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. (Or, um, three months ago.) 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 retinoids 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 acids 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.