Dark spots, sun spots, age spots—whatever you call them, they’re annoying to deal with, and the worst part is that anyone can get them. According to dermatologist Elizabeth Tanzi, MD, most dark spots are caused by the sun. With the summer coming to an end (pause for a moment of silence), we know there were days we exposed our skin to those harmful rays with less-than-stellar protection. But not to worry, we asked both Tanzi and dermatologist Sejal Shah, MD for their advice on what to look for in a dark-spot remover so we can treat them ASAP.
Read below for their recs.
“Peel pads on a daily basis are very helpful if you have dark spots,” says Tanzi. “The best one is from Dr. Dennis Gross. They’re popular because they’re good.” This product is beloved and well-known, but for any newbies out there, just know that these peel pads will even out your skin tone and brighten up that complexion for a professional effect.
It’s always great to start correcting dark spots right at the beginning of your routine. This cleanser contains alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), which are known for their ability to even out your skin tone. “AHAs accelerate cell turn over,” says Shah. Not only will it give you some nice exfoliation, but this cleanser will also tone and hydrate your skin.
“Hydroquinone is the number one lightening ingredient,” says Tanzi. “It’s the strongest.” At higher percentages, it’s outlawed in some countries because of its link to cancer. But here in the states, it’s still FDA-approved up to a certain percentage. Tanzi believes it’s safe in small doses. This lightening serum only contains 2% of the ingredient, plus it contains glycolic acid, which helps increase cell turnover rate.
This dermatologist-approved serum brightens skin and minimizes the appearance of dark spots. In fact, 79% of women claimed to have seen an improvement after 12 weeks. Shah recommends it because it contains retinol. For best results, she recommends using it twice a day.
If you have sensitive skin, Tanzi says to look for products with natural extracts known to lighten the skin (like mushroom extract, licorice extract, and kojic acid), which can mimic the effects of hydroquinone without irritating. This one from Rococo contains kojic acid, one of our favorite gentle brightening ingredients, and will lighten those dark spots in no time.
Another key ingredient for treating dark spots: Retinol. "[Retinoids] increase cell turnover and interfere with pigment transfer from melanocytes (cells that make pigment) to keratinocytes (the epidermal cells that make keratin),” says Shah. This cream is lightweight, non-greasy, and will also help reduce the appearance of fine lines.
“Glycolic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid, which works by accelerating cell turnover (exfoliation) as well as inhibiting melanin synthesis,” says Shah. Take a pad after you cleanse, and wipe across your face. The drugstore option is a good budget-friendly pick, as it contains hyaluronic acid to keep the skin hydrated.
When using skin lightening products, don't forget the SPF. Not only will a good sunscreen help prevent further sun damage, but it will protect your skin from the photosensitivity—a common side effect of many of these products.