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When it comes to achieving the flawless complexion that dreams are made of, nothing is more of a buzzkill than unwanted spots, whether it’s a singular dark spot or all-over patches of discoloration. The technical term is hyperpigmentation and it can be caused either by sun exposure or from trauma to the skin, like picking a pimple. Either way, the biological process that kicks in is somewhat complicated, but, ultimately, it boils down to an overproduction of melanin (color) in the skin.
And here’s the thing: This is a potential issue for anyone and everyone, no matter your skin tone. In fact, hyperpigmentation is a particularly common issue in African-American skin, which has more melanin to begin with. Also worth noting: No matter what product you’re using to try and tackle hyperpigmentation, it’s not going to do anything if you’re not extra diligent about sun protection.
As you continue your quest for clear skin, keep these best products for hyperpigmentation in your rotation.
Best Overall: Kiehl’s Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution
Simple and straightforward, this gets the job done using a potent form of vitamin C that goes to work both fading existing dark spots and impeding the production of new ones. It also has white birch extract to hydrate and peony extract for antioxidant protection, making it a one-stop-shop for all of your skincare needs. Use it in the morning before sunscreen, or at night under a thicker moisturizer.
Best Brightening: Sunday Riley Good Genes All-in-One Lactic Acid Treatment
One of the best-sellers from this cult favorite brand, this relies on mega-gentle lactic acid to help fade spots and gently exfoliate the dead cells that impede your glow. Licorice and lemongrass also promote a more even complexion, while prickly pear extract soothes redness, making this a choice pick for those whose skin is easily irritated. Also nice: It works in just three minutes.
Best for Dark Skin: Dr. Barbara Sturm Darker Skin Tones Hyaluronic Serum
As we said, hyperpigmentation can be an especially pesky problem for deeper complexions, which is why we love that this treatment is specially formulated to meet the needs of darker skin. Lumicol, an ingredient derived from algae, goes to town lightening spots, while different types of hyaluronic acid deeply hydrate—no ashiness here.
Best Overnight: Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Resurfacing Night Serum
There’s not much this potent powerhouse doesn’t do. With a 12% combination of alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids, it combats both an uneven tone and rough texture. The gel-like texture sinks quickly into skin (so it won’t come off on your pillowcase) and is gentle enough to use nightly. We thought our skin looked better after just a few nights, and definitely saw an improvement after a few weeks.
Best With Vitamin C: Tatcha Violet-C Brightening Serum
In the world of spot-fading ingredients, vitamin C is one of the best options, not only for its skin brightening abilities but because it has the added benefit of acting as an antioxidant and stimulating collagen production, too. Sign us up. Inspired by the brand’s fan-favorite Violet-C mask, this serum uses two kinds of vitamin C (at an impressive 20% concentration) to even out skin tone. It also uses alpha-hydroxy acids to boost the effects of the vitamin.
Best With Hydroquinone: Murad Rapid Age Spot and Pigment Lightening Serum
Hydroquinone is the heaviest-hitter when it comes to spot-fading, and the ingredient most often prescribed by dermatologists. Here, it comes in a 2% concentration—the most you can get over-the-counter—plus a skin-brightening peptide and exfoliating glycolic acid. It’s no wonder that it’s one of the best-selling brightening products out there.
Best Budget: The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution
Use this toner nightly, post-cleansing, to reveal clearer, more even skin. Glycolic acid exfoliates and breaks down discolored skin cells, and also has the added benefit of stimulating collagen production over time. And let’s not forget to mention that it costs less than ten dollars.
Best Fast Fix: Clinique Fresh Pressed 7-Day System With Pure Vitamin C
When you need spots gone, stat, commit to this week-long system. It comes with seven days-worth of a potent, vitamin C powder cleanser, plus a booster to mix in with your daily moisturizer morning and night. Follow the protocol for seven days and voila, brighter skin. We’ll call it almost instant gratification.
Best Peel Pads: Cane + Austin Acne Retexture Pads
Peel pads are perhaps one of the easiest things to incorporate into a daily routine; all you have to do is swipe, and go. These are packed with 2% oil-dissolving salicylic acid plus 5% glycolic acid, both of which work together to brighten skin and treat blemishes. Also nice: They’re easy to swipe on your neck, chest, and hands, too.
Best Targeted: Urban Skin Rx Even Tone Night Treatment
One Byrdie editor calls this her “holy-grail dark spot corrector,” citing how she can see a noticeable difference overnight after dabbing this on singular spots. Credit a blend of potent hydroquinone, plus kojic acid, another often-recommended brightening ingredient, along with retinol to boost skin cell turnover.
Best for Daytime: Paula’s Choice Azelaic Acid Booster
Another one of the most-often recommended brightening ingredients, this contains 10% azelaic acid, and also uses salicylic acid, too. We especially like saving it for the morning because it’s lightweight, oil-free, and can either be used on its own or mixed in with your moisturizer or sunscreen.
Best for Acne Marks: Peter Thomas Roth AHA/BHA Acne Clearing Gel
As if dealing with a massive pimple wasn’t traumatizing enough, big breakouts can often leave behind a big mark, especially if you pick them (oops). Use this triple-threat cleanser daily to help treat existing breakouts, prevent new ones, and help fade the tell-tale signs of past ones. It relies on both salicylic and glycolic acids, plus retinyl palmitate, and licorice extract.