Topical Agents Used in the Management of Hyperpigmentation

R. M. Halder, MD; G. M. Richards, MD


Skin Therapy Letter. 2004;9(6) 

In This Article

Arbutin and Licorice Extract

Arbutin, which is the b-D-glucopyranoside derivative of hydroquinone, is a naturally occurring plant derived compound that has been used for postinflammatory hyperpigmentation.[13] It is effective in the treatment of disorders of hyperpigmentation characterized by hyperactive melanocytes.[13] The action of arbutin is dependent on its concentration. Higher concentrations are more efficacious than lower concentrations, but they may also result in a paradoxical hyperpigmentation.[13] In comparative in vitro studies of various compounds used to improve the appearance of disorders of hyperpigmentation, arbutin was found to be less toxic than hydroquinone. A dose-dependent reduction in tyrosinase activity, as well as melanin content in melanocytes, was also demonstrated.[14]

Licorice extract is not yet available in North America, but has been used in other parts of the world, particularly in Egypt. Its mechanism of action is similar to that of kojic acid. The main component of the hydrophobic fraction of licorice extract is glabridin, which has an effect on the skin. Studies investigating the inhibitory effects of glabridin on melanogenesis and inflammation have shown that it inhibits tyrosinase activity of melanocytes. No effect on DNA synthesis was detectable.[15]


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