The Best Dark Spot Correctors That Actually Work

Our best overall pick is Urban Skin Rx’s Even Tone Cleansing Bar

We independently research, test, review, and recommend the best products. Healthcare professionals review articles for medical accuracy. Learn more about our process. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.

Best Dark Spot Correctors

Byrdie / Chloe Jeong

Fading dark spots, sun spots, age spots, brown patches, melasma, and hyperpigmentation is a common concern, especially among people of color. According to New York dermatologist Diane Madfes, MD, discoloration is often a result of sun damage, hormonal changes, or skin growths.

Byrdie Researched & Approved

Urban Skin Rx’s Even Tone Cleansing Bar is our best overall pick for its dermatologist recommended formula containing active fading ingredients, azelaic acid, kojic acid, and niacinamide. For a more affordable option, consider Garnier SkinActive Clearly Brighter Dark Spot Corrector, a drugstore favorite formulated with lipo-hydroxyl acid and vitamin C to target discoloration.

Discoloration on the skin occurs when "enlarged melanocytes or increased tyrosinase production causes the dark spots." Look for over-the-counter dark spot correctors containing "topical vitamins, retinol, arbutin, and other antioxidants to repair our aging collagen and elastin," says Madfes. "Mild acids—whether glycolic, mandelic, kojic, or salicylic—in low concentrations are also ingredients to seek out."

We conducted hours of research on the best dark spot correctors, and took a few top-rated products out for a spin. Our product testers used spot correctors for several weeks, evaluating their effect on skin, overall results, and value. We considered dozens of products for this roundup, combining our own research insights, dermatologist recommendations, and third party reviews to compile the best in show.

Ahead, find the best dark spot correctors to fade discoloration for good.

Best Overall: Urban Skin Rx Even Tone Cleansing Bar

4.8
Urban RX Even Tone Cleansing Bar

Courtesy of Amazon

What We Like
  • Potent blend of azelaic acid, kojic acid, and niacinamide fades discoloration

  • Fragrance-free

  • Good value

What We Don't Like
  • Can be drying

Board-certified dermatologist Adeline Kikam recommends ingredients like azelaic acid, kojic acid, and niacinamide to address hyperpigmentation in her patients. This treatment contains all three. It works as a daily cleanser, mask, and exfoliator, and the results speak for themselves.

Active Ingredients: Kojic acid, azelaic acid, niacinamide, and licorice root | Skin Type: Acne-prone | Benefits: Daily cleanser, mask, exfoliator | Size: 2 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Brydie Clean: Yes

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

SkinMedica’s Lytera 2.0 Pigment Correcting Serum

Courtesy of Skinstore

What We Like
  • Niacinamide and tranexamic acid effectively target discoloration

  • Marine extract blend strengthens skin barrier

  • Wears well under SPF and makeup

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

Kikam favors this serum for its clinically proven effectiveness in treating dark spots across all skin tones. Its non-irritating formula contains niacinamide and tranexamic acid, which are very effective anti-hyperpigmentation ingredients.

Active Ingredients: Tranexamic acid, phenylethyl resorcinol, niacinamide, tetrapeptide-30, marine extract blend, phytic acid | Skin Type: All | Benefits: Prevents the appearance of new spots, reduces redness, supports a healthy skin barrier | Size: 2 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Brydie Clean: Yes

Best Hydroquinone-Free: PCA Skin HQ-Free Pigment Gel

PCA Skin HQ-Free Pigment Gel

Courtesy of Amazon

What We Like
  • Potent blend of antioxidants target free radical damage

  • Azelaic acid and kojic acid fade discoloration

What We Don't Like
  • Can be drying

“This is another very effective albeit more aggressive serum for the treatment of dark spots," 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 that can cause unwanted side effects with long-term use. So whether you're sensitive to hydroquinone or simply don't want to use it on your skin, this serum is a great pick for you.

Active Ingredients: Phenylethyl resorcinol, azelaic acid, and kojic acid | Skin Type: Combination | Benefits: Addresses discoloration, evens skin tone | Size: 1 ounce | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Brydie Clean: Yes

Best for Dark Skin: Specific Beauty Intensive Skin Brightening Serum

Specific Beauty Intensive Brightening Serum

Courtesy of Specific Beauty

What We Like
  • Concentration of retinol works on darker skin tones

  • Niacinamide fades discoloration while strengthening skin barrier health

What We Don't Like
  • Strong scent

This highly concentrated treatment was made with melanin-rich skin in mind, and it combines the age-defying properties of retinol with the radiance-boosting qualities of licorice root extract and niacinamide. The results? A texture that is more supple and smooth, and a complexion that is radiant and more even. It also has major soothing properties, with ginger root extract meant to help calm skin and prevent future free radical damage.

