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Looking To Lighten Melasma Patches? Find A Product With This Ingredient In It

June 15, 2022
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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. 

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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.

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Skin benefits: 

1.

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. 

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2.

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. 

3.

Contains antioxidants

Kojic acid contains antioxidants as well, which can even enhance the depigmenting effect1. Antioxidants are free-radical fighters that combat oxidative stress in the skin.

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. 

Any cautions?

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

Maei MD

Serum 6

$140
“Serum 6 by Maei MD is a super active serum with many potent, medical-grade ingredients backed by science. One of its high-performing ingredients is shiitake mushroom extract (Lentinus edodes mycelium extract), which is a potent source of kojic acid and acts as a skin brightener, antioxidant, and skin barrier enhancer.” — Marcus

Naturium

Tranexamic Topical Acid 5%

$20
If you’re looking to lighten dark spots on a budget, this topical treatment from Naturium should be your next purchase. The reviews are beaming with admiration, especially for those looking to lighten melasma patches. Blended with tranexamic acid, niacinamide, and licorice root, this serum earns a gold star for skin brightening.
Naturium Tranexamic Topical Acid 5%

SkinCeuticals

Discoloration Defene

$102
“Skinceuticals Discoloration Defense contains a great combination of tranexamic acid and kojic acid—both ingredients that are effective for lightening discolorations. It also contains niacinamide, which is helpful for tone and texture,” —Board-certified dermatologist Hadley King, M.D.
SkinCeuticals Discoloration Defense

Kaia Naturals

Takesumi Bright Kojic Acid Brightening Body Bar

$25
Now if you’re looking to brighten dark spots on the body, a kojic acid soap may be the best option. This one from Kaia Naturals is a great pick because it’s a safe and gentle formula made without toxic ingredients that can be found in traditional brightening bars. Use this soap in the shower on parts of the body you have dark spots you’d like to lighten, including post-acne marks from body breakouts.
Kaia Naturals Kojic Acid Brightening Bar

The takeaway. 

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
Hannah Frye
mbg Assistant Beauty Editor

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.