Most of us are working from home these days, so that means I'm wearing less makeup — at least for me anway. While I'm not going anywhere, I still want to put my best complexion forward just for my own self-confidence and, of course, those team Zoom calls.
For anyone who struggles with hyperpigmentation and/or stubborn post-breakout marks like me, kojic acid might just be the answer to your skincare prayers.
If you're asking yourself, "What is kojic acid?" right now, you're not alone. The internet is buzzing over whether or not this ingredient works and is safe to use, so we put together a comprehensive guide on everything you need to know before picking up a kojic acid-infused serum to include in your nightly routine.
Read on to find out exactly what kojic acid is, how to use it, if your skin can benefit from it, and what the experts are saying.
RELATED: This Is How to Fade Those Dark Spots on Your Skin
What Is Kojic Acid?
Kojic acid is a chemical derived from mushrooms, and can also be created during the sake brewing process from fermented rice. Because of its ability to really penetrate the layers of your skin and stop the production of melanin, kojic acid is usually sought out as a spot-fading treatment, and is often considered a less-aggressive answer to hydroquinone.
According to Dr. Jennifer MacGregor, a Board-Certified Dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology, it can be used as a skin brightener and even prevent discoloration. "It is a popular skincare ingredient because it is a well-known and studied inhibitor of tyrosinase (the melanin-forming enzyme) in the skin."
Is Kojic Acid Safe?
Despite its "acid" moniker, kojic acid is safe to use. However, we wouldn't recommend any of the products designed to completely lighten your complexion as your overall skin tone shouldn't be tampered with; it will eventually shift back to its natural state once you discontinue use, and doing so with excess amounts of the ingredient can cause some serious irritation.
Instead, you should use kojic acid-infused products to fade discoloration that wasn't originally on your skin, like age spots, sun spots, or those obnoxious post-breakout marks.
"Kojic acid has mild antioxidant, antimicrobial, and exfoliating properties," Dr. MacGregor says. "It’s safe and well-tolerated on the face and body even by the most sensitive skin types, so is a great option if you don’t want to use (or can’t tolerate) ingredients like hydroquinone or retinoids." She adds that a serum or pad infused with kojic acid can be used once to twice a day, depending on the concentration of kojic acid and the product's other ingredients.
Of course as with any product, there is always risk of personal irritation or allergic reaction. Dr. MacGregor stresses the importance of using a mineral sunscreen along with any kojic acid product because, honestly, what good is a brightening cream if you just reverse the treatment and allow new sun spots to form? Plus, kojic acid is a mild exfoliant, meaning your skin can become more sensitive to the sun after using it.
Who Should Use Products With Kojic Acid?
If you're prone to hyperpigmentation, kojic acid could be very beneficial to you. "Kojic acid is a great ingredient to add for those battling pigment of any kind," says Dr. MacGregor. "It works well on pigmentation from sun damage, melasma, or the common post-inflammatory pigmentation, dark spots that occur after acne, bug bites, or injuries."
She adds that it could even improve under eye circles that are a result of hyperpigmentation. (Though it won't do much for "puffiness, hollowing, or thin skin with visible blood vessels.")
How Can I Incorporate Kojic Acid Into My Routine?
"For those with acne or melasma that tend to get brown spots from every little acne bump or scratch, it’s an easy ingredient to incorporate daily — usually as a brightening pad in combination with other brighteners and antioxidants," Dr. MacGregor says.
Of course it's best to consult dermatologist for which product and regimen is best for your skin. Depending on your treatment of choice, kojic acid can be used on your skin in a variety of forms—from potent serums, to one-and-done face masks.
Dr. MacGregor says her favorite kojic acid treatment is Union Square Laser Dermatology's popular La Suite Skin Tone Enhancement Therapy Pads — a staple in Ashley Graham's routine. Her skin glows, so I'm sold.
VIDEO: When You Apply Sunscreen in Your Skincare Routine Actually Matters A Lot
Keep on scrolling for the rest of our favorite kojic acid products that can easily fit into your daily routine.
Mario Badescu Whitening Mask
Its name may be slightly off-putting, but Mario Badescu's Whitening Mask actually helps to even out your skin tone, rather than lighten it. The kojic acid and licorice help to lighten and reduce pigmentation, like scarring from acne.
To buy: $24; nordstromrack.com.
Urban Skin RX Cleansing Bar
This cleansing bar acts as a gentle alternative to your everyday liquid cleanser. While it evens out your skin tone, it also contains exfoliant properties and can even be used as a mask.
To buy: $15; amazon.com.
La Roche-Posay Mela-D Pigment Control
If you prefer an overnight treatment that your skin can really soak up, try La Roche-Posay's Mela-D Pigment Control to improve your skin's clarity and minimize dark spots.
To buy: $49; target.com.
Arcona Brightening Drops
These Arcona Brightening Drops are rich in kojic acid. Add into your nightly skincare routine to help brighten your skin for that dewy look in the a.m.
To buy: $40; amazon.com.
ZitSticka Hyperfade Microdart Blur Patch for Dark Spots
If you're looking for a more targeted spot treatment, we recommend these ZitSticka Hyperfade microdart patches, which contain kojic acid and vitamin C to zone in on post-acne dark spots.
To buy: $34; ulta.com.
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