What Is Kojic Acid & How Does It Benefit Your Skin?

What Is Kojic Acid & How Does It Benefit Your Skin?

Kojic acid may have come up in your search for topical skincare solutions for melasma and dark spots. But is it right for you? Keep reading to learn more!

What is kojic acid and how does it work?

Kojic acid is derived from specific species of fungi, and is often used in beauty and cosmetic products to lighten the skin (Bandyopadhyay). It is a powerful antioxidant that works by inhibiting the production of tyrosinase, an enzyme necessary for the production of melanin.

Kojic acid is considered a second-line therapy for the treatment of conditions like hyperpigmentation or melasma. This means it may be a good option for you if other methods have not been effective. Concentrations of 1% kojic acid indicated an average improvement of 60%, and when used in combination with hydroquinone, nearly 72% improvement (Deo).

As with nearly all cosmetic products, kojic acid can have some side effects. These effects include:

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How does kojic acid compare to other popular acids?

There are other acids with properties that can help treat conditions like melasma or hyperpigmentation.

Azelaic acid

Azelaic acid is a naturally occurring acid with multiple benefits for those suffering from hyperpigmentation or melasma. It reduces inflammation, has antibacterial properties, and promotes effective skin shedding (which helps prevent blemishes). Another quality of azelaic acid that is especially effective for treating melasma is that it only affects abnormal melanin production, meaning that surrounding skin will not be affected.

Azelaic acid’s many benefits make it a favorable first-line therapy for melasma or hyperpigmentation. A study comparing azelaic acid to hydroquinone, the worldwide “gold standard” topical treatment for melasma, found that azelaic acid had a similar success rate without the negative side effects (Bandyopadhyay). It may also be found in combination therapies.

Common side effects include contact dermatitis or allergic reaction.

Tranexamic acid

Tranexamic acid is the synthetic version of lysine, an amino acid. It is available in a variety of forms. Topically, it is used for to lighten dark patches of skin, demonstrating 90% improvement in patients with melasma (Grimes). Tranexamic acid works by inhibiting melanin production.

Studies reflect that tranexamic acid has approximately the same efficacy as hydroquinone, a lightening agent considered the “gold standard” treatment for melasma (Grimes). Combination therapies including hydroquinone also showed significant improvement.

Topical side effects include contact dermatitis and increased skin sensitivity.


Brandon Kirsch

Brandon Kirsch, MD, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist specializing in clinical drug development and medical innovation. He is the founder of Kirsch Dermatology in Naples, Florida and is also the Chief of Dermatology at the Naples Community Hospital. Kirsch Dermatology Website Dr. Kirsch started his career as a lawyer and holds law degrees from the University of Western Ontario (LL.B.) and Georgetown (LL.M. Securities and Financial Regulation). Dr. Kirsch completed his pre-medical studies at the University of Pennsylvania, medical school at Brown University, internship at the Mayo Clinic (Florida) and dermatology residency at the University of North Carolina. In partnership with the Mayo Clinic, he filed to patent a novel topical composition for the treatment of skin hyperpigmentation that he co-developed and also oversaw a successful pilot study of the formulation. Dr. Kirsch has experience with therapeutic drug development programs from pre-clinical to Phase 3 studies. He is licensed to practice medicine in California, Colorado, Florida, and North Carolina and law in New York and Ontario.

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