As soon as you begin looking into skin lightening, one of the first ingredients you run into is kojic acid. You’ll find it in soaps, lotions, creams, chemical peels – there are a lot of kojic acid products out there, all promising lighter, brighter skin.
Which prompts the question… what exactly is this stuff and what can it do for your skin?
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What is Kojic Acid?
Kojic acid’s been around for well over a century – it’s an all-natural compound derived from fungi which is a by-product of the rice fermentation process used to produce sake (you know, that warm Japanese alcohol that comes in cute earthenware jars).
But it wasn’t “formally discovered” ’til 1989, when research showed it to be effective at inhibiting melanin production.
Since then, kojic acid has found its way into numerous skin lightening products, becoming the second most-common bleaching agent – one that offers an effective, yet more natural and gentler alternative to the harsher, more controversial hydroquinone.
The way kojic acid lightens skin is similar to hydroquinone – it penetrates the upper skin layers and and inhibits the enzyme known as tyrosinase from producing melanin, causing skin to whiten over time.
But skin bleaching isn’t the only thing kojic acid is good at – this natural skin lightening ingredient is also an antioxidant, which as you know, helps to combat free radical and oxidative damage and protect our cells from premature aging and disease.
Its because of these antioxidant properties that you’ll find kojic acid in anti-aging formulas as well as skin lightening products. On top of all this, kojic acid also makes a potent antibacterial agent and it’s dermatologist recommended for fighting off bacteria-caused acne and blemishes. Talk about multi-tasking!
How to Use Kojic Acid: 3 Popular Types of Kojic Acid Products to Try
Note: Kojic acid is all-natural and effective at lightening skin, reversing signs of aging, and getting rid of blemishes – so it’s no surprise there are tons of kojic acid products on the market. But as you sort through the numerous kojic acid soaps, creams, and lotions – one thing you should be wary of is whether kojic acid is actually in the ingredients.
You see, kojic acid is an unstable ingredient. It oxidizes quickly and will turn brown if left exposed to air, heat, or light. Because of this, many cosmetic companies use kojic dipalmitate instead – which is more stable and has antioxidant properties but not as effective for skin lightening – and market it as kojic acid.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s move on the many ways you can use kojic acid. Here are the best kojic acid products to integrate into your whitening skin care routine!
1. Kojic Acid Soap
Our favorite way to use kojic acid is in soap form – it makes for a brilliantly simple method of gradually lightening your overall body and facial skin tone and all it takes is a few minutes each day. Plus, it’s highly effective, especially when combined with other natural skin-lightening ingredients like glutathione or papaya extract.
The best kojic acid soap is: Marie France Professional Strength Kojic Soap
The soap has high concentrations of kojic acid (to block melanin production for lighter skin) and papain (to speed up the exfoliation process so your new, lighter skin can come to the surface faster) combined with soothing, nourishing ingredients like Vitamin E and aloe vera so your skin doesn’t dry out or grow irritated in the lightening process. Get it for $8!
If you want to see more recommendations for kojic acid soap, check out our reviews for the best kojic acid soap.
2. Kojic Acid Peel
Peels are definitely not an everyday thing – but they’re an awesome way to speed up the skin lightening process by inhibiting melanin production and speeding up cell turnover so you can see results much quicker.
You won’t find a straight up kojic acid peel, though – most chemical peels are usually made from alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) like glycolic acid and lactic acid or from beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) like salicylic acid.
Both AHAs and BHAs are amazing, non-abrasive exfoliators that work by bringing the pH of the skin to a higher acidity level in order to chemically loosen the “glue” that binds the dead and damaged skin cells. This exfoliating action naturally promotes new cell growth leading to clearer skin, increased collagen production, fading spots and scars, and overall more radiant and youthful skin.
Wait, you say, but exfoliation alone doesn’t result in skin lightening! Correct.
That’s why you want to pick a chemical peel that also contains kojic acid so you can get skin lightening benefits and the exfoliation to reveal your results faster. Here are our top picks!
Doing a chemical peel at home can be scary, which is why it’s always best to go for the safest, gentlest option available when you’re first starting out.
At the same time, if you’re going to do a peel – you want results.
Which is exactly why this is the perfect beginner’s peel. It’s a potent combination of alpha hydroxy acids like lactic acid and glycolic acid combined with pyruvic acid (increases the levels of hyaluronic acid in the skin, to provide a marked plumping effect) as well as kojic acid for extra lightening and brightening.
The combination of ingredients makes Refresh Skin Therapy’s Fruit Acid the perfect chemical peel for those looking to lighten pesky spots and target fine lines and wrinkles.
At 15% concentration, it’s stronger enough for visible results but still gentle enough for beginners. We’d recommend this one if you’ve had experience with active ingredients before, like Retin A, and you’d like a 2-in-1 solution for both skin lightening and plumping. Find it here!
Another gentle yet effective chemical peel, Retin Glow’s Salicylic Acid Peel Kit is the perfect peel for those who’re prone to breakouts and are looking to get rid of blemish spots and acne scars – fast. It’s got a great combination of acne-fighting and exfoliating ingredients like salicylic acid, as well as skin lightening ingredients like kojic acid, bearberry, licorice and Vitamin C.
But it’s also mild enough that you won’t have to suffer through a burning, peeling recovery period. It’s so gentle, in fact, that you can actually use this peel several times per month!
The best thing about this peel? Not only does it lighten and exfoliate, banish blemishes and fade spots, but the Vitamin C that it contains is so powerful that it continues to work in your skin for up to 3 days! Results? Glow that lasts.
This kit also includes a super soothing after-peel neutralizer! Find the full kit here!
