The Best Dark Spot Treatments, According to Dermatologists
The Truth About Dark Spots, or Hyperpigmentation
Otherwise known as sun spots and age spots, they two main triggers for dark spots are—you guessed it—aging and sun exposure, Howard Sobel M.D, a dermatologist based in New York City previously told Shape. (Dark spots can appear in a few weeks to a few months after sun exposure.) Inflammatory skin conditions, such as acne or eczema, can also cause hyperpigmentation. And if you have darker skin, are taking certain medications, or are going through any other hormonal changes (like pregnancy), you're also more likely to get them, Dr. Sobel says.
The dark truth about dark spots: They can be pesky as hell to get rid of. But luckily, there's a whole crop of new skin-care products out there to target them. They all work pretty similarly: "They're designed to block abnormal pigment production, enhance cell renewal and shedding of pigmented cells, and calm pigment-producing inflammation," says dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. (More on that here: How to Get Rid of Dark Spots—and Prevent Them from Forming In the First Place)
But before you splurge on an all-over serum or a targeted treatment, Dr. Zeichner says it's important to figure out what your needs are first. "If you have mottled pigmentation everywhere from sun exposure, then you should definitely treat the full face," he says. "If you have an individual dark blotch (from let's say, popping a pimple) then a spot treatment is an appropriate option." And just remember, wearing daily SPF (30 or higher) is required with all of these treatments in order to see (and maintain) results.
Ambi Fade Cream
"Dermatologists still maintain that the gold standard for fading unwanted sunspots or hyperpigmentation is hydroquinone. It blocks the over-production of melanin to gradually fade dark spots," says dermatologist Mona Gohara, M.D. "With a two percent formulation, this cream isn't overly irritating but is effective at evening out complexions." You can snag it on Amazon for just five bucks.
SkinMedica Lytera 2.0 Pigment Correcting Serum
"This dark spot treatment contains a variety of lightening agents including tranexamic acid along with niacinamide and does a great job of combatting melasma," says Rita Linkner, M.D. of Spring Street Dermatology in New York City. Since it's free of hydroquinone and retinol, it's also safe for use during pregnancy and on all skin tones and types, she adds.
PCA C&E Advanced with Hexylresorcinol and Silymarin
"Nothing plays better in the sandbox with hydroquinone than antioxidants like vitamins C and E. They fight off little, pesky free radicals (which come from sun, pollution, and other sources of light) that cause hyperpigmentation," says Dr. Gohara. This option from PCA is one of her personal favorites. "It smells nice and is easy to layer. I put it on every morning to help the melasma I got after having kids."
Skinceuticals Discoloration Defense
"This skin-brightening serum from Skinceruticals is rich in kojic acid, naturally derived from fungi," says dermatologist Husain Zain, M.D. of the NJ Dermatology and Aesthetic Center. Like vitamin C, kojic acid prevents dark spots by inhibiting tyrosinase, a key enzyme in the production of melanin, Dr. Zain explains.
DNA Renewal DNA Regeneration Serum
"I love this serum for treating dark spots because it has potent growth factors that promote and stimulate collagen production and regeneration," says Robyn Gmyrek, M.D. of Union Square Dermatology in New York City. "As a bonus, it helps with any emerging lines and wrinkles, too."
SkinBetter Even Tone Correcting Serum
"SkinBetter's serum contains a blend of proven skin brighteners and botanical ingredients that work together to reduce signs of pigment, sun damage, redness, and yellowish discoloration," says dermatologist Janelle Vega, M.D. "It's a great alternative to hydroquinone, or it can be used in combination with hydroquinone, since it targets other steps in the pathway of pigment creation."
Isdin Isdinceutics Melaclear
"This Isdin serum is a great option for dark spots that are sun-related since clinical testing showed that it has potent antioxidant activity when used before sun exposure," says dermatologist Hadley King, M.D. (Again: Always wear SPF.)
Revision Skincare C+ Correcting Complex 30%
"This product contains a potent antioxidant blend that fights against pigment resulting from free radicals from UV, pollution, and HEV, also known as blue light," says Dr. King, "It also helps to support the skin's natural production of vitamins C and E." (ICYMI, vitamin C helps both fade existing spots and prevents the formation of new ones.)
Aveeno Positively Radiant Targeted Cream Dark Spot Corrector
For a drugstore dark spot corrector, try this pick from Aveeno. "Soy extract blocks abnormal pigment production and can lighten sunspots," says Dr. Zeichner. It also contains natural light diffusers to help even skin tone and texture.