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Not a fan of your dark spots? Know that you don't have to embrace them if you don't want to; there are plenty of ways to reduce their appearance and achieve clearer-looking skin. A common skin ailment, particularly for darker complexions, “dark spots are hyperpigmentation that mostly happen following injury or inflammation, resulting in overproduction of melanin and or an irregular dispersion of it in the skin," explains board-certified dermatologist and skin of color expert, Dr. Adeline Kikam. "A wide range of conditions such acne breakouts, ingrown hairs, scrapes, insect bites, eczema, contact allergic reactions, and sun exposure can result in hyperpigmentation.”
According to Dr. Kikam, knowing the cause behind your dark spots is the best way to prevent them from popping up. But if you already have some speckles you'd like to fade, there are plenty of products on the market that can do the trick, like multitasking products that cleanse, exfoliate, and treat. Glycolic acid and niacinamide are common ingredients you'll find to encourage skin cell turnover. There are also serums that contain vitamin C to boost efficacy and brighten skin. And don't forget to pick a product with SPF to prevent hyperpigmentation and sun damage in the first place. But keep in mind that fading hyperpigmentation takes time—even with treatment, it can take several months for dark spots to fade.
Below, I rounded up the best dark spot correctors that actually work.
Best Overall: Urban Skin Rx Even Tone Cleansing Bar
Dr. Kikam recommends ingredients like azelaic acid, kojic acid, and niacinamide to address hyperpigmentation in her patients, and this cleanser contains all three. When I first tried this cleansing bar, I was a bit skeptical, but as my dark spots faded away, I became a loyal user of this system. The 3-in-1 cleansing bar works as a daily cleanser, mask, and exfoliator, and the results speak for themselves.
What Our Testers Say
"After using consistently for two weeks, my skin looks clearer and more radiant, save one hormonal pimple on my chin cropping up during the testing period. While the product didn’t prevent it from forming, it did keep it from growing into an enormous zit like I’m used to." — Jenna Igneri, Product Tester
Best Splurge: SkinMedica Lytera 2.0 Pigment Correcting Serum
Dr. Kikam is very intentional to clarify that a product doesn’t become a must-have just because of its price tag, but this one is at the top of her list for delivering results. “This is one of my favorite anti-hyperpigmentation serums, clinically proven to treat dark spots across all skin tones," she says. "It features ingredients such as niacinamide and tranexamic acid, which are very effective anti-hyperpigmentation ingredients.”
Best Hydroquinone-Free: PCA Skin HQ-Free Pigment Gel
“This is another very effective albeit more aggressive serum for the treatment of dark spots," Dr. Kikam says. "It contains a combination of antioxidant phenylethyl resorcinol, azelaic acid, and kojic acid to effectively correct hyperpigmentation and promote an even tone.” It's also free of hydroquinone, a controversial skin-lightening ingredient. So whether you're sensitive to hydroquinone or simply don't want to use it on your skin (there are some questions about its safety), this serum is a great pick for you.
Best for Dark Skin: Specific Beauty Intensive Skin Brightening Serum
Retin-A (tretinoin) is a form of vitamin A that helps the skin renew itself by encouraging cell turnover. It's commonly prescribed for acne, fine lines, and sun damaged skin.
This highly concentrated treatment was made with melanin-rich skin in mind, and it combines the age-defying properties of retinol with the brightening qualities of licorice and niacinamide. The results? A texture that is more supple and smooth, and a complexion that is brighter and more even. It also has major soothing properties, with ginger root extract that helps calm skin and prevent future free radical damage.
Best Budget: Garnier SkinActive Clearly Brighter Dark Spot Corrector
This gentle yet effective treatment seriously reduces dark spots caused by sun damage without breaking the bank. It exfoliates to promote healthy, spot-free skin while also reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Users report that it noticeably reduces acne scars and sunspots.
Best Drugstore: Bolden Nighttime Repair Serum
This exfoliating serum is designed to work at night when the skin enters its reparation mode. The formula exfoliates dead and damaged skin cells to boost cell turnover and reveal a brighter, more youthful complexion upon waking. The powerful combination of glycolic acid and antioxidants restore elasticity and firmness, while the lightweight consistency is quickly absorbed. Reviewers boast that their dark marks faded within a few short weeks.