If you’ve already had experience with active ingredients and/or had a chemical peel before, your skin might be ready for these skin lightening peel pads. And that’s super good news ’cause we don’t like to play favorites but yea, these are our favorites.
Why? Not only are they super convenient – they’re cotton pads pre-soaked with a professional strength skin lightening peel and ready to go! – but they offer a marriage of the perfect ingredients for your skin.
For starters, it uses a great combo of 30% lactic acid and 10% mandelic acid. If that sounds like a strong dose, don’t worry – both lactic acid and mandelic acid are the gentlest options you can find when it comes to chemical peels.
But don’t mistake “gentle” for “subtle” – they’re also very effective for fading spots, banishing blemishes, reducing fine lines and overall skin regeneration.
But this peel doesn’t stop there – it also contains some powerful skin whitening ingredients like glutathione and kojic acid. The result? You get potent skin lightening combined with gentle, effective exfoliation. Win win. Find it here!
Once you’ve done a few beginner friendly chemical peels, your skin will be ready for the holy grail of skin lightening peels: Perfect Image’s 50% lactic acid peel.
As mentioned earlier, lactic acid is one of the gentlest chemical peels you can get your face on. It’s the stuff that’s found naturally in milk and yogurt (as well as on human skin) and it’s less irritating than other AHAs and even has a natural moisturizing effect on the skin.
It’s an ideal chemical peel for skin brightening on its own – especially at higher concentrations – and is great for hyperpigmentation and rosacea.
Now combine that with potent melanin inhibitors like kojic acid and bearberry extract and you wind up with a powerful skin lightening chemical peel!
Just keep in mind, we don’t recommend this high concentration peel for beginners. Start with one of the above and work your way up to this one! Find it here!
3. Kojic Acid Creams and Serums
Kojic acid soap is a convenient way to lighten as you shower…but you can’t leave it on too long. Kojic acid peels are a great way to get huge results quick…but you can only use it around once a week.
So what about all the times in between showering and peeling? Shouldn’t you be making the most of this time to lighten and brighten?
Of course you should! Especially when you consider that the majority of skin turnover and healing happens in your sleep – you can’t waste those hours!
Enter kojic acid creams, lotions and serums.
These wonderful products penetrate your skin and work their magic for hours. Here are our top picks!
Serums are a particular favorite of ours. Why? Simple because they’re made of very small molecules, allowing your skin to absorb the active ingredients quickly and deeply.
They’re also cost effective since you only need a small amount to cover your whole face, meaning that a small bottle will last you months.
And you’ll want to use this serum for months and months once you see the wonderful things it does to your skin. For starters, it lightens and brightens with Kojic Acid and Azelaic Acid. At the same time, it gently exfoliates with Lactic Acid. And the results are amazing – with just this potent line-up of natural skin lightening ingredients.
We especially love the fact that this serum is gentle enough to use everyday and that you can see great results – all without the risk of side effects. Find it here!
Remember how we said mandelic acid was a wonderfully gentle yet effective ingredient for a chemical peel? Well, now you can find it in this creamy treatment serum.
And it’s not just mandelic acid – it’s also packing a host of powerful skin lightening ingredients like kojic acid and alpha arbutin as well as a huge roster of nourishing, rejuvenating ingredients like Coconut Oil), Niacinamide, Cocoa Butter, Hyaluronic Acid, Pearl powder, Rose Oil, Organic Goji Berry, Caviar, Pineapple Fruit Extract and a whole lot more goodness!
We also love the way this creamy serum feels on the skin – it’s lightweight, absorbs like a dream and you can rest assured that it won’t cause reactions or breakouts as it’s non comedogenic and free of nasties like artificial fragrances. Find it here!
Got acne? This is one kojic acid serum you absolutely need. It’s a potent combination of kojic acid, salicylic acid and glycolic acid formulated wiht 50% hyaluronic acid to hydrate your skin as it lightens and exfoliates.
Salicylic acid, by the way, is hands down the best acid for acne and blemishes (as well as for fine lines) and works to stop acne in its tracks while kojic acid lightens acne spots and glycolic acid helps speed up cell turnover so you can see the results of lighter, clearer skin faster. Find it here!
Kojic Acid Side Effects
Now you know all about the awesome benefits of kojic acid and you have a roster of the best kojic acid products, you’re probably wondering…is it safe? Are there any side effects?
Good question. Especially since there’s a history of dangerous skin lightening ingredients (i.e. mercury) being used in whitening products. It’s always better safe than sorry.
But don’t worry – you won’t be sorry with kojic acid as long as you use it responsibly.
Kojic acid is considered safe enough to leave on skin in concentration of up to 1%. It is, however, also a potent skin lightening ingredient, and like anything powerful enough to work – it can cause a few side effects.
- Skin irritation: This is the most common side effect and usually, the amounts of kojic acid found in skincare products is not enough to cause irritation but especially if you have sensitive skin, you can experience dryness and and irritation. To avoid this, please include nourishing and soothing ingredients along with your kojic acid like vitamin E, aloe vera, and fatty-acid-rich oils.
- Allergic contact dermatitis: There is a risk of developing allergic contact dermatitis with continued regular use. Even if you’ve been using kojic acid for a long time, if you suddenly experience side effects like rashes and bumps, painful skin, blisters, or dry, red patches on your skin – stop using kojic acid immediately.
Please note that you should NOT apply kojic acid to open wounds.
There have also been some controversial research suggesting that kojic acid may have carcinogenic properties in large doses but further studies have shown that kojic acid is, in fact, not carcinogenic. So you can rest assured on that note and happy lightening!