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Kojic Acid for Skin: Benefits, Side Effects and More

Angela Sheddan

Medically reviewed by Angela Sheddan, DNP, FNP-BC

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 8/28/2021

If acids used in skincare were in high school, hyaluronic acid, salicylic acid and glycolic acid would definitely be in the popular crowd. They’re well known and pretty universally liked. 

But kojic acid would be the cool, mysterious kid — you know, the one you maybe have heard of but don’t know a ton about. 

But here’s the thing: Kojic acid deserves to join the popular club. See, this skincare ingredient is excellent at handling hyperpigmentation and dark spots. 

What Is Kojic Acid? 

The first thing to know: Kojic acid is a naturally occurring ingredient that comes from certain fungi or which can be produced during the fermentation of certain asian foods (like soy sauce and rice wine).

When used on your face, it has the ability to lighten your complexion by lowering your body’s production of tyrosine, an amino acid.

Tyrosine is essential in your body’s production of melanin — the pigment created by your skin that gives you a tanner look. 

Because kojic acid restricts tyrosine, when used topically, it can help lighten hyperpigmented areas of your face.

When compared to hydroquinone (another lightening agent), kojic acid is considered to be not quite as strong.

Kojic Acid Benefits for Skin

So, what are the perks of using kojic acid on your skin? Let us tell you!

It Fights Hyperpigmentation

As previously mentioned, when applied topically, kojic acid has the ability to lighten dark spots, age spots or sun spots caused by melanin. 

It does this by lowering the production of the amino acid tyrosine, which aids in melanin production. 

It’s also worth noting that a 2013 comparative study of hydroquinone and kojic acid found that when used together, the two can work in tandem to lighten dark spots. 

It’s an Antioxidant

Kojic acid also happens to be a powerful antioxidant. 

What exactly do antioxidants do? They can help reverse damage done by free-radicals caused by exposure to pollution, UV light and more.

It’s an Anti-inflammatory 

While the main use of kojic acid is as a skin lightener, it’s also unique in its ability to tackle inflammation in the skin. 

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Kojic Acid Side Effects

According to the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel, it’s safe to use a one percent concentration of kojic acid topically.

In comparison to hydroquinone, kojic acid has fewer side effects. 

The most common side effect? Contact dermatitis, which can show up as redness, irritation, itchiness or pain. 

If you have sensitive skin, you are more likely to suffer from contact dermatitis. That said, side effects are very rare with this type of topical kojic acid treatment. 

If you notice any change in your skin or experience discomfort after using kojic acid, it’s important to contact a healthcare professional as soon as possible. 

How to Use Kojic Acid 

When introducing a new skincare product, it’s good to do so gradually. Use a little bit one day, and then give your skin a break the next day. 

This allows you the time and space to see how your skin reacts. Slowly, if you’re skin is reacting well, you can build up to using kojic acid daily. 

Kojic acid has become more and more popular and can now be found as an ingredient in a variety of different types of skincare products, including: 

  • Serums

  • Masks

  • Spot treatments

  • Face wash

There are also kojic acid peels, which often pair the ingredient with other acids (like glycolic or alpha hydroxy) to brighten skin and treat dark spots. 

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Kojic Acid and Your Skin 

Kojic acid is an ingredient in cosmetic products and skin care products that can help treat hyperpigmentation. 

Experts have confirmed that it is safe to use in concentrations of one percent. In addition to helping with dark spots, kojic acid is also an antioxidant and has anti-inflammatory properties. 

While there are very few side effects associated with kojic acid, it’s important to contact a healthcare professional if you notice your skin has any sort of reaction to it. 

If you’re in the clear — this topical ingredient may just be beneficial for you. 

7 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

  1. Saeedi, M., Eslamifar, M., Kherzi, K., (2019, February). Kojic acid in cosmetic and pharmaceutical applications. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy, 582-592. Retrieved from
  2. Tyrosine. Mount Sinai. Retrieved from
  3. Schwartz, C., Jan, A., Zito, P., (2021). Hydroquinone. StatPearls. Retrieved from
  4. Monteiro, R., Kishore, B., Bhat, R., et al., (2013, Mar-April). A Comparative Study of the Efficacy of 4% Hydroquinone vs 0.75% Kojic Acid Cream in the Treatment of Facial Melasma. Indian Journal of Dermatology, 58(2): 157. Retrieved from
  5. Sarkar, R., Arora, P., Garg, K., (2013, Jan-Mar). Cosmeceuticals for Hyperpigmentation: What is Available? 6(1): 4-11. Journal of Cutaneous and Aesthetic Surgery. Retrieved from
  6. Addor, F., (2017, May-June). Antioxidants in dermatology. An Bras Dermatol, 92(3): 356–362. Retrieved from
  7. Burnett, C., Bergfeld, W., Belsito, D., et al. (2010, Nov-Dec).Final report of the safety assessment of Kojic acid as used in cosmetics. Int J Toxicol, 29(6 Suppl): 244S-73. Retrieved from 244S-

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.