Arbutin (also called β-arbutin) is a natural product occurring in the leaves of a variety of different plants, the bearberries of the Ericaceae
families being prominent examples. It is a β-glucoside derived from hydroquinone (HQ; 1,4-dihydroxybenzene). Arbutin has been identified in traditional Chinese folk medicines as having, inter alia, anti-microbial, anti-oxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties that useful in the treatment of different ailments including urinary diseases. Today, it is also used worldwide for the treatment of skin ailments by way of depigmenting, which means that arbutin is a component of many products in the cosmetics and healthcare industries. It is also relevant in the food industry. Hundreds of publications have appeared describing the isolation, structure determination, toxicology, synthesis, and biological properties of arbutin as well as the molecular mechanism of melanogenesis (tyrosinase inhibition). This review covers the most important aspects with special emphasis on the chemical and biocatalytic methods for the production of arbutin.
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