Kojic Acid Health Benefits, Risks, Research Facts

Kojic acid health benefits, risks, research facts and more will be searched by the people who have curiosity upon this particular substance. Kojic acid is often mentioned being a really good substance for skin lightening. This substance will hinder the production of melanocytes or melanin in order to return the lighter skin tone.

It is used to treat skin discoloration or simply for skin whitening project. It is also useful and helpful to fight acne because of its antibacterial properties. It is also a great substance to help preserving the food colors as well as boosting the flavor of foods. Certainly, it also has some side effects.

What is Kojic Acid?

Kojic acid is the composition of tiny crystals in form of fine powdery substance. It is known as the mild inhibitor to the formation of pigment in animal tissues as well as plants. This substance has become more and more popular over the years particularly for its ability to lighten up the skin color. It is used to preserve skin color. There’s no wonder that the ones who have interest to the substance are mainly women.

Naturally, kojic acid is produced by several species of mushrooms particularly the Aspergillus oryzae or the Japanese call it koji. 1989 was the formal discovery of kojic acid. Ever since the formal discovery of kojic acid, it becomes more and more popular and even purposely harvested naturally or through fermentation process. Kojic acid can be found as the by-product in the fermentation process of the malting rice for Japanese alcoholic beverage, sake.

As the news of its goodness spread wider, more kojic acid is wanted by many followed by more usage of kojic acid in skincare products. Aside the fact that this particular acid is popular for being great skin lightening agent, some people use it as additive that will prevent discoloration in foods.

Kojic Acid Health Benefits


The Usage of Kojic Acid in Skin Whitening Products

With kojic acid popularity as skin lightening agent, more skincare products use this particular substance as one of the key ingredients. Soaps and creams are widely found to contain kojic acid. There are various combinations of kojic acid found in them. It’s very common for kojic acid to be mixed with vitamins as well as the other recognized skincare substances such as vitamin C, vitamin E, retinol and glycolic acid.

The application of the skin lightening products stays the same. Apply to the skin regularly and the result will be seen after a while. Users of these skincare products must not expect instant result as it takes time to get the better skin beauty.

The experts also warn the people who use kojic acid skincare products to be careful in applying the skincare products. It is suggested to apply high quality sunblock cream or lotion between kojic acid applications to protect the skin properly. Apply a generous amount in order to avoid overly dry skin.

Kojic Acid vs. Hydroquinone

When talking about kojic acid and its benefits to lighten up the skin, many people will be reminded of hydroquinone. It is an inevitable topic to be brought as kojic acid has always been referred as a replacement. At the time before the formal discovery of kojic acid, the industry of skin lightening products seems to be fixated on hydroquinone.

However, researches show that hydroquinone is bad for the skin. It is even linked to cancer. As the bad side effects of hydroquinone made public, a lot of people avoid the effective yet dangerous option of hydroquinone.

In a variety of discussions, many people question whether kojic acid is truly better than hydroquinone. Kojic acid is better than hydroquinone for several reasons. That being said, if they’re compared based on ability to lighten skin alone, hydroquinone wins.

A study shows that kojic acid is about 2% less effective compare to hydroquinone. That being said, the fact that hydroquinone might lead its users to cancer certainly frightening. As nobody wishes to deal with the long term consequences of using hydroquinone, kojic acid is a better option. It will certainly show result (especially when combined with glycolic acid) albeit slower.

How Does Kojic Acid Work?

In order to understand how kojic acid actually works, it’s important to understand about skin color. The natural process of the body includes the production of pigment called melanin and its specialized cells referred as melanocytes. The amount of melanin produced by the body is determined by genes.

The darker skin color someone has, the more melanocytes found in his skin. There’s no fixed amount of melanin production. It’s common for the production to be affected by internal body condition or the environment. Melanocytes increase its production in response of UV exposure making the skin tan along the way.

Kojic acid works on melanocytes by hindering the melanin production. It will assist the exfoliation of skin in order to remove the oil, dirt, dead skin cells and organism those might piled up within the skin. Kojic acid will help thawing these unwanted deposits as well as help in peeling the outermost layer of skin.

With the outermost layer gets stripped, the brand new skin layer is exposed. The new skin layer is smoother, softer, cleaner and even flawless. However, it’s also more sensitive. Therefore, experts recommend the usage of high quality lotion or sun-block to help protecting the skin.

How to Get Kojic Acid Naturally?

Nowadays, kojic acid is something found in skincare products. This raises a question, is it possible to get kojic acid naturally? The answer is yes. Kojic acid can be found locked within fungus Aspergillus oryzae. In Japan, Kojic acid has been used since 1907 and the acid can be found in the following Japanese foods.

