One of the most common skin-care woes we hear from both readers and friends is an uneven complexion — more specifically, those dark spots left over from our acne-ridden teenage years. To make matters worse, they are seriously difficult to get rid of (and challenging to conceal) once you've got them.
Enter the dark spot corrector. If you don't already have one in your skin-care regimen, it's time. There are plenty of over-the-counter options out there, but it's important to know what kind of formula to look for and how to use it properly.
Hydroquinone is still considered the gold-standard lightening agent, says dermatologist Sejal Shah, MD, and you can find it in a variety of products. The over-the-counter strength tends to be 2%, while prescription-strength is somewhere around 4%.
But there are other options: Dr. Shah says you can also look for kojic acid, licorice root extract, vitamin C, niacinamide, soy, and retinoid when battling dark spots. Jessica Weiser, MD, of
New York Dermatology Group, suggests formulas with turmeric, lactic acid, and papaya for their skin-brightening properties.
Once you've made your selection, there are some things to be cautious of: "The most common issue with many lightening agents is that they can irritate the skin, leading to redness, flaking, dryness, or even itchy or burning sensations," Dr. Shah says. Women with darker skin tones need to take extra care. "Whether citric, lactic, or glycolic, using acid on dark skin tones should be done with caution, as excess peeling of the skin can conversely lead to hyper-pigmentation, or can cause burns that may lead to lightening or darkening of the skin," Dr. Weiser says.
Both doctors agree that before starting any lightening regimen, it's important to discuss with your dermatologist what course is right for you. Dr. Shah also stresses the importance of using sun protection in conjunction with your dark-spot treatment, as the active ingredients can make your skin more vulnerable to burns.
With all this in mind, we've rounded up a handful of dark spot correctors and broken them down by the number of brightening ingredients they contain — some utilize just one, the others comprise a few. Click through to find the product that's right for you, consult with your derm, and you'll be kissing those dark spots goodbye in no time.
Even if wrinkles are the farthest thing from your mind, know that these peel pads are packed with alpha, beta, and gamma hydroxy acids, so they exfoliate and help prevent breakouts, too. Sensitive skin, we recommend staying away or easing in, as they are strong and could irritate
Peter Thomas Roth Un-Wrinkle Peel Pads, $58, available at Sephora.
Both acne-prone and sensitive skin types will rejoice over this formula. Why? It's loaded with gentle AHAs and BHAs. So while it fights active acne and prevents future blemishes, it also helps repair leftover acne marks and dark spots, so your complexion will appear smooth and clear.
Peter Thomas Roth AHA/BHA Clearing Gel, $54, available at Sephora.
Have scars or dark spots? A product packed with vitamin C is the best place to start. This formula brightens, even tone, and creates a radiant complexion that only gets better with time.
Ole Henriksen Truth Serum Vitamin C Anti-Aging Collagen Booster, $48, available at Sephora.
This little bottle contains activated vitamin C to clarify your skin and help to prevent future dark spots. Plus, it's 100% fragrance-free, making it ideal for those with sensitive skin. Win-win.
Kiehl's Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution, $49.50, available at Kiehl's.
This lightweight serum uses retinol, vitamin E, and a cocktail of antioxidants to diminish dark spots and fight free radical damage.
iS Clinical Pro-Heal Serum Advance, $142, available at Dermstore.
The active ingredient in this serum is rosa roxburghii, an extract from the chestnut rose, which is a good source of antioxidants. The serum helps to reduce dark spots, as well as correct and balance the skin tone.
Dr. Andrew Weil for Origins Mega-Bright Correcting Serum, $57, available at Origins.
The active ingredient in Proactiv+'s dark-spot correcting serum is hydroquinone, which helps battle everything from acne scars to sun damage.
Proactiv+ Advanced Dark Spot Correcting Serum, $50, available at Proactiv.
While Peter Thomas Roth's brightener uses a bunch of ingredients, niacinamide is the main active. It's also safe to use on your hands and décolletage.
Peter Thomas Roth De-Spot Skin Brightening Corrector, $75, available at Peter Thomas Roth.
Fan of oil-based skin care? Dr. Dennis Gross' serum is a great option. This formula contains retinol, which not only helps brighten the skin, but also fights fine lines and wrinkles.
Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Ferulic Acid + Retinol Brightening Solution, $88, available at Sephora.
