April 18, 2020 How Effective Is Kojic Acid For Melasma?
Although melasma is a cosmetic condition that does not cause symptoms aside from the discolorations on your skin, it may affect your self-esteem and force you to look for a solution. One way to treat this condition is by using kojic acid to lighten melasma.
How Does Kojic Acid Treat Melasma?
Kojic acid is a product often used in beauty and cosmetic products that is derived from certain species of fungi. The usual concentration form of kojic acid in products is from 1% to 4% (Moore).
Kojic acid treats melasma by acting as a tyrosinase inhibitor. Tyrosinase is a special enzyme located in melanocytes, the cells that produce melanin, a substance that gives the color to your eyes, skin, and hair. Kojic acid prevents the formation of tyrosine, an amino acid converted by tyrosinase. This reduced production of tyrosine results in less melanin production, which in turn means an improved complexion and fewer dark patches caused by melasma.
However, treating melasma is not an easy process. It can take months to get your desired results. On top of that, exposure to the sun can extend the recovery period – or make melasma worse – since UV rays can trigger melasma flare-ups. In order to effectively treat your melasma, any treatment must be combined with the consistent use of sun protective products to help maintain results.
How Effective Is Kojic Acid Compared To Other Treatments?
Kojic acid is considered a second-line treatment that can help lighten melasma when other methods do not improve this condition. If a patient has shown low tolerance to other treatments, kojic acid may be a suitable alternative with comparable results.
A study of 40 women who had melasma showed that combining glycolic acid and hydroquinone with kojic acid improved the efficacy of these treatments alone, with 60% of the women reporting significant improvement by the end of 12 weeks (Lim).
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What Are The Side Effects Of Kojic Acid?
Side effects are a common concern when it comes to starting any melasma treatment. It’s important to know that some side effects are normal and mean that the medication is working. Here are the most common side effects of kojic acid for melasma treatment.
Contact dermatitis happens when your skin comes into contact with an allergen or irritant. This side effect is characterized by redness, rashes, irritated or itchy skin, or a general discomfort after using products that contain kojic acid. This usually happens if the kojic acid’s concentration is higher than the recommended 4% (Moore).
Increased skin sensitivity
Patients with sensitive skin are more likely to experience some of the negative effects of kojic acid. This happens because sensitive skin is more reactive than normal skin. Many substances can irritate sensitive easily, and kojic acid may be one of them. This type of reaction may happen due to a higher level of concentration, so staying below a 4% concentration is one way to avoid this side effect (Moore).
Increased sun ray sensitivity
The production of melanin is crucial for protecting the skin from the sun and the UV rays. Since kojic acid inhibits melanin production, your skin becomes more exposed to the sun rays, making it easier to develop a sunburn.
Is Kojic Acid Safe?
Yes, it’s safe to use kojic acid of 1% concentration to treat your melasma (Saeedi). However, it is not recommended for you to use raw kojic acid, since the high concentration may cause skin damage.
One safety report found that a high concentration of kojic acid caused tumors in animals. Some countries even banned the product (Burnett). However, the same report concluded that it is unlikely the same kinds of concentration levels that caused tumors in animals would be seen in humans due to slow absorption into the bloodstream.
How Can You Treat Your Melasma With a Dermatologist?
Melasma may not be curable, but this condition can be treated and effectively managed. You just need personalized prescriptions and a qualified team of dermatologists to lead you.
- Burnett CL, Bergfeld WF, Belsito DV, et al. Final report of the safety assessment of Kojic acid as used in cosmetics. International journal of toxicology.. Published 2010. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21164073
- Lim, Joyce Teng Ee, et al. “Treatment of Melasma Using Kojic Acid in a Gel Containing Hydroquinone and Glycolic Acid.” Wiley Online Library, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 24 Dec. 2001, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1046/j.1524-4725.1999.08236.x
- Moore HW. Kojic Acid for the Treatment of Melasma. Dermatology Advisor. Published March 10, 2020. https://www.dermatologyadvisor.com/home/topics/aesthetic-medicine/kojic-acid-for-the-treatment-of-melasma/
- New kojic acid-amino acid hybrids as potential tyrosinase inhibitors. Atlas of Science. https://atlasofscience.org/new-kojic-acid-amino/
- Saeedi M, Eslamifar M, Khezri K. Kojic acid applications in cosmetic and pharmaceutical preparations. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy.. Published December 8, 2018. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0753332218367477
- TYR gene – Genetics Home Reference – NIH. U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/gene/TYR
About the author
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 ...