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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-qualified 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, keep scrolling.
Below, we 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.
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 With Hydroquinone: Murad Rapid Age Spot and Pigment Lightening Serum
Speaking of hydroquinone, this dark spot corrector does contain it. “Hydroquinone is the number one lightening ingredient,” says dermatologist Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi. “It’s the strongest.” It's a controversial ingredient, but it is FDA approved in small doses, so the choice is yours.
This particular bottle might be small, but it sure is mighty. With hydroquinone as the number one lightening ingredient, followed by hexapeptide-2, and glycolic acid, there’s no shortage of dark spot-targeting power. Many users report seeing results overnight.
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.
Runner-Up, Best With Vitamin C: 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.