This Buzzy Ingredient Will Be Your New Lifeline for Treating Hyperpigmentation

People typically don't want dark spots on their skin, but hyperpigmentation is an extremely common issue. These spots can happen for so many reasons, whether they’re from acne scars, sun damage, or aging. If you’ve dealt with hyperpigmentation before, you know how frustrating it can be (and how it seems like you might have to live with it forever).


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Hyperpigmentation might seem like a lost cause, but luckily, there are ingredients out there that can help you treat it, such as kojic acid, a superstar acid that helps fade and prevent hyperpigmentation. We caught up with dermatologists to get the lowdown on all things kojic acid so that you can feel a little more confident in your fight against hyperpigmentation.

What exactly is kojic acid?

“Kojic acid is made up of multiple different fungi,” says Jeannette Graf, board-certified dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “It is a byproduct of certain types of mushrooms and fermented foods like rice wine, kimchi, and Japanese sake. Kojic acid inhibits tyrosinase, which is the melanin-forming enzyme.” 

In beauty products, kojic acid works as a lightening agent. “Because kojic acid inhibits tyrosinase, it can be used to lighten unwanted hyperpigmentation,” says Karen Chinonso Kagha, MD, board-certified dermatologist and Harvard-trained cosmetic and laser expert.

What are the benefits of kojic acid?

Aside from helping hyperpigmentation, there are plenty of other benefits to kojic acid. “The pure form of the acid can be combined with other serums and moisturizers to increase its absorbency into the skin,” says Graf. “It can be used to lighten visible aging spots, sun damage, and certain scars.” It can also help reduce the appearance of wrinkles and under-eye bags.

Who is kojic acid best suited for? Should anyone avoid it?

Anyone can use kojic acid, and it’s safe for all skin tones. Kagha says that kojic acid is best for people with hyperpigmentation or melasma. 

You should err on the side of caution if you have more sensitive skin. “If your skin is very sensitive, then the use of kojic acid can lead to skin irritation and rashes,” says Graf. You should also avoid kojic acid if you’re pregnant.

What should you look for in a product containing kojic acid, and how do you use it?

If you want to mix kojic acid into your skincare routine, it’s best to find a kojic acid–infused product, as it’s too strong to use alone. You can combine it with other skincare products, so it’s easy to add to your routine. “Depending on the concentration of the kojic acid product, it should be used one to two times a day in your skincare routine,” says Graf.

The best products formulated with kojic acid:

This superstar dark-spot gel is formulated with tranexamic acid, kojic acid, licorice root, and niacinamide to pack a major punch against discoloration. Apply it directly to dark spots as a targeted spot treatment. 

Smooth these brightening drops over dark spots for brighter and smoother skin. Kojic acid is mixed with azelaic acid, vitamin C, gallic acid, and arbutin for a potent formula.

SkinCeuticals does it again with a targeted discoloration serum. You can use this serum all over your face to reap the exfoliating benefits. In a clinical study, 60% of participants said that they saw an improvement in stubborn dark spots on skin.

If you're looking for a toner that really tackles dull skin and hyperpigmentation, look no further. It features four different acids—kojic, azelaic, AHA, and bearberry extract—for a powerful formula that can be used all over your entire body.

Use this gel on problem areas after cleansing and toning skin. Lactic, kojic, and azelaic acids work together to smooth and brighten. 

Topicals Faded Serum is quickly becoming a holy-grail product for many when it comes to fading dark spots, and for good reason. 

This dark-spot corrector has over 11,000 five-star reviews on Amazon. If that isn't enough to convince you to put it in your cart immediately, consider the potent blend of acids that works to banish dark spots. 

If you struggle with dark spots on your body, this is the perfect cleansing bar to incorporate into your routine. Kojic acid, salicylic acid, niacinamide, and sulfur work to brighten skin and even tone. 

Made for anyone who struggles with both hyperpigmentation and acne, this serum is your ticket to clear, smooth skin. 

Not only does this lightweight serum treat dark spots, but it also helps smooth fine lines and wrinkles. L-ascorbic acid, lactic acid, and kojic acid all help brighten skin. 

If you have oily, acne-prone skin and dark patches, this serum is your new best friend. Glycolic, kojic, and lactic acids all work together with urea and niacinamide for the brightest, most even-textured skin possible. 

This face mask doubles as an exfoliator to slough off dead skin cells. Kaolin clay, kojic acid, alpha-beta hydroxy acid, and witch hazel work to help clarify skin.

Like a pimple patch but for dark spots, these stickers use microdart technology to fade dark spots and even skin tone.

For super-glowy skin, smooth on this clay mask once a week. Fruit enzymes, kaolin clay, volcanic ash, kojic acid, and lactic acid all slough off dead skin cells and reveal even-toned skin.

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