Kojic Acid


Skin lightener & brightener

When to use


Works with

Arbutin, ascorbic acid


Irritation in high %

Dermatologist science score

What is kojic acid?

Kojic acid can improve skin clarity, provide a degree of skin whitening as well as pigment reduction. Kojic acid is best combined with other pigment correctors such as arbutin, niacinamide, bearberry extracts & botanicals. Our clinic has a specific protocol for the use of this ingredient that varies with clinical presentation.

kojic acid benefits

What is the skin science behind Kojic Acid?

This acid is a potent inhibitor of the enzyme tyrosinase which is responsible for the skin’s pigment production. Certain skin conditions including melasma, post inflammatory hyperpigmentation & sunspots are due to overactive pigment cells with increased tyrosinase activity. By reducing the activity of this enzyme, pigment production can be reduced.

What does Kojic Acid do to skin?

Kojic’s acid primary use is to lighten skin pigmentation due to melasma, post acne spots, sun damage, & age spots.  This can improve dull skin & optimize skin clarity.  In addition to skin-lightening effects, kojic acid also contains some antimicrobial properties.

kojic acid for pigmentation

Where is Kojic acid derived from?

Kojic acid is naturally produced by certain species of fungi, hence in this context it can be classed as organic skin care. For cosmetic uses, this acid is manufactured in a laboratory under sterile conditions.

Can Kojic acid permanently lighten skin?

Kojic acid is not cytotoxic (that is not harmful to the melanocytes or pigment producing cells) & therefore cannot permanently lighten your skin color. However, most users will have a decrease in skin pigmentation with a more even skin tone, especially if combined with sun protection & other pigment reducing agents.

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Does Kojic Acid soap work?

No. Soap containing this ingredient does not work. This refers to Kojisan soap, a popular brand in Asia. Contact with the skin is too short for it to be effective. You are better off applying a good formulation of kojic acid cream or using glycolic acid washes & toners.

Is Kojic acid better than hydroquinone?

No. Unless you have ochronosis, tachyphylaxis or you are allergic to hydroquinone, most specialists will elect to prescribe hydroquinone over kojic acid. HQ ranks as one of the best depigmentation agents however its use should be limited to short periods of time ranging from 2 – 6 months in a cyclic fashion. 

We employ kojic during your off phase, during what we term a ‘rotational cycle’. Unlike hydroquinone, kojic acid can be safely used long-term. Be guided by your dermatologist or skin care expert with their rotational therapy guidelines. 

hydroquinone vs kojic acid

Is Kojic acid safe for black skin?

Used correctly & in sensible concentrations ranging from 1- 3%, kojic acid long term is safe. Contact dermatitis & tachyphylaxis is uncommon with kojic acid, however you should be guided by your skin care expert.

Are there any precautions I should take with Kojic Acid application?

This acid is generally well tolerated, however if you have sensitive skin, perform a test patch to a small area, like the front of the ear. If you do not have any reactions, you can gradually increase the area & frequency. Start every second night & increase as tolerated. If you have any questions, please contact your designated nurse or dermal therapist. 

Kojic acid formulated correctly can be beneficial for treating skin pigmentation, however high concentrations can give both skin irritation & allergic reactions. Dermatologists frequently use this compound in concentrations ranging from 1 to 3%.

When is Kojic Acid best applied & how do I use it?

At night as tolerated. If you have discrete areas of pigmentation, such as melasma- chloasma, (pigmentation of pregnancy), or due to acne spots, apply the cream accurately to only the areas of pigmentation. 

Do not apply this as a general ‘face cream’ as you will fade normal skin, leaving you with 3-4 colors on the face. Be precise. 

General guidelines are as follows-

  • Apply once at night with a cotton tip applicator only to areas of increased pigmentation.
  • Sensitive skin patients should apply a test patch, every second night, increasing as tolerated.
  • Twice a day application is acceptable for quicker depigmentation providing you do not have any skin irritation.

kojic acid skin care

Can I mix Kojic acid with other products?

If tolerated, yes you can. Kojic acid is most often formulated with other depigmenting agents such as ascorbic, citric, lactic, salicylic & glycolic acid. Less commonly with azelaic acid (as this is best formulated in a gel).  

Kojic is commonly found with botanicals including licorice root extract, bearberries, soy, flavonoids, & yeast extracts. If Kojic Acid formulations are above ph 5.0, it can be combined with niacinamide. Retinol can also be used cautiously with kojic acid, providing there is no skin irritation.

What are the next steps to add after Kojic Acid?

A sensible step is to incorporate clinical peels such as lactic, glycolic, or retinoic acid for further improvement. Be guided by your skin care specialist. 

Pico lasers provide better clearance of your pigmentation.

How do I incorporate Kojic Acid in my daily skin care routine?

A sensible skin care routine that involves kojic acid goes something like this- 

AM: Cleanser, SPF, Make up, with the option of antioxidants (Ferulic acid, Ascorbic Acid, Tocopherol)

PM: Cleanser, Kojic acid either as a stand alone or with licorice root, flavonoids, ascorbic acid, niacinamide, organic botanical pigment inhibitors, citric, lactic, glycolic, or salicylic acid. All acids should be titrated accordingly in concentrations ranging from 0.2 to 2%. 

*Option to increase to twice a day application if tolerated.

kojic acid skin care routine

A SummaryDavin’s viewpoint on kojic acid for melasma & pigmentation

Dr Davin Lim | Dermatologist
The Melasma Clinic, Brisbane | Sydney

Kojic acid concentrations should be 1%-2%, best combined with other actives in a bespoke formulation according to skin sensitivity & the patient’s concerns. Other pigment reducers include ascorbic acid, arbutin, citric acid, lactic acid, glycolic acid, niacinamide, azelaic acid, licorice root as well as other botanicals such as bearberry. 


Though not as potent as hydroquinone, kojic acid is well tolerated without any long-term safety concerns such as ochronosis or tachyphylaxis. Be guided by your skin care expert as to how to rotate anti pigmentation products.