Arbutin may be made synthetically or derived from bearberry (uva-ursi) plant or other plants and exhibits antioxidant activity. Most notably, arbutin has an increasing amount of research attesting to its effectiveness for brightening an uneven skin tone. Research has shown the synthetic version, chemically known as deoxyarbutin, is more effective for brightening than the natural derivative.
Because arbutin works by breaking down into hydroquinone, it also has merit for improving the appearance of dark spots due to unprotected sun exposure or bodily changes such as can occur during pregnancy or due to other factors. It can be considered an alternative to hydroquinone for those whose skin may be unable to tolerate this lightening ingredient in much the same way that some people’s skin can tolerate cosmetic retinol but not retinoids from the pharmacy.
References for this information:
Phytochemistry Letters, September 2015, issue 13, pages 35-40
BMC Biochemistry, October 2014, pages 15-23
Dermatologica Sinica, July 2014, pages 205-210
Applied Microbiol Biotechnology, 2012, pages 1417–1425
Archives of Pharmacal Research, March 2009, pages 1308-1309
Experimental Dermatology, August 2005, pages 601-608