Osmia's dark spot corrector is formulated with papaya extract (a favorite of Dr. Weiser's). Natural skin care devotees will also love that it's made with 85% certified organic ingredients.
Osmia Organics Luz Facial Brightening Serum, $75, available at Osmia Organics.
Clarins' formula relies on
acerola extract, which is high in vitamin C — making it a potent dark spot corrector. Clarins 'Mission Perfection' Serum, $72, available at Nordstrom.
Like most of its products, Caudalie Premiere Cru contains resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant.
Caudalie Premier Cru The Cream, $158, available at Net-A-Porter.
This skin-evening serum from Shiseido helps to diminish the look of both dark spots and hyperpigmentation with the brand's SAKURAResist technology. Fun fact: It was created from Japanese cherry blossoms.
Shiseido White Lucent MicroTargeting Spot Corrector, $175, available at Sephora.
Accelerated Retinol SA is the powerhouse in Neutrogena's version of a dark spot corrector. Like any other retinol, it improves your skin's texture and helps to fade dark spots over time.
Neutrogena Rapid Tone Repair Dark Spot Corrector, $19.94, available at Walmart.
This lightweight night serum contains alpha hydroxy acid to gently exfoliate your skin while you sleep.
Ole Henriksen Invigorating Night Treatment, $45, available at Sephora.
Serums aren't the only way to rid yourself of dark spots. This overnight mask works while you sleeps, so you wake up feeling radiant and bright.
Fresh Peony Brightening Night Treatment Mask, $67, available at Sephora.
Specific Beauty's dark spot corrector utilizes arbutin and kojic acid to brighten and tone the skin. Unlike the other correctors on this list, this one comes in pad form, making it easy to swipe on and go.
Specific Beauty Dark Spot Corrector Pads, $57, available at Specific Beauty.
Garnier's tube is super wallet-friendly, but that's not the only reason it's a good corrector. The vitamin C in the formula promotes surface cell turnover, which is how it helps your skin appear brighter.
Garnier SkinActive Brightening Moisturizers, $16.99, available at Garnier.
Kojic acid, which is made from mushrooms, is what gives Phyto+ its brightening capabilities. People with sensitive skin might want to reach for this bottle first — it's made with hyaluronic acid to help keep skin hydrated and calm.
SkinCeuticals Phyto+ Botanical Gel For Hyperpigmentation, $80, available at SkinCeuticals.
Vichy's ProEven Daily Dark Spot Corrector is gentle enough to be used every single day. Its key ingredient is vitamin C, and it slides on in a serum-like consistency, absorbing super quickly.
Vichy ProEven Daily Dark Spot Corrector, $45, available at Vichy.
With peony root extract as the main active ingredient, this brightening essence from Fresh is great for anyone who prefers their skin care rooted in botanicals. Bonus? It also locks in moisture thanks to a hint of hyaluronic acid.
Fresh Peony Spot-Correcting Brightening Essence, $67, available at Sephora.
Looking for something that skews natural? This new formula from Aveda calls upon licorice root and molasses extracts for a lit-from-within glow.
Aveda Tulasāra Bright Concentrate, $59, available at Aveda.
Mela-D utilizes glycolic
and kojic acids to diminish those dark spots. Bonus: Glycolic acid is also a potent acne-fighter, so you're busting up those spots before they even start. La Roche-Posay Mela-D Pigment Control, $52.99, available at La Roche-Posay.
This gel/serum hybrid is packed with AHAs that help smooth out uneven complexions without irritating skin.
Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum, $90, available at Sephora.
Remember how Dr. Shah called hydroquinone the gold-standard of brightening ingredients? It's in here, along with glycolic acid to remove dead skin cells, which allows the hydroquinone to penetrate more deeply.
Murad Rapid Age Spot and Pigment Lightening Serum, $60, available at Sephora.
Ascorbyl glucoside is a stabilized form of vitamin C, and it's the cornerstone of Clinique's Even Better Clinical Dark Spot Corrector — a cult-favorite when it comes to whitening products. Add salicylic acid, and you've got a potent cocktail to fade your dark spots.
Clinique Even Better Clinical Dark Spot Corrector, $49.50, available at Ulta Beauty.
Kate Somerville's LumiWhite is a triple threat when it comes to brightening. It utilizes lactic acid, licorice extract, and arbutin — which is a plant derivative with the same effects as hydroquinone.
