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For the past few years, dark spots have been my biggest skin ailment. It's been such a crucial problem and huge insecurity that I'm sick of talking about it. I've taken shots of cod liver oil for 30 days straight to see if that would help. I stopped eating meat in hopes that my dietary changes would improve my skin. I even wrote an open letter about how working in the beauty industry has made my dark spots even worse.
My hypersensitive skin throws a fit anytime I introduce it to a new product. I'm left with unsightly acne scars that feel like they're etched into my skin forever. And while I'm a wizard at covering them up with foundation and concealer, I don't want to depend on makeup my whole life to hide my dark spots. So a few months back, I made a conscious decision to get down to the bottom of the problem and treat my marks with dark spot correctors.
Below, discover the best dark spot correctors that actually work.
Best Overall: Murad Rapid Age Spot and Pigment Lightening Serum
This bottle might look small, but it's powerful. Its ingredients are essentially the perfect recipe for dark spots: hydroquinone, hexapeptide-2, and glycolic acid. “Hydroquinone is the number one lightening ingredient,” says dermatologist Elizabeth Tanzi, MD. “It’s the strongest.” While it is a bit controversial, it's still an FDA-approved ingredient in small doses, like what you can find in this lightening serum.
I noticed that my dark spots looked less noticeable the morning after I applied this at night. As mentioned, hydroquinone has a history of zapping the pigment of dark spots in the bud, while hexapeptide-2 promotes a brighter, radiant complexion. The glycolic acid allowed the solution to seep into my skin and penetrate my pores. I was a little nervous to give this a whirl considering my ultra-sensitive skin, but I didn't experience any adverse breakouts.
Best Peel: Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel
“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.” These at-home pads are a toned-down version of a professional, in-office peel. They include a hard-hitting combo of five different acids that work together to brighten the skin's texture and tone.
Take a look at our picks of the best chemical peels for glowing skin.
Best Night Cream: Urban Skin RX Even Tone Night Treatment
"[Retinoids] increase cell turnover and interfere with pigment transfer from melanocytes (cells that make pigment) to keratinocytes (the epidermal cells that make keratin),” says dermatologist Sejal Shah, MD. It's a good thing then that this night cream is full of it. Even better? I saw results from this night cream the morning after I used it. I've been using it for the past six months, and the results are phenomenal. If you've recently acquired a dark spot, I guarantee this will brighten the area in a matter of hours (yes, it's magic.)
The retinol in this formula pairs with other hardworking ingredients that combat melanin production of dark spots, fine lines, wrinkles, deep creases, and more. It also vacuums out clogged pores and will help to even out any discoloration you may have.
Speaking of pores, check out our picks of the best pore minimizers on the market.
Best Budget: Nip + Fab Glycolic Fix Daily Cleansing Pads
A budget-friendly pick that doesn't skimp on results, these peel pads are soaked in 2.8% glycolic acid to resurface the skin. “Glycolic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid, which works by accelerating cell turnover (exfoliation) as well as inhibiting melanin synthesis,” says Shah. Hyaluronic acid is also thrown into the mix for a moisturizing component, as well as blue daisy to soothe and calm.
Best Night Serum: MDSolarSciences Evening Facial Repair Serum
I'd heard rave reviews from my fellow beauty-obsessed friends that this stuff works. When my dark spot flare-up was at an all-time high last year, this serum came across my desk. It's one of those products that always does the trick. Why? Because it's chock-full of retinol. As we previously discussed, retinol magically diminishes the appearance of dark spots and has a way of evening out your skin tone like no other. Perfect for those with sensitive skin, its balancing combination of chamomile, aloe, and seaweed calms the skin.
Best for Aging Skin: Dr. Dennis Gross Ferulic Acid + Retinol Brightening Solution
I'm sure you're already starting to see a trend here: retinol. Skin experts near and far agree that retinol might be in the running for first place when it comes to the best ingredient to treat dark spots. Use this lightweight serum to brighten the look of your dark spots and improve its texture. Packed with a retinol brightening solution and ferulic acid, this has dramatically improved the look of my dark spots—and I've only been using it for the past three weeks. It's also meant to heal sun-damaged skin and reduce signs of aging.
Interested in reading more reviews? Take a look at our selection of the best anti-aging serums.
Best for Acne Scars: SkinCeuticals Advanced Pigment Corrector
Any product that's made to specifically aid acne scars steals my attention. I was introduced to this pigment corrector a few months ago and have been using it in conjunction with my Urban Skin Even Tone Night Treatment and can honestly say that it's a winner. It has salicylic acid, which breaks up the pigment causing dark spots, along with hydroxyphenoxy propionic acid and ellagic acid, which both decrease the skin's melanin production and discoloration process.
Need some more help finding what you're looking for? Read through our best products for hyperpigmentation article.
Best Drugstore: Alchimie Forever Pigment Lightening Serum
This lightening serum is at the top of my list to try. Its top-notch formulation sounds like it's made for me and everyone else who's trying to treat their hyperpigmentation. However, this product takes a more natural and effective approach. Using a blend of alpha-arbutin, vitamins C and E, citrus extract, hyaluronic acid, and blueberry, this silky serum is made to lighten dark spots. It also minimizes signs of aging and promotes a glowy, healthy complexion.
Want to take a look at some other options? See our guide to the best vitamin C serums.