acid is made by fungus during the fermentation process of rice in the manufacture of sake, the Japanese rice wine. It inhibits the activity of tyrosinase, the enzyme that’s responsible for the production of melanin.

Skin tends to tolerate kojic acid better. It’s less irritating than hydroquinone, but can still cause irritations and allergies.

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Hydroquinone Vs Kojic Acid: How Do They Compare?

A 1996 study tested the efficacy of two similar formulations of glycolic acid/hydroquinone and glycolic acid/kojic acid for melasma.

Patients used the cream with hydroquinone on one side of the face and the creme with kojic acid on the other. The results?

  • 51% of patients responded equally to hydroquinone and kojic acid
  • 28% of patients saw a more dramatic reduction in pigment on the kojic acid side
  • 21% had a more dramatic improvement with the hydroquinone cream


Hydroquinone Vs Kojic Acid: Which one should you use?

I can’t give you a clear cut answer. As science pointed out, most people can use both. But others like hydroquinone better than kojic acid or vice versa.

The problem with skin is that it’s a living organ affected by so many different factors, like genetics, environment and life. Science can point you the way, but you still have to experiment to find out what works best for YOU.

But, science is clear on one thing: hydroquinone and kojic acid work best when used together. A 1999 study compared the efficacy of a cream with 10% glycolic acid and 2% hydroquinone on its own and with the addition of 2% kojic acid.

The first cream reduced melasma in 47.5% of the patients. But  when kojic acid was added to the mix, the cream reduced the discolouration in 60% of patients.

The catch? Used together, hydroquinone and kojic acid are more irritating. But the redness and stinging usually disappears by the third week.

The Bottom Line

Both hydroquinone and kojic acid are effective at treating hyperpigmentation. They work even better when used together. I recommend you start with kojic acid because it’s a little gentler and, if that doesn’t work, move onto hydroquinone or a combo of them.

Does hydroquinone or kojic acid work best for you? Share your experience in the comments below.



Dr Maruti hebballi December 15, 2017 - 7:42 am


Gio December 16, 2017 - 10:29 pm

Dr Maruti, glad you find it useful.

Cali January 12, 2018 - 2:39 am

Thanks, this was very helpful! : )

Gio January 19, 2018 - 2:13 pm

Cali, you’re welcome. So glad it was. 🙂

Lisanne March 11, 2018 - 8:11 am

Thank you, very helpful.

Gio March 16, 2018 - 8:30 pm

Lisanne, my pleasure. Glad you found it helpful.

kay March 28, 2018 - 5:22 am

Does Kojic Acid Soap work just as well as the SkinCeuticals
Phyto Plus (1 fl oz.)?

Gio March 31, 2018 - 8:24 am

Kay, I’m afraid not. Kojic acid needs to stay on the skin to work, not rinsed down the drain. Plus, soaps can be terribly drying so I don’t recommend you using one anyway.

Hazel March 26, 2020 - 12:47 pm

Hi there. Thank you for the advice. So, I’ve been using Dimollaure Kojic acid serum for a week. The first few days, the results were quick and pretty visible. It appeared the darker layers were flaking off each day. Since day 4 however, I haven’t been seeing any changes. Instead I’m left with patchy lighter and darker areas on my face, which is worse than what my face looked like before. I’m kinda freaking out. Is this normal when using a skin lightener? Should I continue using it or should I stop?

Gio April 4, 2020 - 8:06 am

Hazel, are you using it all over your face? Skin lighteners are only for areas with dark spots.

Carmen May 8, 2018 - 1:01 am

I am trying to use ingredients that are safer and less toxic. I read that other products such as niacinamide, arbutin, along with Kojic acid work for hyper pigmentation. II would like to use something that not only helps with hyper pigmentation but also for aging skin. What products would you suggest that are safer choices? Any certain skincare line ?

Gio May 19, 2018 - 10:56 am

Carmen, I’d say niacinamide and bearberry extract (arbutin) are you best bet. You can find more information about them and in which products to find them here:

Nevida May 12, 2018 - 7:54 pm

I am reacting to something that I really don’t know, this gives me rashes at my back and chest region. Tried several antibacterial creams, but it’s not working. What can I use? Also, my skin is pretty dry. How I do I maintain it to have a glowing skin.

Gio May 19, 2018 - 12:41 pm

Nevida, unfortunately it’s hard to help becauseI don’t really understand what’s causing the problem. Whatever it is, you need to figure out so you can avoid it. You can check out this post for my tips for dry skin:

mel May 26, 2018 - 3:10 pm

Nevida you can try using Elica . I have dry sensitive skin and had similar symptoms as what you have.

Ann July 3, 2018 - 8:48 am

Kojic acid is derived from a fungus, not bacteria. Same fungus that is used in the fermentation process for miso, sake and shoyu.

Gio July 5, 2018 - 6:11 pm

Ann, thanks for catching that. I’ve written it correctly in other posts about kojic acid so I don’t know why I got it wrong here. Ops!

Foss July 7, 2018 - 3:33 am

Hey can we mix skin success cream with Kojic Acid

Gio July 21, 2018 - 9:53 pm

Foss, it’s always best to layer rather than mix actives so you’re sure you’re not compromising their effectiveness.

Linda November 5, 2018 - 8:00 pm

Can you still use retinol products with these products?

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