Brighten Your Skin With Bearberry Extract (A Natural Alternative To Hydroquinone)

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Korean skincare products often contain a lot of natural ingredients that have pretty big benefits for the skin (I’m looking at you – snail mucin and propolis!). I’ve been researching a lot lately about hyperpigmentation, and what ingredients work best at lightening the skin, and while going down the deep rabbit hole that is hyperpigmentation, I’ve come across a natural skin-lightening ingredient that isn’t talked about very often: bearberry extract.

When it comes to fading hyperpigmentation, we often first think of vitamin C, retinoids or niacinamide. However, today I want to tell you about the benefits that bearberry extract can have for your skin and how this natural ingredient can be used to fade hyperpigmentation.

What Is Bearberry Extract?

Bearberry extract is derived from the leaves of a small arctic shrub that produces bright red berries: Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (the Common Bearberry). There are actually two other species of bearberry (the Alpine Bearberry and the Red Bearberry), however only the Common Bearberry has been used as an ingredient in skincare products and dietary supplements.

The leaves of the bearberry plant contain diverse phytochemicals which give it some pretty big anti-bacterial and antioxidant properties. Research has shown that some of the antioxidant compounds found in bearberry extract have the ability to scavenge free radicals (meaning that they protect cells by damage caused by free radicals).

Bearberry Extract Has Powerful Skin-Brightening Properties

Bearberry foliage contains a high concentration of hydroquinones (mainly in the form of arbutin), which is what gives bearberry extract it’s skin-lightening properties.

Arbutin is a popular skin-lightening ingredient used in skincare products, which works by breaking down into hydroquinone and reducing melanin synthesis by inhibiting the enzyme tyrosinase. In simpler terms, what this means is that arbutin (or bearberry extract) work to fade hyperpigmentation by inhibiting the production of melanin (pigment) in the skin.

Although not much research has been conducted on the skin-brightening effects of bearberry extract (research so far has focused on it’s antioxidant effects), arbutin has an increasing amount of research showing its effectiveness for fading hyperpigmentation (see an example of some research here).

It can be added to skincare products using a synthetic form chemically known as deoxyarbutin, or it can be derived directly from bearberry extract (bearberry extract contains up to 17% arbutin).

Bearberry Extract Is A Gentler And Safer Alternative To Hydroquinone

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Arbutin (whether in synthetic form or derived from bearberry extract) is considered a safer and less sensitising alternative to hydroquinone when it comes to fading hyperpigmentation.

Although hydroquinone is most likely the most effective ingredient for fading hyperpigmentation, there is a big amount of controversy around some research that suggests that hydroquinone may be a carcinogen (which has resulted in its use being banned in some countries).

While the jury is still out on whether hydroquinone is a cancer-causing chemical, many people do like to avoid using it – and it’s recommended that you don’t use it if you’re pregnant. The American Academy Of Dermatology considers arbutin to be a safe alternative to hydroquinone, however some people (including myself) still like to play it extra safe and don’t use arbutin while pregnant.

If you’re pregnant (or planning to become pregnant) and would like to avoid hydroquinone and arbutin, there are some other very effective ingredients you can use in your routine instead (such as licorice root extract, vitamin C and kojic acid). Check out my post on how to fade hyperpigmentation to find out more about them.

The other factor which makes bearberry extract (or arbutin) friendlier ingredients compared to hydroquinone is that they don’t cause the same skin irritation that can occur for some people (which can actually lead to more hyperpigmentation if you have a darker skin tone).

What Are Some Skincare Products Containing Bearberry Extract That I Can Try?

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Lots of skincare brands know the brightening effects that arbutin has and therefore, there are many skincare products to choose from that contain arbutin.

Although there are many options available if you’re looking for Korean skincare products that contain arbutin (I’m working on a separate post at the moment), the only well-reviewed skincare products containing bearberry extract at the moment are from Western brands. Hopefully, we’ll see some effective Korean skincare products containing bearberry extract soon though.

If you would like to try using bearberry extract in your skincare routine to help fade any hyperpigmentation you may have, these are the products I would recommend:

  • SkinCeuticals Phyto Plus: A beautifully-formulated serum that is both hydrating and effective at diminishing discoloration of the skin. It contains bearberry extract, as well as other skin-lightening ingredients, including grapefruit extract (vitamin C), kojic acid, and arbutin. I love the deep green color of this serum! Available at Dermstore and Amazon.
  • Dr Dennis Gross Ferulic Acid Plus Retinol Brightening Solution: A potent anti-aging serum formulated to be effective against both hyperpigmentation (including sun spots) AND reducing fine lines and wrinkles. There are so many skin-brightening ingredients in this serum: bearberry extract, retinol, licorice root extract, arbutin, salicylic acid, glycolic acid, and mandelic acid! Available at Dermstore.
  • Derma-E Even Tone Brightening Serum: A gentle, yet very powerful skin-lightening serum that’s chock full of brightening ingredients, including: bearberry extract, vitamin C (ascorbyl palmitate), niacinamide, licorice root extract and alpha-arbutin. Available at Dermstore and Amazon.
  • Babyface 100% Pure Bearberry Extract Natural Skin Lightener: An all-natural skin lightener that contains nothing but pure bearberry extract. Babyface recommends that you mix a few drops of this concentrate to your favorite lotion, cream, toner or serum as undiluted it may lighten the skin unevenly. Available at Amazon.
  • Eminence Organic Skin Care Bearberry Eye Repair Cream: A beautiful esthetician-recommended brightening, yet nourishing cream for tired-looking eyes. This eye cream contains brightening ingredients (bearberry extract, seabuckthorn oil, vitamin C derivatives, niacinamide, and vitamin A) as well as firming and soothing ingredients. Available at Dermstore and Amazon.

Bottom Line

Bearberry extract is a plant-derived ingredient which contains a high concentration of antioxidants and skin-lightening compounds. In particular, bearberry extract contains up to 17% arbutin, which is regarded as a safer and gentler alternative to hydroquinone (when it comes to fading hyperpigmentation).

There are some very effective and high quality skincare products containing bearberry extract available – however at the moment these are all from Western brands (although, it’s okay to mix Korean and Western skincare products in your routine).

Korean skincare products are still only formulated with arbutin (which can be derived from bearberry extract or produced synthetically). Here’s hoping that we see some Korean skincare products formulated with bearberry extract in the near future.

Let me know if you found this post helpful or if there’s an ingredient you’d like me to write about. Also, I’d love to hear if you have seen a Korean skincare product that contains bearberry extract so that I can add it to this post.