Dermatologists Say Kojic Acid Can Help Get Rid of Hyperpigmentation—Here's How

Including the best products to try with the ingredient.

kojic acid serum
Photo: Credit: Olga Shumytskaya

If you experience hyperpigmentation or dark spots, then you're probably familiar with vitamin C. The well-known skincare ingredient is known for its brightening benefits and accessibility, seeing that it's found in a wide range of skincare products. But despite the ingredient's popularity, some find it to be irritating. The good news is, however, there's a lesser-known skincare ingredient worth trying: Kojic acid.

Kojic acid can help with everything from evening out skin tone, improving the look of dull skin, and reducing the appearance of dark spots and hyperpigmentation. Ahead, learn more about its benefits and how you can begin to incorporate it into your routine.

What is kojic acid?

Kojic acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA), which is a chemical exfoliator. "It's derived from the fermentation of certain foods, including Japanese sake, soy sauce, and rice wine," explains Deanne Mraz Robinson, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist and CMO of Ideal Image. "It is an active ingredient most often found in serums, lotions, chemical peels, and exfoliators."

What are the skincare benefits of kojic acid?

Kojic acid is best known for its ability to lighten hyperpigmentation as well as evening out and brightening skin tone. Dr. Robinson explains that it works in two ways: First, it chemically sloughs away hyperpigmented skin cells that already exist on the complexion, then it works to prevent hyperpigmentation in the first place, by suppressing the production of tyrosine, which is an enzyme that helps our bodies produce melanin. Dr. Robinson adds that kojic acid can also help manage acne because it has anti-bacterial properties.

Robert Finney, MD, a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist at Entière Dermatology, says the ingredient also acts as an antioxidant and has anti-inflammatory properties. "If someone suffers from dark discoloration related to acne or melasma, they would greatly benefit from including kojic acid in their skincare routine," he explains.

What are the side effects of kojic acid?

Kojic acid is an ingredient tolerated by most skin types, so there aren't many side effects, Dr. Robinson says. That said, if you're sensitive to skincare acids or active ingredients in general, it's best to ease your way into using kojic acid to avoid any potential irritation.

"It's often is combined with other ingredients like other alpha- or beta-hydroxy acids, so just be careful of the formulation, and make sure the product fits with your skin type and concern," says Dr. Finney. Also, as with any active ingredients, there's a possibility it can make your skin more sensitive in the sun, which is why Dr. Robinson says SPF application is very important when using this ingredient (and just in general).

What are some ways to incorporate kojic acid into your routine?

Want to give kojic acid a try? Luckily, there are many skincare products on the market with the ingredient readily available in their formulas.

Dr. Robinson personally recommends opting for a serum because it will have higher concentrations of kojic acid and offers better absorption. "Apply in the morning and evening on clean skin before layering on other skincare, SPF, or makeup," she says. "If your skin is sensitive, start every two to three days and work your way up to daily use."

The Best Products with Kojic Acid to Try:

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SkinCeuticals Discoloration Defense


One of Dr. Robinson's favorite skincare products formulated with kojic acid is this brightening serum. Its formula also boasts tranexamic acid and niacinamide to fully target discoloration.

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Urban Skin Rx Clear and Even Tone Body Cleansing Bar

Urban Skin Rx

This cleansing bar helps improve uneven skin tone and breakouts on the body. In addition to kojic acid, it's made with sulfur, charcoal, and salicylic acid to exfoliate the skin and unveil a smooth, even, and healthy-looking complexion all over.

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PCA SKIN Pigment Gel

PCA Skincare

We know kojic acid is a great ingredient for even skin pigmentation and for managing acne. "It can be a great alternative to those looking to avoid hydroquinone," says Dr. Robinson. Enter this hydroquinone-free formula fades the look of dark spots and discoloration while preventing new ones from forming.

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LA Roche-Posay Glycolic B5 10% Pure Glycolic Acid Serum

La Roche-Posay

Available at your local drug store or beauty retailer, this lightweight serum moisturizes the skin while reducing signs of aging and discoloration. You can use it on its own or mixed into your moisturizer for an extra boost.

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