Looking To Lighten Melasma Patches? Find A Product With This Ingredient In It
While many people use the term "dark spots" like an umbrella, there are actually a few different kinds. First, you have post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation that can come from blemishes or skin irritation. Then, you have sun spots that pop up as a result of UV damage (wear your sunscreen!). Finally, we have melasma, which consists of dark patches commonly found on the face and chest; oftentimes these begin to appear during pregnancy.
If any of the above are relevant to you, we have some good news. There''s a skin care ingredient you may not have heard of that works overtime to lighten these dark spots: kojic acid. We'll go over what kojic acid is, how it can help your skin, and some expert-recommended products.
What is kojic acid?
Kojic acid is a fermentation byproduct that comes from several different types of fungi. This powerful ingredient is most known for its skin-lightening properties, as studies echo its ability to brighten skin and fade dark spots1.
While some better-known exfoliating agents like retinol increase cell turnover in the skin, thus fading dark spots over time, this acid is different. "It works its magic via the inhibition of tyrosinase, an enzyme that is essential in the UV-induced activation of pigment-producing cells in the skin," board-certified dermatologist Rebecca Marcus, M.D., told mbg.
Fades dark spots
As mentioned previously, kojic acid has been shown to lighten hyperpigmentation and brighten the skin. Whether you're dealing with sun spots or post-inflammatory dark marks, this ingredient can encourage them to fade quicker. The beauty of kojic acid is that it is extremely effective yet can be well tolerated by the skin compared to stronger and more dangerous dark-spot fighters.
Eases the appearance of melasma patches
Ultra-concentrated spot treatments may be great for sun spots or post-inflammatory marks, but when it comes to brightening melasma patches, there's something else needed entirely. Kojic acid is a great ingredient to use for melasma lightening because it can be applied to larger areas without irritation or excessive whitening. "It targets only that pigment that is being produced in excess, so it does not have the potential for a 'halo effect' or excessive whitening such as can be seen with hydroquinone," Marcus explained.
Benefits to antioxidants in your skin care regimen include delaying photoaging, decreasing inflammation2, and supporting collagen and elastin production. While its antioxidant properties are not the most notable benefit, it's certainly an added bonus.
Kojic acid is a stable compound that's nonirritating to the skin when used at the right concentration. According to Marcus, that should be right around 1%.
Clean cosmetic chemist and founder of KKT Consultants Krupa Koestline notes a slightly lower percentage. "Most recently the EU [European Union] has recommended a safe limit of 0.7% for kojic acid in topical products," Koestline said. This comes from the concerns surrounding endocrine disruption at a concentration above 0.7%, according to the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety. These are opinions from the SCCS as the studies on kojic acid concentration are limited, so keep that in mind.
While kojic acid is a generally well-tolerated ingredient, it's still acid at the end of the day. "For those with very sensitive skin, proceed with caution as kojic acid does have the potential to cause irritation and dryness, as with any acid," Marcus said.
Also like any acid or exfoliating ingredient, kojic acid should not be used on broken or irritated skin. To reiterate: Avoid use on open wounds, sunburns, rashes, or allergic reactions.
Best kojic acid products
Tranexamic Topical Acid 5%
Takesumi Bright Kojic Acid Brightening Body Bar
Kojic acid is a powerful yet well-tolerated skin brighter that works wonders for dark spots of all kinds. Whether you're looking to lighten sun spots, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, or even melasma—this ingredient has proven its ability to do just that. As with any acid, proceed with caution if you have sensitive skin, and be sure to avoid any broken or irritated skin. Now if you're looking to simply brighten your overall complexion, you may consider a vitamin C serum.
Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including health, wellness, sustainability, personal development, and more. She previously interned for Almost 30, a top-rated health and wellness podcast. In her current role, Hannah reports on the latest beauty trends, holistic skincare approaches, must-have makeup products, and inclusivity in the beauty industry. She currently lives in New York City.