Although kojic acid is more tolerated than AHAs and BHAs, it may not be the best option for your hyperpigmentation woes if you have sensitive skin, Kim says. Why? Contact dermatitis is the ingredient’s most common side effect, Hartman adds. “It can cause redness, irritation, swelling, itchiness, and pain when it causes a flare-up,” he continues.
To combat this, kojic acid should be paired with soothing ingredients, Rieder says. In fact, this acid is often compounded with other ingredients to keep skin happy and side-effect-free — all the while helping it absorb better. On the flip side, kojic acid is also often combined with hydroquinone to increase its potency. For both of these reasons, I’m a fan of Agency’s Dark Spot Formula, which is custom mixed based on your skin’s specific needs on a month-to-month basis. Right now, my dermatologist-prescribed elixir is formulated with azelaic acid, green tea extract, and resveratrol, in addition to kojic acid. In the past, hydroquinone was included, but it’s been phased out.
In general, Rieder recommends only using kojic acid-spiked products for one or two months at a time with a break with the same time span to avoid irritation. Because of this, I like to think of it as a project-by-project basis version of vitamin C. And like that beloved ingredient, kojic acid “also increases sun damage potential, so sunscreen is required,” King adds.
What are the best kojic acid products on the market?
According to Kim and Hartman, the SkinCeuticals Discoloration Defense is the way to go. “It combines kojic acid, niacinamide, and tranexamic acid to provide a multi-pronged approach to treating stubborn dark spots,” Hartman explains. The serum is even safe for use during pregnancy or nursing. Kim advises slotting it into your morning and nighttime skin-care routines as it’s safe for daily use.
Allure editors, on the other hand, are fans of the Topicals Faded Brightening & Clearing Gel. Although it smells like rotten eggs, the stench is worth it because it starts clearing up skin overnight — trust me.
Read more about the best acids in skin care:
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