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What is Kojic Acid?

By Erin Oxendine
Updated May 21, 2024
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Kojic acid is a product primarily used to whiten a person’s skin. Many consumers use products containing this acid to lighten freckles and other dark spots on the skin. Although mainly used for cosmetic purposes, it also has other purposes such as preserving food color and killing certain bacteria. When used on the skin, it reduces the amount of melanin production.

In 1989, kojic acid was discovered in mushrooms in Japan. The acid is also present in other substances such as the leftover residue from fermenting Japanese rice wine. Scientists have also found this ingredient in other natural foods including soy and rice.

Many beauty products contain this acid, including soaps, lotions and creams. People apply these products to their face in hopes of lightening the skin color. It also helps skin discoloration conditions that turn the skin brown such as melasma. Some customers use this method to remove freckles, sunspots and other unsightly pigmentations. Toothpaste companies have even included this acid in some tooth whiteners.

When applying kojic acid, individuals may feel a slight stinging sensation on their skin. People who have sensitive skin could possibly get skin irritation from using products with the acid. Areas that have lotions or creams with skin whiteners on them may also burn easily in the sun.

There are other health benefits to using kojic acid as well. It is known for antioxidant and antibacterial properties. It also assists in proper food storage because it allows the food to stay fresher for longer periods. Some dermatologists prescribe kojic cream for the treatment of acne since it works on the skin and acne-causing bacteria.

Most products that include kojic acid have very small amounts of the acid. There have been concerns, however, about the use of kojic acid in large amounts or over the long term. Some of the concerns related to the carcinogenicity of this whitening product because there have been conflicting reports on animal studies. There have not been any cases related to cancer in humans from using it.

As with any product on the market, consumers should take caution when applying kojic acid on their skin. Most whitening products are generally fine for limited use on the skin but may cause skin irritation if used a long time. Dermatologists also recommend that people rotate out products if the skin becomes irritated or starts to whiten too much.

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Discussion Comments

By richael1 — On Sep 18, 2012

Hydroquinone can't be used during the day, but only at night. It can cause an allergic reaction and is very irritating to skin when exposed to sunlight.

Kojic acid is better than Hydroquinone. But people using it should avoid light and high temperatures. Kojic acid dipalmitate doesn't have these worries.

Arbutin is most natural compared HQ and Kojc acid with fewer side effects.

By anon147323 — On Jan 28, 2011

What are the advantages and disadvantages of each product, hydroquinone, arbutin, kojic acid? please explain. thank you.

By anon130882 — On Nov 30, 2010

I think its annoying that no one realizes that if someone wants to lighten their freckles they're free to do so, if it makes them happy! I can guarantee that the people who say, 'you should accept your freckles' don't have prominent ones or don't have them at all!

By sapphire12 — On Nov 27, 2010

I find it funny to think that some people might still use things such as kojic acid cream to whiten freckles or other spots. While many women used to use lemon juice and other things to prevent freckles in Victorian times, and even earlier, I had thought, even hoped, most people accepted their freckles these days. I suppose everyone has something about themselves they would like to try to change.

By christym — On Oct 11, 2010

Kojic acid is also used as a food preservative. It can be added to meats to preserve the color. It is also an antiseptic and antioxidant.

It is used to stabilize the color in cut flowers. It helps to retain the freshness of the flower and keeps the color bright and vibrant.

It is also an ingredient in some insecticides and pesticides.

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