Active Ingredients: Retinol, licorice, niacinamide, ginger root extract | Skin Type: Acne-prone | Benefits: Boosts radiance, treats fine lines and free radical damage | Size: 1 ounce | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Brydie Clean: Yes

Best Budget: Garnier SkinActive Clearly Brighter Dark Spot Corrector

3
Garnier Clearly Brighter Dark Spot Corrector

Courtesy of Garnier

What We Like
  • Available at the drugstore

  • Lipo-hydroxyl acid and vitamin C fade discoloration

What We Don't Like
  • Can be drying

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.

Active Ingredients: Vitamin C, vitamin E, pine bark essence, lipo-hydroxyl acid (LHA) | Skin Type: All | Benefits: Exfoliates, reduces fine lines, wrinkles, and acne | Size: 1.7 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Brydie Clean: Yes

What Our Testers Say

“It’s creamier than most other products that call themselves serums, but it still had a slickness that made it easy to use.” — Joline Buscemi, Product Tester

Best Drugstore: Bolden Nighttime Repair Serum

Bolden Nighttime Repair Serum

 Courtesy of Bolden

What We Like
  • Glycolic acid and antioxidants fade discoloration and increase cell turnover

  • Lightweight formula absorbs quickly

What We Don't Like
  • May cause sensitivity at first use

This exfoliating serum is designed to work at night when the skin enters its reparation mode. The formula promises to exfoliate dead and damaged skin cells to boost cell turnover and reveal a radiant, more youthful complexion upon waking. The powerful combination of glycolic acid and antioxidants is meant to restore elasticity and firmness while the lightweight consistency is quickly absorbed. Reviewers boast that their dark marks faded within a few short weeks.

Active Ingredients: Glycolic acid, aloe, plant extracts, vitamin E | Skin Type: Acne-prone | Benefits: Gently exfoliates, soothes, and protects from environmental damage and free radicals | Size: 1.7 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Brydie Clean: Yes

Best With Vitamin C: Hyper Clear Brightening Clearing Vitamin C Serum

Hyper Clear Brightening Clearing Vitamin C Serum

 Courtesy of Revolve

What We Like
  • Kojic acid and turmeric fade discoloration

  • Vitamins C and E target hyperpigmentation

  • Lightweight formula absorbs easily

What We Don't Like
  • May cause sensitivity at first use

Antioxidants such as vitamin C decrease inflammation and free radical damage to skin cells to help treat and prevent hyperpigmentation. This formula contains 15 percent vitamins C and E that are meant to work together, along with natural fruit enzymes, kojic acid, and turmeric, to target and fade dark marks caused by age spots or acne scars.

Active Ingredients: Vitamin C, vitamin E, natural fruit enzymes, kojic acid, turmeric | Skin Type: All | Benefits: Gently exfoliates, fades discoloration, soothes, and protects from environmental damage and free radicals | Size: 0.5 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Brydie Clean: Yes 

What Our Testers 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 C products? 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

4.7
BeautyStat Universal C Skin Refiner

Courtesy of Skinstore 

What We Like
  • Vitamins C and E target hyperpigmentation

  • Squalane hydrates skin while promoting cellular turnover

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

Formulated by a cosmetic chemist with 20 percent pure vitamin C (a beloved radiance-boosting ingredient), this patented serum promises to firm and tighten skin, reduce dark marks and discoloration, and reduce the look of deep lines and wrinkles in most users.

Active Ingredients: L-ascorbic acid (vitamin C), green tea, ECGC, squalane, tartaric acid | Skin Type: All | Benefits: Gently exfoliates, boosts radiance, firms, and tightens skin | Size: 1 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Brydie Clean: Yes

Best Classic: Clinique Even Better Clinical Radical Dark Spot Corrector + Interrupter

Clinique Even Better Clinical Radical Dark Spot Corrector + Interrupter

 Courtesy of Sephora

What We Like
  • Vitamin C and salicylic acid target discoloration and cellular turnover

  • Can be used daily

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

The intense antioxidant properties in this formula noticeably reduce acne spots and scars in 12 weeks (according to the brand), 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.

Active Ingredients: Vitamin C, salicylic acid, glucosamine, yeast extract, rice bran extract, gyokuro extract | Skin Type: Dry, combination, oily | Benefits: Gently exfoliates, boosts radiance | Size: 1.7 ounces | Cruelty-Free: No | Brydie Clean: Yes

Best Exfoliating: Topicals Faded Brightening & Clearing Serum

Topicals Faded Brightening & Clearing Serum

Sephora

What We Like
  • Niacinamide fades discoloration

  • Jojoba seed oil hydrates without triggering acne

What We Don't Like
  • May cause initial purging

This gel contains exfoliating acids and niacinamide that are powerful enough to fade scars and stubborn sun damage. Yet, it's gentle enough for sensitive, acne-prone skin.