Best With Vitamin C: Hyper Clear Brightening Clearing Vitamin C Serum
“Use antioxidants such as vitamin C to decrease inflammation and free radical damage to skin cells," recommends Dr. Kikam. "[This will] help treat and prevent hyperpigmentation.” This comes as good news for this weightless gel serum that has the necessary ingredients to brighten the skin. It contains 15% vitamins C and E that work together along with natural fruit enzymes, kojic acid, and turmeric, to target and fade dark marks caused by age spots or acne scars. The brand has made big promises for clear skin, and the continuously sold-out formula suggests that it really does deliver.
What Our Editors Say
"A potent blend of vitamins c and e, alongside fruit enzymes, bearberry, turmeric, and kojic acid, all at a fraction of the price of most vitamin Cs? Hyper Clear possesses everything I look for when treating my post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation." — Eden Stuart, Associate Editor
Best With Vitamin C, Runner-Up: BeautyStat Universal C Skin Refiner
Firming, brightening, and correcting? Check, check, and check. Formulated by a cosmetic chemist with 20% pure vitamin C (a beloved skin-brightening ingredient), this patented serum is clinically proven to firm and tighten skin, reduce dark marks and discoloration, and reduce the look of deep lines and wrinkles in most users.
For best results, use morning and night after cleansing.
Best Classic: Clinique Radical Dark Spot Corrector + Interrupter
When I experienced my first serious bout of acne due to hormonal birth control, I was devastated about the severe hyperpigmentation I experienced. Then came my Mom to the rescue with this effective serum that definitely wouldn’t have been an option for my then-college budget.
The intense antioxidant properties noticeably reduce acne spots and scars in 12 weeks, and it’s gentle enough for daily use. Not only does it correct dark spots, but it interrupts them, helping to prevent dark spots in the future.
Best Exfoliating: My Topicals Faded Brightening and Clearing Gel
This gel contains exfoliating acids and niacinamide that are powerful enough to fade stubborn sun damage and scars, yet gentle enough for sensitive, acne-prone skin.
You might experience a bit of skin purging when first using this product, but your skin should never feel irritated, itchy, or inflamed. If it does, discontinue use and talk to your dermatologist.
Best With SPF: Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Dark Spot Sun Defense
“The sun’s ultraviolet radiation plays a huge role in inducing and worsening hyperpigmentation," explains Dr. Kikam. "Using a broad-spectrum sunscreen, especially on the face and other sun-exposed areas, is essential in the treatment of dark spots/hyperpigmentation.”
Since you’re going to need an SPF anyway, this 2-in-1 product does the work of protecting your skin while it corrects your complexion. With plenty of peptides, vitamins C and E, and glycolic acid, this guy has all of the good stuff to promote a more even-looking complexion.
This face sunscreen does leave a hint of a white cast, so it’s best suited for fairer skin tones.
Best Pads: Nip + Fab Glycolic Fix Night Pads
“Ingredients that work to decrease melanin production or accelerate skin turnover (and thus dispersal of melanin in the skin) are effective in treating hyperpigmentation,” explains Dr. Kikam. These pads do just that.
Not only does the glycolic acid slough away dead skin cells to reveal brighter skin, but it penetrates deep into pores to reduce the buildup of comedones on the skin’s surface. “Peel pads on a daily basis are very helpful if you have dark spots,” says Dr. Tanzi.
Best Patches: Peace Out Microneedling Dark Spot Brightening Dots
These patches come to the rescue for stubborn spots that won’t go away. Using patented microneedling technology, these dots gradually fade dark marks when used twice weekly for two consecutive weeks. They deliver niacinamide, licorice extract, and tranexamic acid straight to the problem areas to visibly lighten and brighten without causing irritation.
In a two-week consumer study, 100% of users said their dark spots appeared lighter, and 85% of users had fewer spots than when they began.