  • Miso Soup – This is a kind of soup and known to be a very common appetizer in a set of Japanese meals. One of the main components of miso soup is the soybean paste that will be diluted into the hot water. This soybean paste is the one contains high level of kojic acid. Therefore, the miso soup becomes one soup filled with kojic acid. Certainly, the soup won’t be applied on skin but eaten. Or in other words, a consumption for the kojic acid to work from the inside of the body rather than from the outside of the body.
  • Shoyu (Soy Sauce) – Shoyu or the Japanese soy sauce has high level of kojic acid and the derivatives. Within soy sauce, kojic acid is helping to preserve the flavor of the sauce as well as prolong the life of the sauce. Soy sauce is easy to be included in the daily diet. It can be easily drizzled on top of warm or hot rice. It can also be used as sauce for sushi, meat, fish or any other of tasty delicacies. Soy sauce can also be used as marinade for a variety of cookings.
  • Sake – One more way to get kojic acid naturally through foods – beverage in this case – is through sake. It is a famous alcoholic beverage from Japan. Sake or rice wine is a beverage made of the distilled rice. In every time sake is made, kojic malt will be used during the fermentation process. Sake has considerably high level of alcohol. It typically has higher alcohol compare to beverages like beers or wines. Therefore, the consumption of sake must be in moderation. Taking too much alcohol is not a good thing after all.

Read more: Homemade Cucumber Face Mask Recipes to Improve Face Skin Beauty and Health

A Guide to Buy Kojic Acid Skin Care Products

As mentioned earlier, the famed substance, kojic acid is commonly acquired through a variety of cosmetics. People rarely get kojic acid from foods except for those who are familiar with the Japanese foods mentioned earlier. In the stores, there will be various products labeled as products containing kojic acid to assist the skin lightening process for better complexion. Hyperpigmentation is an example of skin condition where skincare products with kojic acid can help. The followings are a little bit of tips to choose the best possible product amongst the available options:

  • Buyers need to decide what form of kojic acid they expect to buy. The several forms of kojic acid skincare products with soaps and creams being the more common forms. For buyers who desire the general treatment, the soaps are considered being the better option. Meanwhile, for buyers who wish to treat skin conditions like dark spots or hyperpigmentation, creams are more suitable.
  • The next thing to be done will be finding the stores where a collection of kojic acid skincare products are being offered. Stores for skincare products or even pharmacies will have these products ready to be sold to the interested people. If buying through the stores directly is no possible – for whatever reasons – there are online shops. Choose shops with good reputation and good products.
  • Check the amount of kojic acid found in the product. Buyers must know if they want to lighten the skin dramatically or not. For the more dramatic skin lightening or to deal with condition like hyperpigmentation, choose the ones with high concentration of kojic acid (5% or even higher). For buyers who want to lighten their skin slightly or wish to maintain the skin color, lower concentration of kojic acid is the obvious choice.
  • Check the price of the product and make sure that the price is reasonable. Place an order and get the cream. For online shoppers, make sure to calculate the shipping payment as well – this one payment won’t be free.
  • Once the product is acquired, test it by applying a small amount of it on the skin. Make sure that kojic acid doesn’t cause unpleasant reaction on skin before starting to use it for real. Keep in mind that it takes weeks for the result to finally show up and the application of the product must be done regularly.
Read More:  9 Skin Care Ingredients That Can Harm Your Skin

Noting the Possible Benefits of Kojic Acid

Kojic acid is beneficial specifically for the skin complexion. Due to this, this particular substance is being used in a wide variety of skincare products. In the more details, the followings are the benefits those might be acquired from the regular usage of kojic acid products in the long run.