Active Ingredients: Niacinamide, jojoba seed oil | Skin Type: Sensitive, acne-prone | Benefits: Balances, boosts radiance, smooths, and fades the most stubborn marks | Size: 1.7 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Brydie Clean: Yes

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

Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Dark Spot Sun Defense

 Courtesy of Nordstrom

What We Like
  • SPF 50

  • Peptides strengthen skin barrier

  • Vitamins C and E target discoloration

  • Glycolic acid fades dark spots

What We Don't Like
  • Can create a white cast

The sun’s ultraviolet radiation can worsen hyperpigmentation. According to Kikam, "Using a broad-spectrum sunscreen, especially on the face and other sun-exposed areas, is essential in treating dark spots/hyperpigmentation.” This SPF formula contains peptides, vitamins C and E, and glycolic acid to promote a more even-looking complexion.

Active Ingredients: Peptides, vitamin C, vitamin E, glycolic acid, almond oil, olive oil, and evening primrose oils | Skin Type: Dry, combination, oily | Benefits: Moisturizes, provides sun protection | Size: 1.7 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Brydie Clean: No

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

Nip + Fab Glycolic Fix Night Pads

Courtesy of Amazon

What We Like
  • Blend of glycolic, lactic, and salicylic acid accelerate cellular turnover

  • Hyaluronic acid prevents irritation

  • Pads are ideal for travel

What We Don't Like
  • Can be drying

“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 Kikam. Glycolic acid can penetrate deep into pores to reduce the buildup of comedones on the skin’s surface, increasing cellular turnover and ultimately help the fading of discoloration.

Active Ingredients: Glycolic acid, lactic acid, hyaluronic acid, salicylic acid | Skin Type: Oily | Benefits: Exfoliates and controls blemishes | Size: 4.23 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Brydie Clean: No

Best Patches: Peace Out Microneedling Dark Spot Brightening Dots

Peace Out Microneedling Dark Spot Brightening Dots

 Courtesy of Sephora

What We Like
  • Niacinamide fades discoloration

  • Ideal for spot treatment

What We Don't Like
  • Contains hydroquinone

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, according to the brand. They deliver niacinamide, licorice extract, and tranexamic acid straight to the problem areas meant to visibly fade spots without causing irritation.

Active Ingredients: Niacinamide, licorice extract, tranexamic acid, vitamin B, mineral oil, hydroquinone | Skin Type: Acne-prone | Benefits: Fades discoloration | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Brydie Clean: No

Final Verdict

Our best overall pick is Urban Skin Rx Even Tone Cleansing Bar, not only for its ability to fade dark spots effectively—but for doing so quickly, too. This 3-in-1 cleansing bar works as a cleanser, mask, and exfoliator, boosting the complexion and evening-out tone and texture with azelaic acid, kojic acid, and niacinamide. For a dark spot corrector that contains vitamin C, consider Hyper Clear Brightening Clearing Vitamin C Serum, a weightless gel serum that fades dark spots and acne scars with a blend of vitamins C and E, natural fruit enzymes, kojic acid, and turmeric.

Meet the Expert

What to Look for in a Dark Spot Corrector

Azelaic Acid

Board-certified dermatologist Azadeh Shirazi recommends products with azelaic acid, an exfoliant 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.

Retinol

Shirazi also recommends products with retinol for fighting dark spots. “Retinols help to brighten the skin and fade pigmentation by renewing skin cells,” she says. “They also help with fine lines and firming the skin.”

Niacinamide

Another radiance-boosting and cell-renewing ingredient commonly found in dark spot correctors is niacinamide, Niacinamide fades discoloration and works best when combined with antioxidants like vitamins C and E.

Of course, no matter what ingredient you go with, Shirazi recommends always looking out for products with added SPF sun protection.

FAQ
  • How do you use dark spot correctors?

    How you use a dark spot corrector will depend on the product formulation and ingredients, explains Shirazi. “Hydroquinone is potent and can be irritating, so it’s best to use only as a spot treatment.” 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 Shirazi, you can use dark spot correctors to fade 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

Commerce writer and skincare expert Theresa Holland specializes in over-the-counter cosmetics. She considered dozens of dark spot correctors for this roundup, carefully evaluating the formula of each and referencing dermatologist-recommended active ingredients. We also product tested top-rated dark spot correctors, and compiled these research insights to help inform this roundup.

Updated by Jill Di Donato
Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. Tse TW. Hydroquinone for skin lightening: safety profile, duration of use and when should we stop?J Dermatolog Treat. 2010;21(5):272-275. doi:10.3109/09546630903341945

  2. Sarkar R, Arora P, Garg KV. Cosmeceuticals for hyperpigmentation: what is available?J Cutan Aesthet Surg. 2013;6(1):4-11. doi:10.4103/0974-2077.110089

Related Stories