Kojic Acid VS Hydroquinone: What’s the difference?

Hey beauties! We are back with yet another skincare round table talk you are bound to love.

As usual, you know we like to keep things real around here so sit back relax and hold on tight to your teacups because we’re about to spill some tea!

It’s the year 2020 but not much has changed. Skincare enthusiasts are still on the mission to find the holy grail of skin lightening products and we are definitely here for it.

Contending in this week’s debate are:

Team A) Kojic Acid


Team B) Hydroquinone.

Before this catfight starts, here’s everything you need to know to get yourself up to speed…

Over in the left-wing we have…

Contender #1: KOJIC ACID

One of the most common products used in the skin lightening industry that first surfaced in Japan in 1907.

Kojic Acid is a fungus that is made during rice fermentation that when used on the skin, is able to inhibit the production of melanin.

Hands down, products that contain Kojic Acid are generally amongst one of the best dark spot removers that money can buy. 

On the other hand, in the right-wing we have…

Contender #2: HYDROQUINONE

Considered to be a heavyweight in all matters of skin discoloration treatment.

Hydroquinone is an FDA-approved skin lightening product whose usage requires a prescription for products with a concentration of over 4% (Like I said, we’re hauling out the BIG guns!).

Hydroquinone is one of the most widely and well-researched skin lightening products that is 99% guaranteed to give you the results you’re looking for.

So, how are they made?

As previously mentioned, kojic acid is made from a combination of different fungi. The acid is a by-product in the fermentation process of malting rice, for use in the manufacturing of sake, the Japanese rice wine.

While hydroquinone, is a substance found in nature in some plants and fungi such as the Agaricus hondenis mushroom, or in animals such as the body of the bombardier beetle.

Despite being commonly found in nature, harvesting the compound from natural sources isn’t very practical.

As a result, hydroquinone is most often manufactured in labs owing to the combination of chemicals like benzene or phenol with other chemicals, whereby their reaction produces Hydroquinone.

All that chemical mumbo jumbo out of the way I’m pretty sure what you really want to hear is …

How do they compare?

On the subject of skin lightening, both kojic acid and hydroquinone WORK.

But if you would rather use a product that is a natural-based, then Kojic Acid would definitely give Hydroquinone a run for its money.

Even though kojic acid and hydroquinone are equally well known as two of the best products for skin lightening use, a lot of people tend to avoid using both due to commonly held misconceptions. 

Common Myths:

MYTH #1: Using kojic acid will destroy my natural melanin…

Frankly, I am all for using products with Kojic Acid as part of your skin lightening routine.

Heck, I myself have even used Kojic Acid based products in the past so when I talk about it, I’m speaking from experience.

That said, I would NEVER recommend anyone to use a product if I had the slightest inclination that that product would destroy the skin’s melanin. 

In fact, Kojic Acid works in no way to destroy the skin’s natural melanin, it’s function is actually quite the opposite.

Products with Kojic Acid penetrate the upper layers of the skin to inhibit the production of melanin, which results in a lightening effect on the skin. See the difference?

MYTH #2: Kojic Acid bleaches skin…

First off, kojic acid in NO WAY bleaches skin.

In fact, it works by inhibiting the amount of melanin produced and increases the breakdown of melanin pigment in skin cells. 

The end result of which is fairer and even-toned skin. That is achieved completely without bleaching or peeling off your skin.

MYTH #3: Hydroquinone is carcinogenic…

Honestly guys, y’all really need to be more mindful of where and who you get your information from. There is no evidence in any testing of hydroquinone on human skin to indicate that it is a cancer-causing agent.

But why are they saying that it can cause cancer?

There’s actually a story behind it. Here’s what I found out from Paula’s Choice:

Hydroquinone’s controversial reputation stems from when it was banned in South Africa many years ago. As it turns out, the products in question were found to contain mercury and glucocorticoids, among other caustic and illegal contaminants—a highly probable cause of the side effects seen.

Paula’s CHOICE

So there you have it ladies…the culprit was mercury and hydroquinone got involved in that bad situation.

Furthermore, if it was carcinogenic, I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be FDA approved.

One quick note:

I personally don’t like to use hydroquinone as it can damage your skin when you use it for a long period of time.

When you use HQ for a long period of time, your skin might turn darker compared to how it was before and this is one of the main side effect of hydroquinone.

How long does it take to work?

Kojic Acid:

After regular, CONSISTENT (got to emphasize this!), daily use of kojic acid you may begin to see results as early as 4-8 weeks after initial usage. 


Creams/Lotions: Use kojic acid in concentrations not exceeding 4%, with a preference to concentrations of 1% to 2% (sold over the counter) to reduce the likelihood of skin irritation.

Bar soaps: Due to the saponification process, bar soaps should contain only less than 0.1% of kojic acid. Anything above this concentration will either cause severe irritation and might possibly burn the skin.


HQ works really fast so you’ll probably start seeing results after 4 weeks. This depends on the concentration that you’re using.


To start, use hydroquinone in concentrations of 2% (also sold over the counter) or discuss with your dermatologist the possibility of receiving a prescription for a higher concentration amount.

If I’m not mistaken, there are HQ-based products out there that contain up to 4% hydroquinone. Anything above 4% requires a prescription.

What are the side effects?

  • Contact Dermatitis – with symptoms such as skin dryness, irritation, redness and in severe cases blisters may develop. Most common when high concentrations of kojic acid or hydroquinone are used.
  • Sunburn – since both kojic acid and hydroquinone work against the production of melanin (which helps to protect the skin from sun damage due to excessive exposure to UV rays), you might experience sunburn if you do not wear sunscreen.
  • Ochronosis – in extreme cases where long term use of hydroquinone results in the formation of blue-black spots on the skin.

Is it getting hot in here or is it just me? Before I decide on who the winner of tonight’s match is, allow me to see what the word on the street is about each product.


Both Kojic acid and hydroquinone are skin-lightening agents with their advantages and restrictions. There is no clear winner of this competition. On the one hand, kojic acid is considered the best dark spot remover; on the other hand, researchers have shown that hydroquinone gives 99% guaranteed results when used in skin-lightening products. Both the chemicals are wrapped around their myths. Some say kojic acid can destroy your skin’s natural melanin, whereas some say that hydroquinone has cancer-causing agents. However, both of these statements are completely untrue. Please give it a thought and choose the ingredient that suits your skin in the best possible way!


Kojic Acid:

     5 Stars

“The most potent and successfully showing results. Give it some time and see it do it’s magic on your skin. Trust me, you won’t regret buying this at all. My spots have faded and skin tone has lightened considerably “.

–    Nibedita


5 Stars

This works amazingly! I didn’t realize how many dark spots I had until they started going away! I feel like this made my skin look years younger!

  • Andrea

5 Stars

I’ve been using this product for about 2 months. Seems to be working really well and I’m definitely pleased with the results.

  • Angela

And now to answer the million dollar question of which chemical takes the cake as the holy grail of skin lightening…

Can I get a drumroll please?

Well ladies after a very enlightening debate and a close match between our two contenders, I’m handing the championship belt over to Team A) Kojic Acid. Kojic Acid walks away victorious tonight as our all round perfect skin lightener and front runner on the matters of efficiency, safety and speed of results.

If you are in favor of tonight’s ruling for team Kojic Acid, then you can click here to purchase my Kojic Acid based product of choice.

By Rosey

Kojic Soap Queen. Vegan. Dog mom.

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