  • Skin Lightening Agent – Kojic acid is mainly famous for its ability as skin lightening agent. It can help to penetrate the skin and hinder the production of melanocytes. According to a study, kojic acid can be as harmful as or even more dangerous than hydroquinone. However, with it being mixed with glycolic acid (as well as the other components like vitamin C), it becomes good enough for the skin. It certainly less effective compare to hydroquinone as it takes weeks or even months. However, people should prioritize their health and avoid dangerous stuff like hydroquinone. So, kojiic acid for the win.
  • Reducing Pigmentation – Hyperpigmentation of skin can be really annoying especially for women who wish to have the better complexion. Dark patches or spots on skin have never been pleasant things for women. Kojic acid can help reducing pigmentation as it will be able to mess up with the production rhythm of skin pigment or melanin. It becomes even more effective because it will counter enzyme tyrosinase that will react to an amino acid called tyrosine in melanin production. By doing this, kojic acid helps to stop excessive darkening of the skin tone for good.
  • Reducing Freckles Visibility – Every individual has melanocytes those will produce skin pigment or melanin naturally in skin. The production depends on genes as well as sun exposure. When the skin is repeatedly exposed to UV radiation, the melanocytes will be produced more to protect the skin. Melanocytes might be damaged when being exposed too much to sun. This creates freckles or the small brown spots. Don’t worry because these spots can be properly treated with kojic acid applied topically on the affected area. It will counter the melanin production for the sake of lighter (and more even) skin tone.
  • Dealing with Melasma – If freckles are small dark spots, melasma is a condition where the dark patches can be found on skin. It happens because of the overly productive melanocytes. Melasama happens because of hypersensitivity of skin or because of overexposure to sun. In women’s case, this might as well happen because of pregnancy, estrogen supplements and birth control pills. This condition can occur on cheeks, forehead, around the mouth of even the jaw line. For people who suffer from melasma, try to avoid sun exposure while regularly apply the kojic acid through creams or soaps.
  • Helping to Get Rid of Acne and Its Scars – There are some people who are cautious on the usage of kojic acid because they afraid of acne to occur. Actually, there is no need to be cautious like that. Kojic acid contains anti bacterial properties that actually will be useful to fight acne. This means that this particular substance will be a great one to be used even during the acne breakouts. In general, kojic acid can be considered as acne treatment. Aside of helping to get rid of acne, kojic acid is also very useful to assist in getting rid of the scars left by acne.
  • Treating Dark Circles around Eyes – The dark skin that occurs below eyes is often called as dark circles or medically, it is infraorbital dark skin. This condition might be caused by several things such as aging process, allergies, and irregularities of pigmentation as well as heredity. This condition can be treated by using kojic acid. Gradually, kojic acid will reduce the amount of melanin produced and bring back the brighter skin to even the facial skin tone. Treatment with kojic acid will take time but certainly, it is a far better option compare to other treatment like surgery and laser therapy.
  • As Food Additive – Kojic acid benefits are not just about the better complexion or skin. It can also be used to preserve the colors on vegetables, crustaceans and meats. It can also be added to preserve as well as to boost the flavor of foods.

Being More Cautious of Kojic Acid Risks

While the benefit sof kojic acid cannot be denied, people still need to be careful in taking kojic acid regularly. It’s important to remember that not everyone can use kojic acid products. Some people might have problems with the usage of kojic acid and must give up on using the products with kojic acid.

  • Allergic Contact Dermatitis – Kojic acid skincare products must be used regularly for quite a long time to get the expected result. However, a study shows that the regular usage for too long might lead the users to suffer from allergic contact dermatitis. The condition is characterized by the occurrence of pain, bumps or red rash, blisters, itching, dry and red patches of skin (the similar reaction that will occur when someone gets in contact with poison ivy). What should be done when this happens? Stop the usage altogether. Don’t continue using the products as it will damage the skin further.
  • Skin Irritation –This is known as the most common problem found in the usage of kojic acid. The amount of kojic acid in skincare products is usually not enough to trigger the skin irritation. However, because every individual has the different level of skin sensitivity, irritation might occur on some people. Aside of the skin sensitivity towards kojic acid, It’s possible that skin irritation comes from other substances mixed with kojic acid. As already mentioned, skincare products often mix kojic acid with other substances in order to let it work more efficiently. Therefore, checking ingredient list must be done to avoid irritation.
  • Other Possible Side Effects – Aside of the two side effects mentioned above, there are also other possible side effects.  According to the studies of kojic acid toxicity by Environmental Working group or EWG, this particular substance causes the mutation of cells within mammals. However, this is likely not a human carcinogen. Some of studies on animals show that the high amount of kojic acid will bring tons of problems for the body. These problems include problems of liver, reproduction, cardiovascular, kidney, respiratory and gastrointestinal.

High dose of kojic acid is highly toxic for brain and nervous system of animals, but what about on humans? There is no clear report on what will happen to human when being exposed to high level of kojic acid. EWG noted that there is a need to research about this further for the sake of safety. Right now, the industry of cosmetics has yet to do something about it.

To Become More Cautious in Kojic Acid Usage

There will be various reactions after reading the long facts of benefits and risks about kojic acid above. There will be some people who feel worry to use kojic acid products. There will also be some people who don’t particularly care about it. Isn’t it alright when the substance wuill be used in moderation? Kojic acid being deemed as toxic and harmful is nothing new.

There have been several studies mentioning kojic acid as dangerous substance. However, it is a dangerous substance only when too much kojic acid being applied. It’s hardly surprising considering everything too much will be bad anyway. In the end, moderation while staying cautious will become the important key in the safety of kojic acid usage. Maybe, a consultation with expert will be good for those who feel hesitant about kojic acid products.


Kojic acid is good for the better complexion. It is also bad if not being used properly. Therefore, cautions and moderations while using the kojic acid products will certainly be crucial. Pay attention to the instructions of using the products.

Don’t be lazy to follow experts’ instruction of applying lotion, skin moisturizer or sun-block in order to protect the skin from harmful free radicals or from the overly dry skin. If the skin show signs of reaction like irritation, stop the usage to avoid further problems. Remember that not everyone will be able to use kojic acid without problem from the beginning.

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