LumiWhite Dark Spot Corrector, $55, available at Sephora.
We all know how amazing retinol is for dark spots, but Verso's Dark Spot Fix also contains niacinamide. According to Dr. Shah, niacinamide is one of the best ingredients you can slather on to help with hyperpigmentation.
Verso Dark Spot Fix, $150, available at Sephora.
Have sensitive or dry skin? This formula is fragrance-free and packed with hyaluronic acid to keep skin hydrated, plus alpha arbutin, seaweed, red tea extracts, and grapefruit oil to brighten skin and fade dark spots.
Goldfaden MD Light Treatment Dark Spot Corrector, $80, available at Dermstore.
While it's important to remember
who is doing the testing, when a brand presents a clinical trail this successful, there's no doubt that something is working. Estee lauder found that 77% of women saw a reduction in the look of dark spots in four weeks. Estée Lauder Enlighten Dark Spot Correcting Night Serum, $92, available at Sephora.
Colbert MD's serum comes
highly recommended thanks to a mix of skin-brightening glycolic acid, antioxidants, and gotu kola, an herb with anti-inflammatory benefits. Colbert MD Stimulate Serum, $160, available at Colbert MD.
Celebrity aesthetician Su-Man Hsu's brightening serum is praised for its silky texture. But it gets its power thanks to a cocktail of ingredients like hyaluronic acid for hydration, tranexamic acid to fade dark spots, and dragon's-blood extract (which may sound like something from a fantasy novel, but is actually a sap said to have anti-aging properties).
Su-Man Skincare Velvet Skin Brightening Serum, $164, available at Net-A-Porter.
This cream contains a combination of licorice, mulberry, bearberry, and white-tea antioxidants to help battle dark spots. Plus, with the use of the patented Pro-Niacin formula, tone, texture, and the skin’s overall barrier are improved.
NIA24 Sun Damage Repair, $60, available at Drugstore.com.
Looking for something natural? Aren't we all. This option from 100% Pure is packed with vitamin C to help brighten away discoloration and aloe vera to hydrate skin (well-moisturized complexions have better cell turnover).
100% Pure Dark Spot Remover, $38, available at Dermstore.
Vitamin C three ways? Look no further. Dermatologist Dr. Brandt's latest serum contains two different vitamin C cocktails to brighten skin, as well as Kakadu plum, a third, natural source of the antioxidant.
Dr. Brandt Skincare Power Dose Vitamin C, $69, available at Sephora.
Looking for a one-stop shop? Korres' newest serum targets fine lines and loss of firmness, and helps to brighten dark spots and pigment unevenness, all thanks to a mix of hyaluronic acid, peptides, amino acids, and various antioxidants.
Korres Golden Krocus Ageless Saffron Elixir Serum, $98, available at Sephora.
This cleansing bar, chock-full of kojic and azelaic acids, lasts for months — seriously!
Urban Skin Rx Even Tone Cleansing Bar, $28, available at Urban Skin Rx.
This formula is infused with both vitamin C and aloe, which makes it soothing and invigorating at the same time.
H2O+ Beauty Waterbright Dark Spot Corrector, $38, available at H2O+ Beauty.
This organic face serum packs all the brightening ingredients you need in one environmentally-friendly, skin-friendly package.
Marie Veronique Lightening Serum, $110, available at Credo Beauty.
If you already dig this brand's exfoliating liquid wash, then you'll be love the easy peel pad equivalent. Each sheet includes three different acids to gently dissolve dead skin cells in one easy swipe, revealing a brighter complexion within a week.
Philosophy The Microdelivery Triple-Acid Brightening Peel, $70, available at Sephora.
Kojic acid is great solution for correcting dark spots on darker skin.
Specific Beauty Advanced Dark Spot Corrector Pads, $57, available at Specific Beauty.
There’s a very good reason that those in the know swear by this exceptional formula: It works. The high-potency lactic acid is crucial for exfoliating dead skin cells to reveal smoother, fresher skin that can’t seem to even
remember a time it ever had a fine line or breakout. Sunday Riley Good Genes Treatment, $158, available at Nordstrom.
R29 senior beauty editor Alix Tunell uses this face cream on all over her face, praising the formula's hydroquinone, kojic acid, and retinol, which promotes brightening and tone-evening.
Urban Skin Rx Even Tone Night Treatment, $68, available at Urban Skin Rx.
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