We’re giving top honors to the Urban Skin Rx Even Tone Cleansing Bar, not only for its ability to lighten dark spots effectively—but for doing so quickly, too. This 3-in-1 cleansing bar works as a cleanser, mask, and exfoliator, brightening the complexion and evening out tone and texture with azelaic acid, kojic acid, and niacinamide. Speaking of ingredients, vitamin C is another great one for fading dark spots and hyperpigmentation, which is why we’re fans of the Hyper Clear Brightening Clearing Vitamin C Serum. This weightless gel serum fades it all—even acne scars—with a blend of vitamins C and E, natural fruit enzymes, kojic acid, and turmeric. Looking for something more multitasking? The Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Dark Spot Sun Defense not only corrects your complexion with peptides, vitamins C and E, and glycolic acid, but it also boasts broad-spectrum SPF 50 protection from the sun’s UV rays, a leading contributor to hyperpigmentation and sun damage.
What to Look For in a Dark Spot Corrector
Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Azadeh Shirazi names a few key ingredients to look out for in an effective dark spot corrector, the first one being hydroquinone. She considers hydroquinone to be the gold standard and most powerful ingredient out there when it comes to lightening spots and hyperpigmentation. “It works by inhibiting an enzyme, tyrosinase, which stops melanocytes from making pigment,” she says. “It’s available as 2% over the counter, as well as higher percentages with a prescription.”
Another ingredient Dr. Shirazi recommends is azelaic acid, an exfoliant that’s known to fight acne, reduce inflammation, and even out the skin tone—all while being less harsh than hydroquinone. “It inhibits tyrosinase and prevents pigmentation, but it’s much more gentle,” she says.
Dr. Shirazi also recommends products with retinol for fighting dark spots. “Retinols help brighten the skin and fade pigmentation by renewing skin cells,” she says. “They also help with fine lines and firming the skin.” A nice bonus, indeed. Other brightening and cell-renewing ingredients commonly found in dark spot correctors include glycolic acid, niacinamide, and vitamin C, as Dr. Kikam mentions above.
Of course, no matter what ingredient you go with, Dr. Shirazi recommends always looking out for products with added SPF sun protection, “which is the biggest dark spot corrector!”
How do you use dark spot correctors?
How you use a dark spot corrector will depend on the product’s formulation and ingredients, explains Dr. Shirazi. “Hydroquinone is potent and can be irritating, so it’s best to use as a spot treatment after cleansing and before other products, both morning and night,” she says. “Azelaic acid and retinol should be used all over the face, as they offer other benefits and help prevent pigmentation. Azelaic acid is anti-inflammatory and helps reduce redness, so it's used to treat acne and rosacea. It’s great for someone with sensitive skin and pigmentation and can be used in the morning. Retinol, on the other hand, should be used at night.”
Do dark spot correctors work on freckles?
According to Dr. Shirazi, you can use dark spot correctors to lighten freckles. “Freckles form as a result of overproduction of melanin due to UV exposure, so yes, bleaching agents can help lighten them as they reduce pigmentation,” she explains.
Why Trust Byrdie
Byrdie contributor Kindra Moné has been creating beauty content since 2013 and has tested hundreds of skincare products along the way. Having struggled in the past with hyperpigmentation and dark spots, this list is compiled with several first-hand recommendations; including the dark spot correctors from Urban Skin RX, My Topicals, and Clinique. For background information and further recommendations, we consulted dermatologists Dr. Adeline Kikam and Dr. Azadeh Shirazi and also read through dozens of product reviews.
Kindra also consults in-house with beauty brands and is well versed in effective, clean skincare ingredients that she loves to share with the Byrdie audience and listeners of The StylingSoul Podcast.
Meet the Expert
Dr. Adeline Kikam is a board-certified dermatologist and the founder of @brownskinderm, a social platform dedicated to skincare and skin health education with a focus on skin of color.
Dr. Azadeh Shirazi, MD is a board-certified dermatologist who specializes in medical, surgical, and cosmetic dermatology. She is the founder of La Jolla Dermatology and Laser Surgery Center in La Jolla, California.